At workshop, Pa. Extension charts dairy’s past, future
HERSHEY, Pa. — During the recent Penn State’s Dairy Cattle Nutrition Workshop, Mike Hutjens, Extension dairy specialist emeritus, of the University of Illinois, explained how the dairy industry has changed.
Milk production shows an astounding increase over the last 50 years. In 1968 the average annual production of a dairy cow was less than 10,000 pounds. The upward trend follows almost a straight line. The annual number in this country for 2018 was about 23,000 pounds.
Looking back, Hutjens said dairying in the 1970s was “good.” Animal agriculture was “a way of life.” During that time, universities enjoyed strong state and federal support, and Extension was a key resource. He recalls 80 meetings a year. DHI was an Extension program.
Thirty years ago, he said dairy farms were diversified. Registered cattle was the focus. Dairy farms were generation-based, and family labor was the norm. While alfalfa was the “queen” of the forages, the “new feed” was high-moisture corn.
Dairy is a big business today. Dairy companies contribute 1.9% of the nation’s gross domestic product. It supports close to three million jobs; about 978,000 are direct jobs.
However, dairy economics is changing, and there is considerable variability in farm size and profitability. In addition, there are several challenging trends.
Since 2010, there has been a precipitous decline in fluid milk sales. Using U.S. rolling daily average sales, in 2010 the figure was 152 million pounds. But in 2017, 132 million pounds reflected the rolling daily average sales.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service report on cull cow prices shows decreasing prices. In a peak month of July 2015, the price was about $110. In 2018 the July price was about $67.
But production continues to expand. Viewing the milk per cow per day figures reveals a daily increase from 2015 to 2018 to be 1.75 pounds.
Currently, some trends are emerging. Alternative labor sources are more common. There is more emphasis on cow longevity with less culling. Crossbreeding, genomics and inbreeding are more prevalent as well as robotic milking.
Looking ahead, Hutjens noted that more dairy farms will move to the Midwest because many areas there have a water advantage.
Assessing the genetics of future cows, he foresees them to be healthier and more efficient with a smaller environmental footprint. Gene editing to move genes among breeds, transgenic and synthetic genes, proprietary genes licensed in embryos, and in-vitro production using stem cells may be among the outcomes.
In twenty years, changes may include more consumer, dairy industry, and/or activist groups that impact environmental and animal care. Greenhouse gases and global warming, sustainability, food safety, local production and ‘designer’ food products will continue to influence consumption.
The dairy industry may need to address carbon footprint and methane sources, GMO livestock feed, role of plant-based beverages, synthetic meat and milk, and the role of animal protein in the diet.
Involvement in political, animal welfare/rights, environmental, educational, and consumer education issues should help dairymen adapt to future changes.
Other informative topics are available in the proceedings of the Dairy Cattle Nutrition Workshop. They can be accessed at https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/s1r66j366j.
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