Dr. Manuel Chamorro of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who specializes in farm animal medicine, recently spoke about the challenges facing the dairy industry with high costs for feed grains, fuel, labor, fertilizer, and other inputs.

“Dairy farmers are having to adapt to changing market conditions, in addition to the normal hard work required in the profession,” Dr. Chamorro said. “The greatest cost in dairy production is animal feed. With current economic conditions, the rising price of fuel, fertilizers and feed has had a dramatically negative effect on the already historically low profit margins for dairy producers, especially for small dairy producers and family dairies.”

According to the USDA, the number of milk cows on farms in the 24 major dairy states has dropped to just 8.91 million head in May. That is 84,000 less cows than in May 2021. Milk production in the United States during May totaled 19.7 billion pounds, which is down 0.7% from May 2021. Production per cow in the United States averaged 2,096 pounds for May, eight pounds above May 2021. Total dairy cows had fallen from 12 million head in 1970 to 9.1 million in 2006. The number of farms that milked cows dropped precipitously during that period of time, however, when the average herd size rose from just 19 cows per farm in 1970 to 120 cows in 2006. Milk production per cow since 1970 has more than doubled.

“Dairy farming is rewarding but is also hard work,” said Chamorro. “Cows must be milked at least twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In addition to the normal demanding work that is required of dairy farmers, the current economic climate has made their work even more difficult. One of the major challenges for dairy producers is that they must adapt to current market conditions and compete efficiently with their product.”

Higher prices are not only impacting farmers, but they are also impacting American families who are finding purchasing nutritious foods like milk and cheese to be more expensive than ever. The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) led 11 national agricultural, anti-hunger, nutrition and medical groups Thursday in a virtual listening session, urging the White House to place a high priority on access to affordable, diverse and nutritious foods when it holds its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this September. The NMPF-organized session offered the White House both expertise and lived experience from a wide range of organizations on how important increased access to food and a diverse range of food choices are to fight nutrition insecurity and improve nutrition-related health.

“When the White House announced its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, we at NMPF were excited by the potential for this conference to help propel meaningful advancement toward achieving the conference’s stated goals of ending hunger, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and decreasing the prevalence of diet-related diseases in America,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern in remarks at the session. “We, and our collaborators on this listening session, share these goals and know from personal experience and decades of working on this issue that increasing access to food is critical to attaining them.”

The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the few veterinary colleges in the country with an onsite dairy.

“The Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine is committed to the formation of practice-ready, mixed-animal veterinarians who have a deep understanding of production medicine and herd health and who are prepared to help producers successfully adapt to current challenges,” Chamorro said. “We have approximately 80 head of cattle, counting young calves and adult milking cows. The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the few veterinary schools that has its own dairy operation.”

“Our dairy cows are milked twice a day, early in the morning and late afternoon, early evening. Our dairy cows produce on average 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of milk a day. The milk is sold to Mayfield Dairy, a commercial dairy factory in Tennessee. They process the milk (pasteurization, bottling, etc.) and distribute it in fluid form to consumers.

There are only about 60,000 dairy farms today in the U.S. The cows are producing more milk than ever, but they’re consolidated on bigger, more efficient farms. In 1987, half of American dairy farms had 80 or fewer cows; by 2012, that figure had risen to 900 cows.

Chamorro said that it is important that future veterinarians learn about the dairy industry and other areas of food production.

“It is important because the growth in the human population demands the production of high-quality protein of animal origin,” Chamorro said. “Veterinarians in general, especially food animal practitioners, are essential to guaranteeing the production of a high-quality, safe product, maintaining and promoting animal well-being and assuring the sustainability of livestock production systems.” 

The Chicago Mercantile corn contract traded over $7.00 the first week of May for the first time since 2013. Dairy futures have been pulled higher by the increasing feed prices.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email brandon.moseley@1819news.com.  

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