The match initially appears to be made in dairy heaven – China’s growing middle class generates greater demand for milk, and California can help supply that demand with the state's apparent surplus of milk. But is it really a good fit?
According to "PBS Newshour," that is the question on the minds of everyone from dairy farmers to environmentalists.
For the state’s dairymen, the move to capitalize on this expanding market could help them creep out of financial hole left by a recession, high feed costs, and low milk price – a perfect storm that forced out hundreds of dairies over the last several years. California dairymen lost $882 million in 2012 alone.
“We know a lot of these markets in China will grow 10- or 20-fold over the next few decades. By being there now, we can be at the start of that growth," Ross Christieson, a consultant for the California Milk Advisory Board, said in an online interview.
However, milk is only part of the equation. The state also exports alfalfa to China.
“(Alfalfa) exports to China are definitely increasing,” Danlel Putnam, agronomist at the University of California, Davis, told KQED News. “We have seen a pretty dramatic rise since the year 2005-2006, and I think all expectations are that it will probably increase again this coming year.”
For dairies in the state, exporting alfalfa makes feed more expensive.
Environmentalists worry that the increased exports of alfalfa, which use about a fifth of the state’s water, combined with the new demand for California’s milk will further strain the state's natural resources.