Today I want to introduce to you a new Dairy Star column, Minnesota in Numbers. It is a new project I started last month with the support of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. Every week, I choose a dairy-related topic and break it down to three components. First, a 'Number of the Week'. A single number that introduces the topic and sets the stage for the analysis that follows. Next, a simple diagram or a table presenting information in a visually appealing and intuitive manner. Finally, a brief commentary that goes beyond numbers and offers my analysis on forces driving the issue.
This week my focus is on fluid milk sales. The number of the week is -5.1%. Minnesota fluid milk sales were 5.75 million gallons for the 4 weeks ending September 8, a decline of 5.1% compared to the same period a year ago. What we see is that for good many years, declining per capita consumption of milk has been compensated for by increases in the U.S. population size. At first look, it may seem that the dynamic has changed and that now we see declines in total volume sales too. But what is behind this? An accelerating trend in declining milk consumption, or high milk prices? You can read about it in my inaugural Minnesota in Numbers column elsewhere in this edition of Dairy Star. Over the next few months we will cover forecasts for Minnesota mailbox milk price for 2014, dairy growth in the I-29 corridor, the relationship between corn yields and changes in land values, trends in Minnesota dairy exports, dairy programs in the new Farm bill, and many, many other topics. Always in an easy to digest, bite-size coverage: a single number, a simple graph, and a short commentary.
This new column has two goals. First, I want to engage you in discussions on recent developments in the Minnesota dairy sector. I want to raise your attention to issues we need to come together to solve, but also remind you of all the good things going on that we can feel proud about. My other goal is to create an educational program for undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota who have an interest in becoming dairy market analysts. We often hear about high unemployment rate and how economy is struggling. But I can also tell you stories about employers around the country contacting me often and asking for help as they search for new talents in dairy market analysis. Recently, I received an email that read: "We are looking for an economist, preferably with dairy experience. We would even take a recent graduate. Up to 6 figures, with a generous benefit and relocation package." I was surprised how difficult it may be for many employers to find a good dairy analyst, and I realized that our undergraduate students can benefit from such career opportunities if a new training program is created that introduces them to dairy economics. Employers are looking for three key skills. First is to be familiar with various government reports and private sources of dairy data. Next, a dairy economist must be able to convert raw data to usable information, recognize patterns and relative importance of various forces driving markets forward. And finally, the analyst must have the ability to distill a complex issue in a timely manner to a set of critical points to which their clients can relate.