Dairy Farming Into the Future: A 50-year Projection

Let’s face it, dairy farming is not a job for the faint of heart; it’s physically, emotionally, and financially exhausting. Because of this it can be hard to see past the day-to-day life. However, the reality is that the world is changing at a rapid pace and in order to continue feeding the world the dairy industry needs to change as well. As I was perusing the Journal of Dairy Science recently, an article that outlined the future of the dairy industry in 2067- 50 years from now caught my eye (Britt et al. 2018).

The United Nations estimates that our world’s population will grow from the current 7.6 billion to 10.5 billion by the year 2067. This population growth will decrease the amount of land capable of being ploughed and used for crop production from 0.5 to an estimated 0.37 acres per person. We could see an increase in arable land in northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia if global temperatures continue to increase as they are projected to. However, some of this increase in arable land could be offset by the loss of arable land associated with less rainfall, providing less water for irrigation of crops in other areas of each region.

Climate change will have a large impact on where dairy farms are located in the future. Today, 42% of the milk being produced in the United States originates from areas that by 2067 are predicted to have extreme water shortages. Areas in North America that are most suitable for dairy production expansion due to their projected adequate water sources and longer growing seasons are in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions, and the Central provinces of Canada. In addition, it’s projected that the northern latitudes of Russia will have more suitable land for dairy production. Although we may not have the land base required for dairy farm expansion, dairy farms currently located here in the Northeast are not likely to be faced with the water shortage issue, and would potentially benefit from longer growing seasons. Dairy farms currently located outside these regions may need to consider relocation to remain productive.

Dairy farms remaining productive is going to be key to supplying enough milk to meet the rising demands to feed the growing population. Increased consumption of dairy products as developing countries migrate from a rural to a more urban setting coupled with the growing population translates into a need for approximately 1.3 trillion pounds more milk to be produced in 2067. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, there was an estimated 274 million dairy cows around the globe in 2014, producing an average of 5,302 pounds of milk per cow annually. To meet the need of 1.3 trillion additional pounds of milk, each of the 274 million cows would have to nearly double its annual milk yield to 9,989 pounds. While it is true that, on average, dairy cows in the U.S. are already meeting and far exceeding that goal, there are only about 9.2 million U.S. dairy cows …only 3.4 % of the world’s cow population. Many countries with the lowest annual production per cow have the most cows, such as India with 46 million cows and an annual milk production of 3,188 pounds.

The world faces many challenges in feeding its expanding population during the next 50 years, but Britt et al. forecasts that the dairy industry will be able to accomplish this mission through the enlistment of knowledge and technology to develop more productive dairy cows and more sustainable dairy farms. In the northeastern United States, we are favorably positioned to have a thriving dairy industry in 2067. Now, if we could just figure out how to survive in 2018… hmmmm.