The U.S. dairy cow herd declined month-to-month during September, the fifth so far this year, according to USDA-National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS). This summer, the national herd averaged 27,000 fewer animals than a year earlier. The spring-to-summer decline in milk cows was similar to 2012’s, a year when milk prices were declining from the prior year, and feed costs were racing towards record highs. This year, milk prices are lower than a year ago, and hay prices have been on the upswing, but grain prices have been at values similar to recent years.
Importantly, even with eroding cow numbers, national milk production during the July-September quarter was up 0.9% from a year earlier, boosted by continued gains in productivity. Milk produced per cow during the summer quarter was up 1.2% from the same quarter in 2017.
During the Summer, small reductions in milk cows were posted in over a dozen states. Texas dairies were moving against the US trend, however, with 13,000 cows added to the dairy herd from June to September. Improved milk cow productivity has also been a highlight of the summer in Texas, topping a year earlier by 4.5%. Milk cow productivity in California was up by 5% in September from 2017’s, accounting for a sizeable increase in U.S. milk output. For the Summer quarter, California milk cow productivity was only up 1.8%.
The verdict was mixed on the Summer's dairy sector product supply and demand situation. Inventories of butter and cheese in cold storage were up from a year earlier. American-type cheese (mostly cheddar) frozen stocks began the quarter slightly below the prior year's, but ended up 2%. American-type cheese usage during July and August was up 8.7% year-over-year, according to USDA-Economic Research Service, in-line with robust retail sales in the foodservice and restaurant sector. The increase in American-type cheese inventories is consistent with accelerating flows of product through marketing channels. Non-American-type cheese inventories (mostly Italian types) started the quarter 17% larger than a year earlier and finished up 9%. Usage of those types of cheeses during July and August was up 7% from 2017's. Efforts to reduce inventories tended to keep a lid on cheese and milk prices, with quarterly averages only slightly higher between the spring and the summer. Cheese market price trends were somewhat disappointing in October.