Baby drinking milk.
April 10, 2018

Where Will The Dairy Industry Be in 50 Years?

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

If you look back 50 years, it’s amazing what the dairy industry has accomplished. The question is: Will we make as much progress in the next 50?


If not derailed by activists or some unforeseen technology that will produce a milk-like substance from fermentation, dairy scientists see a bright future for dairy. Ten of them just published an 18-page paper in the April issue of the Journal of Dairy Science outlining their vision.


“Dairying has been part of domestication of livestock for about 360 human generations,” write the scientists. “The next 50 years comprise about two generations, so it seems unlikely that dairying as we know it will be displaced by 2067. It is more likely that new technologies coupled with improved sustainability of farming practices will strengthen dairying and keep it positioned to provide dairy foods efficiently and sustainably.”


In 1967, the U.S. herd size stood at 13.5 million cows but production per cow was just 8,821 lb. Total U.S. production was just under 120 billion lb. Today, just under 9.4 million cows producing nearly 23,000 lb/cow yield more than 200 billion lb annually. That’s about 70% more milk with 30% fewer cows. The question is: Can we do it again? The answer: Yes, because we’ll have to.


By 2067, the United Nations predicts world population will grow by 3 billion to 10.5 billion people. Most of these folks will be added in Asia and Africa. Not only will population increase, but dairy consumption will increase even more as incomes rise and the demand for diets higher in protein grows. All totaled, milk production will have to grow 13.2 trillion pounds. For that to happen, the average dairy cow in the world will have to double its annual milk production.


The problem is that available arable land on a per capita basis will shrink in areas where population is growing fastest. That means the Northern Hemisphere—the United States, Canada and Russia—will be the place of increased milk production because these countries have the climate and water resources to sustain additional milk production. And climate change (due to hotter weather and reduced water supplies) will also shift production within North America—with milk production in the West, Southwest and Southeast migrating to the Midwest, Great Lakes and central provinces of Canada.


Scientists don’t see us rapidly reaching the biological limit of milk production from the cow herself. “We project that annual milk or milk solid yields in the United States and New Zealand will double by 2067,” they write. “Top individual cow records produced during the last decade were 10 to 14 standard deviation units greater than the average yield per cow in 2014, indicating that the potential for increased yield is substantial.” (Note: Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918, a Wisconsin Holstein cow in her 5th lactation, produced 78,170 lb of milk in a 365-day lactation last year. That’s 3.4 times the amount of milk the average U.S. cow produced last year.)


Following are several areas that will help propel milk production and yield:


Genetics: The use of advanced technologies will allow the shortening of the generation interval. Since 2009, the generation interval of an A.I. bull has dropped from 7 years to 2.5. Use of non-surgical approaches to bovine oocytes recovered at 8 months of age from heifers and bulls can reduce that even further to 17 months. Further research, that would allow the production and harvest of viable oocytes from bovine embryonic stem cells, could reduce the generation interval to less than a year. (Such techniques are already being used in mice.)

               The use of genomics will also be used to improve health, welfare, feed efficiency and methane excretion. The use of gene editing and insertion, for example, could quickly move traits such as heat tolerance into other genetic lines or breeds. Cattle resistant to foot and mouth disease, Lepto, IBR and BVD could make these ailments nearly non-existent in five decades.

               Farmers will also manage the microbiomes of their cows’ digestive tracts and other body systems to improve and optimize cows’ health, well-being, reproduction and productivity. Ways will also be found to better manage the cow’s epigenome, which regulates the cow’s longer-term response to its environment.


Farm management: Lateral integration, where farmers share resources and specialize in managing specific animal units will become much more common. For example, farmers could share feed centers, transition facilities, calf raising and dairy beef units, all used to support facilities that simply milk and breed cows. Small farms might specialize in milk with proprietary therapeutic products.

               Automation will replace human labor. Milking, feeding, cleaning and bedding will all be done robotically. More milk will be routinely condensed on-farm, reducing milk hauling and using the lactose and reclaimed water on-farm.


Herds as ‘superorganisms’: Herds will be studied to determine why some herds, under the same type of management, milking system and feed, perform differently than others. Are protocols being implemented better in some herds than others? How do cows themselves communicate within their herd, and can that communication be replicated from the best herds? 


The researchers say dairy cattle are one of the most efficient converters of feed to protein fit for human consumption, better even than egg and poultry production because of dairy cows’ ability to use forage and by-product feeds. “Increased use of permanent grasslands and by-product feeds for milk production will decrease pressure on arable land,” note the authors.


“Our vision is that dairying in the future will reflect sustainable intensification that benefits animals, agro-ecosystems and humankind through production of key nutrients for human consumption,” says Jack Britt, North Carolina State University. Britt was the lead author of the report.


Co-authors include Robert Cushman, USDA-ARS; Chad Dechow, Penn State; Hillary Dobson, University of Liverpool, U.K.; Patrice Humblot, Swedish University of Animal Science; Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois; Gordy Jones, Central Sands Dairy; Pam Ruegg, Michigan State; Iain Sheldon, Swansea University Medical School, U.K., and Jeff Stevenson, Kansas State.   


More on the research can be found here.









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