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Thanks to dairy producers

Jim Salfer
Extension Educator
June 25, 2011

Once again, it is 'June Dairy Month.' It has been a challenging couple of years for many dairy producers. Most consumers take for granted the lifestyle and low food cost that the dairy industry and agriculture in general provides for people living in the United States. But dairy producers and the associated industry can be proud that they are very important to the economic vitality of their local community and produce food that contributes to peoples' well being and health.

After several years of decline, the dairy industry in Minnesota and the entire upper Midwest is making a comeback. Minnesota has increased milk production every year since 2004 and the number of cows has been increasing since 2006. There are likely several reasons for this including:

  1. Most upper Midwest producers raise at least a portion of their forage and this has helped moderate fluctuating feed cost swings.
  2. Even though protein supplement and grain prices have greatly increased over the past couple of years, it is still lower in the upper Midwest than other areas of the country.
  3. The adequate supply of water, great infrastructure, and committed processors in the upper Midwest are also great resources. If the upper Midwest states and local communities create a friendly environment for dairy producers to adapt and change to stay competitive, the dairy industry should continue to remain viable.

In 2010, Su Ye, Economist from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, updated the profile of Minnesota's dairy industry. Minnesota ranks 6th in U.S. total milk production, but ranks third in the number of dairy farms, behind only Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Every job from dairy production and processing supports an additional three jobs in other economic sectors in Minnesota. The total economic output impact of Minnesota's dairy industry is $11.5 billion dollars (Graph 1) and it supports 38,013 total jobs (Graph 2).

Graph 1. Output Impact of Dairy Production and Processing: 11.5 billion (click to enlarge)Graph

Graph 2. Employment Impact (# of jobs) (click to enlarge)Graph

Dairy producers can be proud of these facts because many sectors of the economy have lost jobs. Jobs associated with the production and processing of milk have been stable over the years. It is important for community leaders and elected officials to know that while other large companies may be bought out or move their manufacturing out of the state, Minnesota dairy farmers and processors are committed to remaining competitive and growing their business here.

There is much discussion about revitalizing our rural communities and increasing state-wide exports of value added products. Since 1990 exports of dairy products from Minnesota has increased from $40 million to over $180 million dollars (Graph 3). Minnesota is the fifth largest dairy exporting state. Our biggest customers are Mexico, Canada and China. The products that we export are dry and condensed milk, cheese, butter, and frozen dessert.

Graph 3. Minnesota Dairy Export Trend (click to enlarge)Graph

In addition to the economic benefits, dairy cows are very environmentally friendly. The forages grown for dairy cows increase the bio-diversity in cropping strategies and prevent erosion on environmentally sensitive land. Grazing cattle keeps highly erodible land productive and is environmentally friendly. Ruminants are one of the great by-product recyclers. They can convert the by-products from a processing plant, such as distillers grains that are inedible for humans, into meat and dairy products.

With the challenging economic dairy environment of the past couple of years, it's easy to get discouraged. But dairy farm families should feel proud of their economic contribution to the local communities and the nutritious dairy products they provide at a very low price. Dairy products not only taste good, but contribute to consumers' health and well being as well. I would like to commend all dairy producers as well as those who produce other agricultural products for the great work that they do every day of the year. Without their hard work, we would not be able to enjoy the healthy life and standard of living that we do. So, thank you to all our dairy farm families in Minnesota.

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