Like many Bullvine readers I grew up on a small dairy farm, took part in 4H clubs and fell in love with a breed of cows.  I attended college and studied animal agriculture. I graduated during the Green Revolution, not green like we know it today, but green in the fact that the developed countries felt that they could ramp up production and feed the world without the need for developing countries to produce their own food.  And since that time animal agriculture has focused on animals producing more and more. Well the truth is that both of these models where animals produce more and more and where only developed countries need to produce food are broken. We ignored factors such as a country needing a strong agricultural base to be successful and more and more milk per cow leading to poor and poorer reproduction rates.  Furthermore the idea that the majority of the world’s population growth would occur in the developing nations never even crossed our radar screens back then.  How could we have been so wrong in our thinking? Are we thinking any clearer in 2013, when it comes to dairy feeding people in the years ahead?

Today’s Dairy World

Few of us are aware that India is the country that has the most cows (48 million) kept for milk production purposes. The production of India’s cows is low (1,200 lbs per year) but through improved husbandry there is great potential. China’s rapid growth as an importer of dry milk powders (whole and skimmed) is predicted to grow in 2013 by 12% and 18%. The USA in 2013 is exporting the equivalent of 15% of its annual production where just a few years ago it was thought that USA milk prices were too high for significant exportation to take place. USA cheese exports in 2013 will be double the exports in 2008 and that will make it the largest single exporting country for cheese. Cheese is the darling child of milk products when it comes to exports and EU countries which export almost half of the cheese globally are looking for new customers. To say the least, the world is hungry for dairy products. The demand for dairy is expected to increase at a rate faster than the world’s population growth. (Read more: “Got Milk” is becoming “Got More” and MILK MARKETING: How “Got Milk?” BECAME “Got Lost”)

Tomorrow’s World       

We have all seen the prediction that there will be 9 billion people by 2050. That is a 25% increase. If dairy is to fill more of the average global diet the world will need 30 to 35% more milk to be produced in 2050 than there is produced today. The rapidly expanding middle classes in China and India will consume more milk products as will consumers in Africa, SE Asia and Russia. At the processing industry level, expect new products (including low lactose and ingredient enriched milk products) and more uses for milk. At the farm level the rate of applying technology will be at an ever increasing rate. But the dairy industry does not exist on a vacuum.

Over the past few years besides population growth and environmental concerns, the major issue before all countries has been trade. (Read more: Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends On Supply and Demand) Trade is important in the EU which once had production quotas but where now farm prices are no longer guaranteed and narrower on-farm margins are resulting in increased herd sizes in order to efficiently apply technology and provide critical mass. In the future no country will be an island onto itself when it comes to producing milk and trading in milk products. Canadian dairy farmers are facing that matter after the Canada and the EU signed a tentative trade agreement last week in which more EU cheese will have access to the Canadian market.  Read more: (Read more: Canada, EU close to sealing trade deal with concessions on cheese, beef and Canada’s dairy farmers ‘angered and disappointed’ by EU trade deal that would double cheese imports)

Agenda: Theirs, Yours and Ours

Feeding the growing world population, the application of technology, the elimination of duplication and waste and the best use of all resources will be on every country’s agenda. Are these issues too big or too far away? We lose if dairy is replaced in the diet. All things dairy lose if we think too small, only nationally or only about self preservation. All dairy agendas are inter-related.

Tear Down the Silos. Ramp Up the Herd.

It is paradigm shift time. The big picture question is how can more milk be efficiently produced to feed a hungry world?

Are farmers, their organizations, their service providers, the milk processors and the global traders thinking in terms of mutual (collective) benefit or individual benefit? The survivors will be in supply chains that can provide a quality product at a price that consumers are willing to pay. Quality is the watchword. For those that are not prepared to work with others it will not be Who Moved My Cheese but who replaced my cheese with their product.

What will that look like? At the farm level the list of changes needed will be extensive but in the immediate future it is likely to include larger herds to take advantage of technology, information and critical mass. At the industry level our organization leaders will need to dismantle and re-create new organizations and structures to provide the best and most relevant services dairy farmers will need. If you are looking for an example read the announcement in the Bullvine last week to merge Dairylea Cooperative Inc. and the Dairy Farmers of America in the USA (Rad more: Dairylea announces proposed merger with DFA).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Everyone in the dairy world will need to think collectively and globally. The rewards will go to those that can adapt, adopt and act. Cattle breeders in just ten years will be using technology and information that is hardly on the researcher’s bench just now. If you are looking for an example we need only to remember back five years to 2008 when we asked each other how to pronounce genomics. Today it is an important tool in breeding dairy cattle for the future. Will you and your farm be part of dairy’s future or part of its history?

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