Almost weekly, there are news updates on what dairying will be like in the next quarter year or the next year. Just recently, there have been some significant alarms surrounding the farm gate milk price in the immediate future. Supply will exceed demand, and the milk price has already dropped to below the cost of production for UK dairymen. In the United States, the farm gate prices will be lower in 2015 than they have been in 2014. Yet in Australia, according to a leading A.I. manager, the strong demand for Australia milk in SE Asia could continue to keep the farm gate price level.
However, strategic planning on dairy farms and in dairy cattle breeding must look much further into the future than 3 to 24 months. We here at the Bullvine decided to consider global circumstances that will determine the genetics that will be needed in 2025 in order to assist breeders as they transition from their current breeding programs.
The future milk market will be vastly different than it is today:
- Market Size – There will be one billion more people by 2025. FAO predictions are that the demand for milk protein from dairy animal sources, including cows, goats, buffalo and sheep, will be in strong into the future. Market size could well be over 25% above what it is today. To keep pace with that expansion, breeders will need to increase production by 2.5% per year for the next ten years. Whether that is by increasing average cow production by 2.5%, cow numbers by 2.5% or a combination of both, will be a decision that each manager will need to make. Making no change in output will mean that the farm will fall behind. Not a good situation as the margin of revenue over costs narrows.
- Milk Production Location –Two current global trends will continue – urbanization everywhere and significant global population increases in Asia and Africa. An increase in milk production will need to occur on those two continents; otherwise considerable expense will be incurred in moving dairy products from the countries where production exceeds demand. Many developing countries have recognized the need for increased milk production and have already initiated programs to domestically produce a higher proportion of their milk. Breeders in developed countries cannot automatically expect to expand their volume of production in order to meet the demands for milk from Africa and Asia.
- Milk Products – The vast majority of milk will not be consumed in a liquid unprocessed form – it will be eaten. The trend toward consumers wanting natural products will continue. Consumers will know the product source and product composition in exacting detail. Breeders will need to be produce milk that has attributes for which they have not previously been paid. Processors will want to know more than the fact that the milk they buy is 4% butterfat and 3% protein. Processors will base their payment to producers on the level of specific proteins and/or fatty acid composition. Since breeders currently do not have genetic information on the composition of the protein or butterfat that their animals produce, they will be at a disadvantage compared to the processor. A2A2 milk in Australia (Read more: 12 Things You Need to Know about A2 Milk) already receives a premium farm gate price. Breeders there are already using sires genetically tested to be A2A2.
Dairy farming will be different as well:
- Herd Size – In developed countries a minimum of 300 – 500 cows will be needed to cover the cost for the purchase of technology. Breeders in those countries will design their operations based on their strengths and specialties. While in countries with developing dairy industries herd size will vary from a few cows per owner in village herds to very large herds that are located in close proximity to cities and that buy all their inputs. Breeding decisions will be made by groups of cows and not on an individual cow basis.
- Automation – There is no doubt that dairying, like all other modern industries, will undergo very significant changes in the degree of mechanization that will occur. Cows will be electronically monitored for a multitude factors. Managers will be focused on managing systems and will have much less time to attend to problem animals. The traditional definition of a breeder’s cow sense will be replaced by breeders using facts, figures, and information on which to base decisions. (Read more: The Future of Dairy Cattle Breeding Is in the Data and Robotic Milking: More than just automation it’s a new style of herd management.)
- Feed – Forages and human food processing bi-products will form the majority of the animal diets. Dairy cow diets will be more finely tuned and balanced on a profit generated basis, instead of on a production level basis. Managers will make the investment to obtain expert advice.
- Genetic Merit –The level of the genetic ability of the general population of dairy cows for their ability to return a profit to their owners will need to be 25-30% higher than it is today. Breeders, over the next decade, will need to invest in the genetics that return their farms the most profit.
- Animal Welfare – Big strides will continue to be needed in animal welfare. Cow comfort and cow mobility will be continuously monitored and will be essential to herd profit. Consumers will demand that cows be polled, not be confined to a tie stall and treated humanely. Breeders will need to use genetic information to help address some of these issues.
Beyond the farms, other factors will affect dairy farming:
- The Environment – Practices that are detrimental to the environment will not be tolerated. The current list of factors including greenhouse gas levels, GMOs, carbon footprint, and damaging product residues is only a short list of what farm managers will have to keep on top of in 2025.
- Research / Education – Research and Development (R & D) will be an integral part of every business decision. Some farms will produce milk as well conduct R & D. Ownership of intellectual property will be closely guarded, which will be a new approach for many parts of dairy farming. Continuing education will be something farm managers will consider important to keep current with on a daily or weekly basis.
What will this all mean for animal breeding?
There will be no looking back. Cows will need to be different and genetically improved from what they have been in the past and what they are today. The changes in the TPI™ and NM$ formulae that will be implemented on December 2nd will not be progressive enough for 2025.
It will take research and development to change the genetics of our cows. It could even go as far as the need to develop a new breed or new strains of cows. Breeders will need to take action. Breeders, their leaders and the suppliers of genetic products and services need to be taking time right now to understand how the genetic profiles of the cows of 2025 will need to be different than the genetic profiles of today’s cows.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
It cannot be assumed that someone other than breeders will address the challenges of developing the cows best suited for 2025. A vibrant, viable and sustainable dairy breeding industry in 2025 is not guaranteed, but it is possible. The payoff will be that the breeding industry will be able to shape its best future.