PROFILES: Dairy’s Economic Ripple Effect Begins on the Farm

Tom Quaife
Jan 16, 2019 · 10 min read

Points of emphasis include sustainability, animal care, customer care, efficiency.

Dairy farmers work long hours taking care of their animals — and, in the process, help take care of the U.S. economy

The U.S. dairy industry supports nearly 3 million workers, generates more than $39 billion in direct wages and has an overall economic impact of more than $628 billion.

That data comes from Dairy Delivers® — the International Dairy Foods Association’s economic impact tool, as well as quantitative analysis by the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Federation.

Not to be lost in these numbers is the fundamental fact that it all begins with the farmer.

Therefore, it should matter whether dairy farmers are experiencing tough economic times, as they are now, and whether trade barriers exist between the United States and other countries. Last year, two of the United States’ leading trade partners — Mexico and China — imposed retaliatory tariffs against many U.S. dairy products.

It should matter to you — regardless of whether dairy farmers are in your circle of friends or whether you are a consumer of dairy products.

Dairy creates an economic ripple effect that touches many people across the United States.

Dairy farms purchase machinery, trucks, fuel, fertilizer and feed supplies. They create jobs for the people who raise the crops and care for the cows. When milk leaves the farm, it travels by truck to a processing plant where people make cheese, butter, yogurt and other dairy products. There are a multitude of jobs in getting those products to consumers. For example, the supermarket dairy case manager.

When a farm employee goes out to eat at a restaurant, he is contributing to the local economy.

So, what can be done to help dairy farmers’ bottom-line — and, by extension, the overall economy?

Creating more demand for dairy products is key, and dairy farmers understand much of that potential lies overseas.

“Farmers continue to keep an eye on overseas opportunities, knowing that the prospect of increased exports in the future will boost milk prices and keep them in business. That, in turn, will boost everyone else in the dairy supply chain and add fuel to state economies,” says Marilyn Hershey, who runs an 800-cow dairy farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, Duane.

Last November, Hershey and three other U.S. dairy farmers traveled to Japan and Hong Kong on a U.S. Dairy Export Council-sponsored trip to learn more about the market opportunities for U.S. dairy exports. All four serve as active board members of Dairy Management Inc., the parent organization of USDEC.

The farmers met with dairy buyers and traders. Three key messages included:

  • Sustainability
  • Animal care
  • Customer care
  • Efficiency

In the following section, we introduce the four farmers who made the trip to Asia in a way that illustrates the U.S. dairy industry’s commitment to sustainability, animal care, customer care and efficiency.

To the extent these farmers succeed, the whole U.S. economy succeeds.

SUSTAINABILITY: Marilyn Hershey, Cochranville, Pa.

Marilyn Hershey

By Marilyn Hershey

There is a body of water in the eastern United States known as the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay is known for its beauty and is home to crabs, oysters and more than 300 species of fish.

I live a little north of there in Pennsylvania. The land is hilly and all the creeks and rivers flow toward the Chesapeake Bay. We have a creek running through our farm, so we work very hard to keep any runoff from the farm from reaching the creek.

We want to protect the Bay!

We have installed stream-bank fencing that provides a buffer zone 25 feet on either side of the creek. Vegetation can grow wild there and absorb any water coming from the surrounding farm fields.

Rainwater that falls on the farm buildings — and the resulting runoff — is captured in pit. It is then pumped to another storage area, which keeps it confined and away from the creek.

We try to be as sustainable as possible, which means protecting the environment―and more!

Our farm is one of the 280 on-farm anaerobic digester systems in the United States. It benefits not just our farm, but the larger community by taking in potato waste from a local potato chip plant, as well as waste vegetable oil from restaurants. We mix those with manure in our manure digester. Methane is captured, which can be converted to electricity. We generate enough to power our farm and sell some of the surplus to a local utility company.

This anaerobic digest at Marilyn Hershey’s farm generates electrical power from cow manure, potato waste from a local potato chip plant and waste vegetable oil from restaurants.

I am proud to be a dairy farmer. I love waking up early and seeing the sunrise. I love working around nature. I love working with the animals and caring for them. I get very attached to the animals.

Bottom line: U.S. dairy farmers continue protecting the environment through our voluntary commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.

Much of our progress is organized through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Founded in 2008 by American dairy farmers, the Innovation Center brings together the dairy community and support socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound dairy food systems. This unites hundreds of organizations to make progress on efforts like food safety, nutrition, animal care and the environment.

Dairy farms, like the Hersheys’ 800-cow operation, have a big impact on the economy in Pennsylvania. Learn more about the impact in the video shown below:

In addition, click on this three-page bundle for the Keystone state. Bundles for all 48 of the continental U.S. states are available here.

ANIMAL CARE: Cheri Chapin, Remus, Mich.

On a recent trip to Japan and Hong Kong, Michigan dairy farmer Cheri Chapin enjoyed visiting supermarket dairy cases.

By Cheri Chapin

We are always looking for ways to improve at our dairy, whether it is the way we feed or the way we keep our cows comfortable.

Animal care is at the top of our priority list.

We keep close track of the animals’ health. Each of the cows wears a transponder around her neck which monitors her rumination and activity. If a cow’s rumination goes down, or she is not as active, it may an early warning sign of a health problem. We can check her temperature and see how she is doing.

A veterinarian comes out to check the cows every week, and a hoof trimmer comes to take care of the cows’ feet every two weeks.

We have good employees who are dedicated to animal care. They receive regular training, and we emphasize that the animals must be treated with respect. Before an employee is ever put in with the cows, he takes a training seminar and signs an agreement saying he will treat the animals humanely.

When visitors come to the farm, they comment that the animals are calm and appear to be well-cared-for. When it is 95 degrees outside, it’s interesting to watch the visitors when they step into the barns and the fans and misters are going, providing evaporative cooling. The cows are eating, and the visitors can’t believe how comfortable they are.

Our annual rolling herd average is 31,740 pounds per cow, which is nearly 9,000 pounds above the national average. To achieve this, we must do many things well. Cow care is one of them.

Bottom line: The U.S. dairy industry practices responsible production and continuous progress that results in a more sustainable milk supply.

U.S. Dairy pioneered the first livestock animal care program in the world to be recognized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Animal Welfare Management standards. We are enrolled in the FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Animal Program, which means we follow industry-accepted animal care guidelines and agree to have outside experts come in and verify that these practices are being followed.

Cheri Chapin’s farm and other dairy-related activities support more than 89,000 jobs in Michigan. Learn more here and the video below.

CUSTOMER CARE: Brad Scott, San Jacinto, Calif.

Brad Scott, center, manages a 1,100-cow dairy farm with his brother, Bruce, and father, Stan.

By Brad Scott

I grew up on a farm in southern California. Besides the farm, our family had a creamery or processing facility. We sold milk to retail outlets in the state of California and later out of state. Going out of state was a big deal at the time, but today with international distribution it’s a whole new story.

We produce products for international frozen yogurt companies like Menchies, TCBY and Yogurtland, some of whom have locations here in Tokyo (or Hong Kong).

It’s exciting to walk into a Yogurtland in Tokyo knowing that the product being served may well have come from our farm. We are always happy to talk to the clerks and customers in the stores about the farm and the creamery.

Everything is done on our farm with the cow’s well-being in mind. Our cows eat our own feed grown from our own land in a warm comfortable climate year-round.

When the frozen yogurt companies visit our farm, I impress on them that we care for the cows seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is not a 9-to-5 job.

Often, the company representatives are surprised to see green fields on our farm, since they had the impression that we live in a dry area of the country. Their eyes get big when they see the green.

Cows offer unique contributions to food systems. The fields produce crops, most of which we cannot digest, to feed the cows. The cows make highly nutritious milk. The manure from the cows goes to fertilize the fields. And the cycle begins all over again.

All the water on our farm is 100 percent recycled.

The frozen yogurt companies are pleased to see the farm is sustainable, and they gain a new awareness that quality begins on the farm.

They are similarly impressed when they visit the creamery. They are impressed by the quality of the people, their friendliness, their knowledge and their commitment to quality.

Bottom line: the U.S. dairy industry is customer-driven and committed to a sustainable milk supply to serve increasing global needs.

The dairy industry supports more than 390,000 jobs in California. Learn more here and the video below.

EFFICIENCY: Lowell Mueller, Hooper, Neb.

Lowell Mueller

By Lowell Mueller

It is estimated that 97 percent U.S. dairy farms are family-owned businesses. Like most farms our size, we must be efficient to stay in business.

We have switched from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent in the barns and have found the fluorescents are four times more efficient than the old incandescent bulbs.

One area where we have really improved is manure management. We are using nutrients from the cows’ manure more efficiently than ever before.

We flush the barns with water to remove manure, and then the solids are separated out before the water goes to lagoons. Lagoon water is then applied to the fields to supply moisture and nutrients for crops. We have some fields where we have used very little commercial fertilizer the past 30 years, and we have been able to maintain above-average yields.

We also practice no-till on many of the fields, which means the soil is left undisturbed after a crop is harvested. Soil erosion is almost eliminated, and we have seen improvements in our soil conditions and yield because of it.

We believe our manure management system is a good example of sustainability. We are using our resources wisely to get more corn, alfalfa hay and soybeans from every acre and more milk from every cow.

The amount of milk we get from each cow, on average, has almost doubled since I began at the farm 45 years ago.

I handle the breeding program and am very proud of the progress we have made. We are a registered herd, which means we keep detailed records of our cows, their ancestry and how they have improved over time.

We are dedicated to continuous improvement

Bottom line: As the world’s largest single-country milk producer, the efficiency of U.S. milk production yielded more than 97 million metric tons (MT), triple that of New Zealand and Australia combined in 2017.

To see what impact Mueller’s farm and the dairy industry at large has on Nebraska’s economy, click here.

Mueller and the other farmers highlighted in this article shared their stories with dairy buyers and traders during a trip to Japan and Hong Kong in early November. They also shared their experiences through social media. To see social media highlights from the trip, click here.

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