California Dairy Farmers Need To Grow Their Own Feed


Milk production in California, the largest milk producer, decreased four percent in 2009, according to a report by Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research Advisory Group (FAR). The report calls the decrease the “largest single decrease ever recorded in California and the first year of negative milk growth since 1978.” For the same year in Wisconsin, the second largest milk producer, milk production actually increased by 3.15 percent, representing the biggest increase in 16 years despite a decrease in milk prices. So what’s the difference?

California dairy farmers are more reliant on purchased feed. The total feed costs increased 78 percent for California dairy farmers from 2006 to 2009, but only increased 12 percent for Wisconsin farmers. Wisconsin feed prices increased 69 percent, but farmers purchase much less of their feed since they grow their own. Half of California’s cost of production is actually from purchased feed, whereas it’s only 24 percent for Wisconsin farmers.

The report also points out that California farmers focus on specialization and scale in milk production and have large herd sizes. Wisconsin farmers “use a more integrated dairying model with fewer cows per operation.” Wisconsin has 14,158 dairy farms while California only has 1,923, according to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture.

Report suggests California dairy farmers need to export more

The report’s solution for the California dairy industry’s problems is to increase exports, although it does also recommend growing their own feed. “The export market now offers pricing at least as attractive as that available domestically and provides the only real avenue to significant volume growth,” the report states.

However, there is a problem with increasing exports, as a report on the Jamaican dairy industry shows. Small Jamaican dairy farmers are going out of business because they are unable to compete with subsidized milk imports.

Jamaica is the “second most heavily indebted country in the world (measured as debt per GDP),” according to the report, and spends about $10 million a year on imported milk.

A report on Kenya for ActionAid International Kenya (AAIK) looked at the effects of the surge of imported milk increases from 1992 to 2001. The report found that 40 percent of the Kenyan dairy farmers surveyed said they were negatively affected by the milk import increases and 35 percent said farm employment was negatively affected.

Growing more feed is the real solution

The best way for California dairy farmers to reduce their cost production is by growing more of their own feed, as Wisconsin farmers already do. An Associated Press article in March from Riverdale, California, which is a rural community in Fresno County loaded with dairy farms, states that Asian exports expanded, but California dairy farmers still struggle with the 2009 price decrease. The article also points out that corn prices are higher, which makes corn-based feed an added burden for already cash-strapped dairy farmers.

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Photo: Flickr user Kiwi Flickr


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Melinda K.
Past Member 6 years ago


Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago

very interesting. thank you.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Yeah, Zoe.......gave my age away, didn't I? Back then, milk was delivered by the milkman to the house. It came in glass bottles and everyone had a "milk box" on the front porch. Mom would leave out this thingey that had pop-up tabs to let him know what she wanted NEXT TIME.

Zoe B.
Zoe B6 years ago

diane, I have to "lol" at the shaking the bottle to homogenize the milk, haha, here where I live, there is a machine beside the dairy co-op, and the farmers fill it every morning with RAW milk. it's the nicest thing in the world to me, but, the cream on top is a bit off putting, i shake the bottles every time I open the fridge.

Yvette S.
Past Member 6 years ago

One slight problem..there is a severe water issue in California, affecting crops, cattle, ranchers, farmers, and general populations.
"While the researchers are on the mark when they list the variety of measures that need to be taken to help avert a major environmental and human disaster, which include implementing substantial conservation and efficiency measures as well as instituting price increases for both urban and agricultural users, they rule out utilizing existing desalination technology for water production." 3p Series
If you think grass just grows, cows just give milk, and spaghetti grows on trees I think a reality check of visiting and or/working on a ranch or farm can help anyone get a truer sense of how labor intensive, expensive and 'growing your own feed' is, and how little profit is actually seen by the majority of dairy farmers as it is. It is not less to grow their own, it is actually far more when you add up water values, seed, labor, time, energy, (multiply any garden you have by 1,000 acres and you get the drift).
I mentioned drinking Rice Milk in a previous post, and I remain an advocate of milk alternatives for many reasons, one of which is the carbon footprint made by cows, milk production, and all of the processes which follows from cow to frig is just too much for me to indulge.

Eugene Kravis
Eugene Kravis6 years ago

In 1953 I milked 47 cows on a dairy farm in upper New York State. We grew all our own feed including corn and grass silage, hay and field corn, which we had ground at a local mill; fed to the high producing Holstein milk cows. The manure was mechanically spread by tractor over the fields. So what's new?

Abbe A.
Azaima A6 years ago

good idea

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Ummm, a bit "off topic" but has anyone else noticed that the article is about DAIRY cows, but the photo shows a BEEF cow? That's not a dairy cow, people. In another discussion about eating meat, they show a bunch of Holsteins, which are dairy cows. Wonder why the writers' can't use more appropriate would add a bit more credibility to what they write about, at least.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Pat V., I've never remembered NOT drinking milk and I'm almost 70, although I don't drink it by the glass with every meal as I did when a kid. I do use it on cereal, with some fruits, especially strawberries or peaches, and of course, in cooking.

In the past, if you ever watched shows on TV such as "Little House on the Prairie", most families kept a cow around for milk, and they made butter & cheese from it. Back then, families were bigger, kids kept "coming" and when they sat down to dinner, there was a pitcher of milk on the table (no refrigerators then, obviously) so it was fresh from "Bossy". I remember as a kid, though, I HATED whole milk and the cream made me gag.......growing up, it was my "job" to shake the bottle (glass ones then) to distribute it. I was so glad when they came out with "homogenized"!