Same milk price issues, different country

Milk prices affect dairy farmers across the world


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Prices at the farm-gate affect dairy farmers from across the world.

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Ed Gibson from Edmar Dairy in Kentucky. Photos: Samantha Townsend

Ed Gibson from Edmar Dairy in Kentucky. Photos: Samantha Townsend

In the Netherlands dairy herds are kept in barns most of the year. In the US dairy herd sizes are from one extreme to the other with small farms of 40 to those that milk thousands.

In Canada the dairy industry has phosphate regulations.

And in Australia it has a diverse dairy industry from pasture-based to total mixed rations, from seasonal calves to year-round calving while dealing with adverse weather conditions.

But all countries have one thing in common - they face the challenge of prices at the farm gate.

In the US, small dairy farmers like Ed Gibson from Edmar Dairy in Kentucky, are facing the fact they might be the last generation in the family to milk.

It's a dilemma being faced by many small dairy farmers in the US who are being pushed out by large companies because they can't compete with cheaper operation costs.

While they try to find efficiencies, they say it's getting harder as returns remain low.

Mr Gibson, who milks around 50 cows, introduced a robotic milker in 2014 to "make life easier", but even that hadn't helped bring better returns.

"Milk prices have been hard in the last five years sitting at $17 per 100 pounds of milk," he said.

"At the end of the day bigger farms can make milk cheaper than smaller farmers, so long term there is no optimism."

In the short term he has diversified into cheese products made from his milk to value add. He was able to do this through a government grant of US$90,000, of which half has to be paid back.

But even that has been hard as US consumers were not committed to the paddock to plate concept.

"I'm fourth generation, but I might be the last and I'm not alone," he said.

Fourth generation farmer Haley Fisher sold the last of family's dairy herd in February as the dairy was 'bleeding their family".

She is now an instructor at a mobile dairy that teaches children about where their milk comes from.

But while prices are low at the farm gate, international figures show demand for milk globally is on the rise in many countries.

At the Alltech ONE19 conference in Lexington Kentucky, Torsten Hemme from IFCN, a global dairy related research network, said global milk demand growth had risen 2.3 per cent (19 million tonnes).

Dr Hemme said the driver for this demand growth was more people, one billion since 2007 and more milk consumed per person each year (16 kilograms).

In the US, dairy herd sizes go from one extreme to the next, with small dairy herds of 40 to those that milk thousands.

In the US, dairy herd sizes go from one extreme to the next, with small dairy herds of 40 to those that milk thousands.

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