Dairy BenefitsBy Austin Gellings, AEM Agricultural Services Manager

Dairy plays a vital part in the diets of millions of Americans. The average person in the United States consumes 276 pounds of dairy in a year. However, despite its undeniable impact on society, dairy is often misunderstood by a significant percentage of the population.

What is (or at least should be) known, though, is dairy is among the most essential industries in agriculture today. And, from the technological innovations that help with the actual milking of the cow, such as robotic milkers, to the economic impact of the dairy industry, all the way to the efforts being undertaken by the industry to be more environmentally sustainable, it’s critical to recognize – and celebrate – the benefits of dairy.

With that fact in mind, AEM’s Dairy Leadership Group recently put together an informational flyer detailing the top benefits in modern milking today. Listed below are five, as well as some additional information and perspective as to why they are so important.

Benefit No. 1 – Today, the U.S. dairy industry produces more milk than in 1944 with 16 million fewer cows.

The U.S. is one of the largest producers of dairy and dairy-related products in the world. In 2020, Americans produced more than 223 billion pounds of milk. For comparisons sake, back in 1944, the U.S produced 116 billion pounds of milk. That is an increase of over 107 billion pounds, all while milking 16 million fewer cows. Innovations within the industry have allowed for these gains in productivity. New technologies, such as modern parlor systems, or the even newer robotic milkers, have made milking easier than ever before. This, paired with the new advancements in monitoring and maintaining a cow’s health throughout her lifetime, has allowed for such a significant increase in production. Simply stated, cows today are healthy, happy and productive.

Benefit No. 2 – The U.S. dairy industry accounts for 1% of GDP. For comparison, the entire automotive industry accounts for 2.7%.

With all of that dairy that is being produced, the industry plays a vital part in the U.S. economy. Contributing over $628 billion to the U.S.’s annual GDPit accounts for nearly 1%. For comparison’s sake, the auto industry accounts for 2.7% of total U.S. GDP. That $628 million is a direct result of the over 3 million jobs accounted for by the industry. These jobs rage from the manufacturing of dairy related equipment to the actual running and management of dairy farms, all the way down to the processing of dairy to create some of everyone’s favorite treats like cheese and ice cream. These jobs account for over $159 billion in wages that go toward supporting all of the people and their families that rely on the dairy industry as a source of income.

Benefit No. 3 – Dairy farmers across the U.S. are using a number of innovations to be environmentally friendly.

With all of these gains in productivity and contributions to the U.S. economy, the dairy industry has continued to find ways to leverage these technologies that have resulted in these productivity gains to also reduce the industry’s environmental footprint. Over the last 25 years, dairy has managed to reduce its carbon footprint by 63%, water usage by 65% and methane production by 57%. Technology and more efficient farming practices are the two biggest contributors to all of these gains. All aspects of raising and milking cattle have seen these improvements, from the production of feed to the milking and managing of the cattle, all the way down to the actual handling of the manure. There are even new technologies to allow farmers to capture methane and convert it into electricity. That manure can also be used as organic fertilizer. One 750 dairy cow can produce enough manure fertilizer to cover 2,700 acres.

Benefit No. 4 – 97% of the over 34,000 U.S. dairy farms are family-owned and operated.

All of these gains can be associated with innovation. However, a common misconception is that dairy is mainly large, corporate farms, and that is why they are able to utilize all these technologies. Contrary to that perception, 97% of the over 34,000 US dairy farms are family owned and operated. These families work night and day to produce one of the most essential and pivotal products for the American diet.

Benefit No. 5 – Dairy is an excellent source for the essential nutrients needed for life.

The end product of all their hard work, dairy, actually contains 18 out of the 22 essential nutrients that are needed for life and USDA recommends 2-3 servings of it a day. The health benefits don’t end there either. Consuming dairy can also help with heart health, lowering blood pressure, and also can help provide a possibly reduced risk of type-2 diabetes.

All in all, the dairy industry has come a long way since the days of a farmer going down to the barn with a milk pale and a stool. Nowadays, farmers have the ability to remotely monitor a cow’s health, use robots to milk the cows, and even generate electricity from the manure. This has led to a number of gains in productivity and environmental sustainability, all while the dairy industry continues to produce some of the most nutritious foods available. The impact the dairy industry has on the lives of the majority of Americans is undeniable and it is something that should be celebrated.

So, as AEM recognizes an industry that feeds the world, embraces technological innovation and advancement, as well as plays a vital role in our U.S. economy by accounting for over 3 million domestic jobs, the association asks its members to do their part and show their support during National Dairy Month.

Learn More

There are several common myths about the dairy industry that a significant percentage of the population believes to be true. They aren't, and here's why

For more information on AEM’s efforts to support the dairy industry, contact AEM’s Austin Gellings at agellings@aem.org.

For more perspectives from AEM staff, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.