5 Modern Dairy Industry Benefits to Acknowledge and Celebrate

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3/18/2024

Dairy Benefits

By Austin Gellings, AEM Director of Agricultural Services — 

In celebrating National Agriculture Week and National Ag Day, AEM recognizes the importance of agriculture and the role it plays in our society. What’s more, we applaud the role of farmers in helping our members develop the equipment making it possible for food to get from the fields to our tables. Learn more

Dairy plays a vital part in the diets of millions of Americans. The average person in the United States consumes approximately 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. 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 important to recognize – and celebrate – the benefits of dairy. 

With that fact in mind, AEM’s Dairy Leadership Group put together an informational flyer detailing the top benefits in modern milking today. Listed below are five, along with 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. American dairy farmers produced more than 226.6 billion pounds of milk. For comparison's sake, almost 80 years ago, the U.S. produced 116 billion pounds of milk. That is an increase of over 107 billion pounds, all while milking 16.2 million fewer cows.

Innovations within the industry have allowed for these gains in productivity. New technologies, such as modern parlor systems, or even the newer robotic milkers, have made milking easier than ever. 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 3.5% of GDP. For comparison, the entire automotive industry accounts for 3%. 

With all the dairy being produced, the industry plays a vital part in the U.S. economy. Contributing over $752 billion to the U.S.’s annual GDP, it accounts for nearly 3.5% of US GDP. For comparison’s sake, the auto industry accounts for 3% of total U.S. GDP. That $752.93 billion 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 to the processing of dairy to create some of everyone’s favorite treats like cheese and ice cream. These jobs account for more than $41.6 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 the 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 15 years, dairy has managed to reduce its GHG footprint by 17%, water usage by 10%, land use by 26%. And feed use by 15%. 

Technology, genetics and more efficient farming practices are the biggest contributors to all the 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-lb. 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 the 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 conception, 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 two or three 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 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 can 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 applauded.  

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 Agriculture Week. 

Learn More

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

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

AEM Blog, AEM Updates, Agriculture & Forestry

For more AEM news and updates, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.

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