WELCH, Minn. – Dr. Gordie Jones gave a glimpse on how he sees the future of the dairy industry during his presentation Dec. 6 at the Vita Plus Dairy Summit 2018 in Welch, Minn.
    “The U.S. dairy industry is undergoing a fundamental and rapid reorganization,” said Jones, who is a veterinarian, independent dairy performance consultant and partner at Central Sands Dairy LLC in Nekoosa, Wis.
    To understand how dairy got to where it is today, Jones looked backwards.
    Cows were born during the last ice age, and the first farmers were established nearly 7,000 years ago in what is modern-day Iraq, Jones said.
    “They discovered the large headed grains,” he said. “We went from hunter gatherers to farmers.”
    Farmers have only been able to domesticate about 15 species, Jones said.
    “The cow is the star,” Jones said. “As we came into Europe she became the tractor. She plowed the earth. She was our protein and fertilizer. So, she’s truly the foundation of civilization. Cows are the reason we all exist.”
    Over time, Jones said there have been four major forces shaping agriculture: the industrialization and consolidation of production, globalization of markets, food safety and consumerism.
    This has brought us to today’s dairy industry. Jones described the four types of dairy sectors. Sunset dairies are ones where the current owners are the last generation who will milk cows. Niche dairies use their dairy to market to a specific group of people. This includes organic farms or ones with on-farm creameries. Lifestyle dairies are ones that consider dairying a way of life for their family.
    “I used to call these the black hole option where they would bring money back to the dairy and pour it down a black hole at times,” Jones said.
    The last sector is large dairies. Jones defines a large dairy as one that ships a semi load of milk every two days, which would be around 400 cows.
    “Our cheese and milk processors have to be efficient just like we do, so suddenly they can’t send five or six trucks out,” Jones said. “They’ll send one semi.”
    Typically, a herd size doubles every 10 years so Jones said most farmers will double their herd size four times in their lifetime.
    “In Wisconsin, the most expensive cow is the 701st cow,” Jones said. “That’s the cow that brings you into [following regulations for being] a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation). That cow requires more manure storage, more regulation and everything else. Somewhere in that 700-cow level we make a commitment to a different style of dairying.”
    Today in the United States, there are under 40,000 dairy herds with 9.2 million cows. There are about 3,400 dairy herds above 500 cows. These herds produce 85 percent of the total milk in the nation.
    Although there are people who want to reduce the number of cows in the world to reduce greenhouse gases, Jones said ruminant animals are important since they can graze and eat off the untillable land.
    “Nobody’s talking about the cars we’re driving,” Jones said. “If cars were as efficient as dairy cows we would be getting 300 miles to the gallon. We’ve done a wonderful job. But ruminants still have a huge place on our planet.”
    But Jones sees a shift in the location of dairies in the United States in the future, especially as temperatures have trended up for the last 40 years, he said.
    “Water will be huge,” he said. “By 2067, the lack of water will drive dairy relocation to the Midwest. Dairies will shift from seven states that produce 42 percent of the milk today and will have to move to the Midwest because their water use demands are not sustainable.”
    As Jones sees it, farms of the future will be bigger. He envisions a typical dairy to be a cluster of three milking sites totaling 3,500 cows each. These three sites will share a heifer, dry cow and transition management facility with more automation and artificial intelligence.
    “It will be a lateral integration of function,” Jones said. “Herds of the future will have an understanding of super organisms as they keep getting bigger. Our herds will continue to get bigger and continue to get better.”
    The industry will continue to do better at management, Jones said.
    “I was told by Temple Grandin that A.I. companies have given us a cow we can’t manage,” Jones said. “I don’t believe that for a second.”
    Because of better management, cows will produce more milk.
    “Milk is the absence of stress,” Jones said. “As you remove stress from cows, she’s able to perform in her ability.”
    Jones predicts by 2065, a typical rolling herd average will be 30,000 pounds with herds producing over 70,000 pounds of milk.
    In the next 10 years, Jones foresees the nation’s cow numbers staying steady at 9.5 million, but the herd numbers will drop under 30,000 with 50 percent of the cows in the United States being in 4,000 herds.
    “West of the Rockies will start to slow down with the competition for water and markets,” he said. “Growth will be expected in … Kansas all the way to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. As the industry consolidates into fewer and larger farms, contractual arrangements will play a bigger and bigger role in the industry.”
    Whatever the size of a dairy, Jones said cow comfort will always play a big part of the success of a dairy.
    “Cow comfort is universal,” he said. “It’s independent of size. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 40 cows or 4,000 cows. We can take better and better care of cows.”