The future of dairy farming: fewer and larger farms AND more technology

With children David and Addi Foster. Photo submitted.

June is National Milk Month and fortscott.biz interviewed David and Lynda Foster, whose family operates in Foster Dairy Farm Hwy southwest of Fort Scott. 39 to get an overview of the current situation and the future of the dairy industry.

David and his wife, Addi, are collaborating with his mother and father, Lynda and Gary Foster.

Lynda and Gary Foster from their Facebook page.

Lynda’s grandfather, Ed Davis, started the farm in the 1940s, he said.

Now the fifth generation, David and Addi’s eldest daughters, Ansley, 15, and Mayla, 13, are helping out on the farm.

The following is an interview with David and Lynda.

Tell us about the state of the dairy farms in Kansas.

“There are currently 209 dairy farms in Kansas and even though we have lost a number of dairy farming operations, we are growing the number of cows in Kansas with about 142,000 adult cows,” Lynda Foster said. “Kansas is ranked 15th in the nation.”

“A new Hillmar Cheese plant is under construction which we expect to start operating in 2.5 years from now, where we also expect to add 100,000 cows to the state,” he said.

The Hillmar Cheese Processing Plant will be a state-of-the-art facility in Dodge City, west Kansas.

How did the pandemic affect your farm?

“We’ve had supply chain disruptions on average,” David Foster said. “It didn’t change the work that had to be done every day. We were still traveling to get supplies like alfalfa, fodder, and ore. The annual meetings of the participating organizations were canceled. Like everyone else, certain measures had to be taken if someone got sick. ”

What is happening in the industry now?

“Exports are still rising, and are expected to be higher this year, with 1 in 6 semi-tank milk exports,” Lyda said.

“Milk prices are rising and records are being set in some areas, so a lot of our input, especially feed, fertilizer, fuel – all of these input costs are raising the price of milk,” he said. “Some of the most notable current events in dairy farming were, of course, a shortage of formula for children.”

What’s in the sky for the dairy industry from your perspective?

“I think we will continue to see consolidation, with dairy farms growing, smaller farms disappearing,” David said. “I think the days of families earning a single income from dairy have gone away. Today, in a smaller dairy, a farmer with less than 300 cows needs an off-farm spouse to do so and provide his family with additional income and health insurance. ”

“Automated milking systems will continue to grow in use and allow farms to alleviate problems related to the depleted / barely existing labor market,” he said. “Recent reports have shown that there are 2 jobs for every unemployed person. This means that agricultural operations are struggling to compete for wages against other industries, and they are also struggling to attract work because of the usual physical demands and long hours of an agricultural operation. ”

Automatic, or robotic, milking systems typically operate without anyone monitoring the milk process and have been used on commercial farms for the past decade, according to sciencedirect.com.

Foster has an automated milking system that allows cows to enter at will when they need to be milked. Photo submitted.

“I believe that dairy farms continue to diversify their operations to include other agricultural actions that make up milk and agriculture, such as custom trucks or harvests and herbal operations,” he said.

“Technologies like methane digesters will allow us to return the added value of cow manure, and dairies can reap additional benefits,” David said. “Dairies will use the sun and wind to reduce energy costs.”

“I’m always looking at it and making an effort to look at the possibilities of emerging technologies that would make our operation more efficient,” David said. “The goal of sustainability is always to do more with less. We are the only remaining milk in Bourbon County and one of the few left in southeastern Kansas. There may be an interest in adding farm processing in the future to meet the needs of this 4-state area with a local, quality, and nutritious product. ”

“I believe that with food shortages and supply disruptions, we will continue to feel a growing consumer demand for a local source,” he said. “We saw this significant rise in the meat industry as consumers wanted to buy directly from the farmer. We see that in farmers markets. Other areas support their local operations, and we may not be far from thinking, but in order to expand our operations or include other technologies, we need to expand our team and share a group of people who can share our vision and hopes for a better future. ”

“Some of the biggest hurdles I see for milk, and perhaps all businesses share them, will be labor, inflation, which is then linked to interest and tax increases, and supply prices and availability,” David said.

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