Farm Talk

June 4, 2013

Kansas milk production continues to rise

by Frank J. Buchman

Parsons, Kansas — Days of a Bossy in every farm barnyard are long gone.

Milking cows was part of being a farmer a century ago. As recent as a half century later, most farming operations had a few cows to milk.

Dairies specializing in milk production as the main agriculture enterprise expanded with most counties having several dozen dairy farmers.

That is no more.

Today, a number of counties have no dairies, and some that do, are typically small operations, with just a handful of cows for personal use, and “farmer’s market-type sales.”

Despite the shrinking number of dairies, Kansas’ milk cow numbers are up.

“There are 132,000 milk cows in Kansas today, ranking the state sixth in the nation in dairy inventory, up from 24th just a few years ago,” according to Mike Bodenhausen, executive director of the Kansas Dairy Commission and the Kansas Dairy Association.

A former lifetime dairyman, Bodenhausen, like many others in the industry, dispersed his family operation in 2005.

“I have always wanted to be in the dairy business, and really still do, but the high inputs and fluctuating price of milk, which created inconsistent profitability, forced us out of the business,” explained Bodenhausen, who farms large crop acreages with his family in Atchison County.

Kansas climbing the dairy inventory rank is not the only thing increasing.

“Even more impressive is that per cow production rates Kansas seventh in the nation,” he added.

“The sad thing about this all, to me, is that there is the smallest number of dairy farms in Kansas, likely in the history of the state. We have less than 400 dairies in Kansas,” Bodenhausen said.

“Yet, those dairies in business today are also milking more cows than ever,” he said.

“Two dozen dairies produce about 75 percent of the state’s milk production,” Bodenhausen said. “Many of these are family corporation dairies in southwest Kansas.

“They milk from 1,800 to 10,000 cows, with milking parlors in operation 22 hours a day,” Bodenhausen continued.

“This of course is much different than the 60 to 100 cow dairies that make up the majority of dairying in central and eastern Kansas. This extreme diversity is what makes dairying in Kansas so much different than other parts of the country,” Bodenhausen commented.

“Kansas is also unique in that four dairies process all or a portion of their herd’s milk production right on the farm. Some just process cheese, others do just fluid milk, and some, ice cream and fluid milk,” Bodenhausen said.

A division of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Agricultural Statistics, reports this year’s milk cow inventory is 107 percent of 2012, and compares to 122,000 cows, two years ago.

Additionally, there are 100,000 dairy replacement heifers being retained in Kansas, pointing to an even larger milk cow inventory in coming years, Bodenhausen noted.

The dairy female replacement number this year is up 118 percent from the two previous years, when annually 85,000 heifers were retained. It is necessary to remember that higher numbers of heifer retention, while pointing to expanded cow herd size, will be modified by cull cows pulled from the production chain.

“Kansas’ production per cow averaged 1,855 pounds at the first of this year, up 55 pounds from January, 2012, Kansas Agricultural Statistics indicate.

The January 2013 milk production in Kansas totaled 245 million pounds, up 10.9 percent from January 2012, Kansas Agricultural Statistics show.

Noteworthy, is the number of milk cows on farms in the 23 major states was 8.5 million at the first of this year, down 2,000 from a year earlier.

Per cow production in 23 states averaged 1,871 pounds for January, 11 pounds above January 2012. Total 23-state milk production was 15.9 billion pounds, up slightly from a year earlier.

Fluctuating milk prices, doubled with high variation in feed costs, at near all-time levels at the present time, continue to create inconsistency in dairy profitability, along with the ever demanding fact that cows must be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Nationwide promotional efforts of the dairy industry have increased awareness of milk products’ important impact on human nutrition, coupled with expanding export sales of cheese, butter and non-fat dried milk products, points to optimism for a transformed part of the Kansas farm picture.

“The Kansas Dairy Commission is a statewide commodity ‘check-off program’ for Kansas dairy producers, who fund the effort by paying the very nominal three-quarters of a cent per hundredweight of milk produced,” said Bodenhausen, who’s served the group since 2007.

As the dairy industry continues to grow, Kansas should continue to be a leader.

“While the Kansas dairy industry has changed markedly in the past century, it continues to be a key part of the state’s agriculture production. Abundant quality feed supplies and a central location in the nation attribute to making it attractive to dairy in Kansas,” Bodenhausen concluded. £