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Future holds challenges, opportunities for dairy producers

New Journal of Dairy Science review looks at next 50 years of dairy production.

In the future, global food production systems will come under increasing pressure from population growth, urbanization and climate change.

Over the last two years, scientists from the U.S., the U.K. and Sweden have examined projections and current data to identify ways the dairy industry may respond to these challenges to meet increased demand for dairy products over the next half-century. A new review published in the Journal of Dairy Science projects how dairy producers will meet these challenges and take advantage of opportunities in 2067 and beyond.

The global population is expected to increase from 7.6 billion to 10.5 billion people by 2067, while arable land per capita will decrease 25%, the announcement said. Because population growth will be uneven, disparity in arable land per capita is also expected to increase. With increased population density comes increased urbanization, which typically has led to greater personal income and, thus, greater demand for dairy products.

It is also expected that climate change will force changes in the location of dairy production, the scientists said. In the Northern Hemisphere, where 86% of the world's milk is produced, the effects of climate change are less tempered by oceanic effects. Dairy production will shift to areas with more sustainable water supplies and adequate growing seasons in response to changes in climate, they noted.

Meeting increased demand in the face of these challenges will require dairy farms to be profitable and sustainable.

"Dairy farmers in 2067 will meet the world's needs for essential nutrients by adopting technologies and practices that provide improved cow health and longevity, profitable dairy farms and sustainable agriculture," said Dr. Jack H. Britt, North Carolina State University professor and associate dean emeritus.

The authors forecast that dairy farmers will adopt ways of managing the microbiome of cows' digestive systems and other body systems to improve animal health and well-being. They also believe that there will be more attention to managing a cow's epigenome, which mediates longer-term responses to the environment.

The dairy industry will increase production and safety through consolidation, modernization and specialization. Global trade will be an important factor influencing profitability, and larger dairy farms will continue to make greater use of automation to reduce costs, the scientists said.

Improvements in genetic selection are expected to lead to dairy cattle lines that are healthier, produce milk more efficiently and are more resistant to disease and heat.

The authors expect to see a shift from simply exporting dairy surpluses to instead producing value-added products tailored to specific tastes and customs.

"The world faces a challenge in feeding its expanding population during the next 50 years, and we forecast that dairying will meet this challenge by exploiting knowledge and technology to develop better dairy cows and more productive and sustainable dairy farms," Britt said. "Our vision is that dairying in the future will reflect sustainable intensification that benefits animals, agroecosystems and humankind through production of key nutrients for human consumption."

The review is available online at http://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(18)30181-4/fulltext.

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