National Dairy Month 2021: Surviving the lows and celebrating the highs of the past year
By Darren Turley
TAD Executive Director
What a strange year the past 12 months have been for everyone, including Texas dairy farmers. As National Dairy Month begins, it seems a fitting time to reflect on both the lows and highs our state’s dairy industry has experienced since last June, and how they’ve impacted consumers.
A year ago, National Dairy Month saw the country deep in the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers were drinking lots of milk and eating other dairy products while quarantining at home, but sales were down overall because large-volume dairy users such as restaurants were closed.
Still, dairy farmers and workers stayed on the job. You can’t run a dairy farm or feed livestock on Zoom, and you can’t turn off a cow’s milk production. As a result – both during the early days of the pandemic and during February’s historic winter storm – the state’s dairy farmers, for a time, had more milk than they could process and sell.
Unfortunately, that led to a short-term dumping of milk by some dairy farmers. At the start of the pandemic, the national milk supply exceeded demand by 10%. Milk disposal was more widespread in other parts of the country than in Texas.
But Winter Storm Uri, although it lasted about a week, had a tremendous impact on Texas dairy farms when the weather and power outages closed down roads and processing plants. The Texas Department of Agriculture estimates that $14 million in milk was lost.
Not only is it a financial blow to see your livelihood flow down a drain, it also is disheartening to see your hard work go to waste when so many individuals are in need.
Despite these hardships, there’s plenty to celebrate during National Dairy Month.
First, Texas in December produced 1.3 billion pounds of milk (more than 151 million gallons) to overtake New York as the nation’s fourth largest milk producing state. Now it remains to be seen if that can be sustained under a plan to curtail overproduction – our cows are making more milk than we can sell. A new processing plant in Texas would truly be something to celebrate.
Second, our ranking moved up because milk production continues to boom – up 7% last year. That translates into jobs and a boost to local and state economies.
Third, 18.6% of U.S. dairy production was exported in March – the second-highest month of all time. Exports are expected to climb year over year as foreign markets mature.
Finally, as the pandemic eases, the country is returning to “normal,” with businesses and restaurants opening. An increase in food service sales will boost dairy producer income. Fingers crossed that we continue on this recovery course, for many reasons.
Our dairy farm families and workers couldn’t survive the industry’s lows and celebrate its highs without the support of Texans who purchase and enjoy our products. So, grab a glass of milk, a scoop of ice cream, a slice of cheese or other favorite dairy product and join us in celebrating National Dairy Month.
Darren Turley is executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen, which can be found at www.milk4texas.org and on Facebook and Twitter.