Dairy’s Future: Fewer and Larger Farms And More Technology

David and Adi Foster with their children. Photo sent.

June is National Dairy Month and fortscott.biz interviews David and Linda Foster, whose family runs the Foster Dairy Farm southwest of Hwy’s Fort Scott. 39 to get their perspective on the current state and future of the dairy industry.

David and his wife Adi are in partnership with his mother and father Linda and Gary Foster.

Linda and Gary Foster from her Facebook page.

Linda’s grandfather, Ed Davis, started the farm in the 1940s, she said.

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

An interview with David and Linda follows.

Tell us about the state of dairy farms in Kansas.

“There are currently 209 dairy farms in Kansas, and while we may have lost a lot of dairy farming, the number of cows is growing, and Kansas currently has about 142,000 mature dairy cows,” said Linda Foster. “Kansas is ranked 15th in the nation.”

“There is a new cheese factory in Hillmar, which is expected to be operational in about 2.5 years, where we also expect to see an additional 100,000 cows to be added to the state,” she said.

The Hillmar cheese processing plant will be a state-of-the-art facility in Dodge City, western Kansas.

How has the pandemic affected your farm?

“We’ve mostly had supply chain outages,” said David Foster. “It did not change the work that had to be done on a daily basis. We were still traveling to pick up supplies such as alfalfa, fodder and minerals. He canceled the annual meetings in the organizations of which we are a part. Like everyone, there were certain precautions that had to be taken if someone got sick.

What is happening in the industry now?

“Exports are still increasing and are expected to be higher this year, with 1 in 6 semi-tanks of milk being exported,” Linda said.

“Milk prices are rising and setting records in some areas, as well as many of our raw materials, especially feed, fertilizers, fuels – all these costs are outpacing the rising price of milk,” she said. “Some of the most notable current developments in the dairy industry, of course, have been the shortage of formula for babies.

What is on the horizon for the dairy industry from your point of view?

“I believe we will continue to see consolidation, dairy farms are getting bigger, smaller farms are disappearing,” David said. “I believe that the days of families who received their only income from the dairy have passed. Today, a farmer on a smaller dairy, with less than 300 cows, needs a husband off the farm to do so and provide his families with extra income as well as health insurance.

“Automated milking systems will continue to be used and will allow farms to alleviate the problems of an exhausted / barely existing labor market,” he said. “Recent reports have shown that for every person who does not have a job, there are 2 jobs available. This means that agricultural operations are struggling to compete in wages with other industries, as well as struggling to attract labor due to traditional physical requirements and the long hours of agricultural operation.

Automatically, or robotic milking systems typically operate without anyone present to monitor the milking process and have been used in commercial farms over the past decade, according to sciencedirect.com

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

“I believe you will see that dairy farms continue to diversify their operations to include other farming activities that complement milking and agriculture, such as truck transport or custom harvesting and haymaking,” he said.

“Technologies like methane digesters will allow value-added returns from cow dung and allow dairies to reap additional profits,” David said. “Dairies will use solar and wind energy to reduce peak energy costs.”

“I’m always researching and trying to explore options for emerging technologies that would make our work more efficient,” David said. “The goal of sustainability is always to do more with less. We are the only remaining dairy in Bourbon County and one of the few remaining in all of southeast Kansas. There may be interest in adding processing to the farm in the future to serve the needs of this 4th area with a local, quality, food product.

“I believe that with the advertised food shortages and supply disruptions, we will continue to feel a growing demand from consumers who want to get local produce,” he said. “We have seen this increase significantly in the beef industry, as consumers wanted to buy directly from the farmer. We see this in farmers’ markets. Other areas have supported our local operations and we may not be far from considering, but in order to expand our operations to include processing or other technologies, we need to expand our team of people who can share our vision and hopes for better future. ”

“Some of the biggest hurdles I see for dairy products, and perhaps shared by all businesses, will be labor, inflation, which is then tied to interest rates and increased taxes, and supply and availability prices,” David said.

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