Pick up any business publication and you will see the word innovation used extensively. Listen to any state leader talk about jobs or the economy, and the term innovation will be used extensively. According to the experts, innovation is what is needed to grow our economy, solve our problems, and improve our society. Technology is cited as the cornerstone of innovation, yet one industry that has employed technology and demonstrated dramatic increases in production, efficiency, safety, and quality through innovation, finds itself being ridiculed for it.
The U.S. dairy industry is not only one of the most productive food sectors in the world, its history is an amazing story of technological innovation that has benefited dairy producers, dairy cows, and dairy consumers. Yet, it is a sector of agriculture that continually comes under attack by animal rights, consumers, and public health malcontents.
There is no other food or beverage that provides the same health benefits as milk, yet the Obama administration banned most milk products from school lunch menus. Milk is the only food product never touched by human hands until it reaches your kitchen, yet false claims about antibiotics, toxins, and even glyphosate continue to circulate in the media — even though milk is thoroughly tested before it ever leaves the farm. The industry pasteurizes all and homogenizes most milk to insure its safety and consistency, yet some continue to advocate for the sale of raw milk.
In order to keep milk prices stable and affordable for consumers, dairy producers have engaged in consistent and dramatic innovation. Just in the past 10 years, per cow milk production has increased by over 13%. Over the past 50 years, milk production has shown a consistent and meteoric increase. All this has been accomplished without a significant increase in the number of dairy cows. In the past decade, cow numbers have increased only 2%.
The dairy industry has been quick to respond to consumer concerns. When fat became public enemy No.1 in the 1980s, the industry responded with lower fat milk products such as 1%, 2%, or skim. As cheese and yogurt became the fad foods, the industry responded with a variety of new products. Today, in many stores, the yogurt and cheese cases are bigger than the milk case. Yet, all this innovation has necessitated a change in the dairy business.
This change, like almost any change in agriculture, has been met with criticism, unfounded accusations, and misinformation. Some dairy farms have gotten larger to be more efficient, while others have remained small to be more specialized. Some producers have adopted robotic technology, while others have turned to biotechnology. In response to animal care concerns, a growing number of dairy operations submit to an annual audit and inspection by an independent third party. Yet, too often, this kind of innovation has gone unacknowledged or even been besmirched.
So as we begin the dairy month, lift a cold glass of milk and toast the productivity and innovation or the American dairy farmer!
By Gary Truitt