Dairy Farmers Look to Grow Plants Instead as U.S. Milk Consumption Drops Nearly 10%

Dairy Farmers Look to Grow Plants Instead as U.S. Milk Consumption Drops Nearly 10%

Dairy milk and ice cream sales have plummeted by 13 percent in the U.S. in recent years, says new data.

During the 30 years leading up to 2016, annual milk consumption fell by 93 pounds per person, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. John Urbanchuk, a professor of agribusiness at Delaware Valley, spoke to media publication Fox News about the shifting market. “I was appalled when I looked at the numbers,” he stated. “Fluid milk consumption per capita is down by 9.7 percent in the last five years, ice cream consumption is down 3.3 percent. People are just not consuming milk, and it’s putting the dairy industry in bad place.” 

The media publication notes many dairy companies are seeing contract cuts and uncertain futures. Last month, the international dairy cooperative, Arla Foods, ended the contracts of 11 dairy companies due to overproduction and “market volatility.” The news is similar for Grassland Dairy Producers. It dropped 75 independent dairy suppliers last year; and Dean Foods ended contracts with dozens of its dairy suppliers also due to falling sales.

According to data published by the Center for Dairy Excellence, the number of dairy farms in Pennsylvania decreased by 800 since 2012, with 80 of these shut down in the past two years alone. 

“These are frustrating times and many farmers are looking for an exit strategy,” commented Jayne Sebright, the executive director at the non-profit center. But Sebright’s view is challenged by Urbanchuk, who suggests farmers should stick to a familiar field but put their farming knowledge to use in the field of crop cultivation. “I’m not sure exiting is the best option,” he noted. “Farmers with good soil can produce other crops, which can provide an opportunity to remain in agriculture.” 

A number of dairy farmers are considering shifting into plant-based businesses. Popular plant-based milk brand Elmhurst is one company who did just that. Following 92 years of dairy manufacturing, it overhauled the brand in 2016 with a switch from cow’s milk to plant-based beverages. “[I]t was time to embrace a new model and look toward the future,” said CEO Henry Schwartz last year.

Other data reflects a strong consumer preference for vegan and plant-based dairy-style products. Survey results released in April found that half of U.S. consumers who buy dairy products also consume vegan alternatives.