PALM DESERT, CALIF. – Dairy industry executives gathered in Palm Desert Jan. 23-26 for Dairy Forum 2022 to learn what’s “New, now and next” for the US dairy industry. In the opening session, Michael Dykes, president and chief executive officer of the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, said the United States is poised to become the world’s dominant supplier of dairy products.

“While serious headwinds continue, the outlook for our industry is bright, thanks to your ability to embrace innovation, invest in growth and remain unified,” Mr. Dykes said.

He highlighted four areas where the industry needs to continue to focus to achieve this status. First is to build a more resistant and flexible supply chain. The second is to move to more sustainable dairy. Currently, 75% of the milk produced in the United States is in a commitment to be net zero by 2050. But sustainability is more than the milk that’s produced. 

“We’re also talking about the packaging that the product is in,” Mr. Dykes said. “And we can’t forget that when it comes to sustainability in dairy, we do have animals involved. So, we’ve got to think about animal welfare, and what are we doing, and how are we caring for the animals, and caring for the workers.

“Sustainability is moving from storytelling to accountability, with real science-based metrics that are measurable. And when we get things that are measurable, that means we can track them.”

The metrics, which initially will be self-reported and then likely move to independent auditing, will be monitored by investors and stakeholders. The metrics will drive decisions, much like a financial profit and loss statement. Metrics will become a condition of sale and it all starts on the farm. 

“Our farmers are doing some amazing, incredible things with nutrition and with genetics,” Mr. Dykes said. “They’re becoming incredibly efficient. Our farmers today are producing about twice as much milk today with half as many cows as we did 60 years ago. A glass of milk today has a carbon footprint that’s two-thirds smaller than it was. The things they’re doing with components, butterfat, protein, somatic cell counts, it’s absolutely phenomenal.”

That brings us to the third area of focus, which is harnessing technology and innovation. This goes beyond the dairy farm. 

“Growth is so important to the processing industry as well as to the producing industry,” Mr. Dykes said. “We have seen about $2 billion invested over the last couple years, and there’s approximately another $2 billion slated for the next three years. That equates to nearly 2,000 jobs.”

Recent investments cited included a new cheese and whey plant in St. Johns, Mich., which is a joint venture between Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America and Select Milk Producers. Leprino Foods has invested $870 million into a new mozzarella and dairy ingredients plant in East Lubbock, Texas. 

The fourth area of where to focus to make the United States the global leader in dairy is to attract and retain the best people. The IDFA has been working on this during the past three years and currently has five people programs opened to its membership. They are: the next-gen leadership class; women in dairy; dairy diversity, equity and inclusion; human resource leaders in dairy; and the power of people conference. 

The consumer, of course, is key to the industry’s growth. Mr. Dykes believes that a health and wellness positioning of dairy foods, along with constant innovation, will keep consumers interested. 

“Demand is up,” Mr. Dykes said. “The last two years have been the strongest on record. Per capita consumption is up 3 lbs per person. Now, we’re consuming that in different ways. We’re eating more of our dairy than we are drinking. Butter has been crazy. Cheese is driving the bus. Fluid milk is declining, but dairy demand is increasing.”

This is the story in the global marketplace, too. The Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture, Washington, reported on Dec. 17, 2021, that despite the logistical challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, US dairy exports were set to record a stellar year led by shipments of skimmed milk powder, cheese and butter. 

“More of US milk production is going into dairy products that are exported than is going into what we drink,” Mr. Dykes said. “This is a relatively new thing in our dairy world, because probably 20 years ago or so, we weren’t exporting that much dairy.”