Climate Change Will Take Its Toll On Milk Supply

Milk predictionsProjected changes in milk production for the 2050s relative to historical.

Photo: Yoran Bauman

Climate change isn’t just impacting global temperature, it will have a closer-to-home impact: In your cereal bowl. A new study suggests that changing climate and long term weather trends could reduce milk production in the US, especially in the Southeast.Researcher Yoram Bauman and his team from the University of Washington, analysed high-resolution climate data in relationship to county-level dairy industry data. They fast forwarded these relationships through 2080, as the effects of climate change will continue to increase.

“Using U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, if you look at milk production in the Southeast versus the Northwest, it’s very different,” project researcher Guillaume Mauger said in a statement from the university. “It’s reasonable to assume that some of that is due to the inhospitable environment for cows in the Southeast.”

The changes in milk production are caused by the weather because when it’s hot out, cows get stressed, and stressed cows make less milk. Because climate change isn’t impacting the entire country in the same way, its impact on milk production isn’t equal in all areas.

They found that cows through Northern California and Washington State will be relatively happy, while those in Florida and the Southeast may have trouble dealing with the nighttime heat and humidity. These were the two most important factors influencing milk production, the researchers found. 

For instance, in Tillamook, Ore., where the climate is humid and the nighttime temperature doesn’t change much, milk production begins to drop at a much lower temperature than in the dry Arizona climate. Tillamook cows become less productive starting at around 59 Fahrenheit, while those in Maricopa, Ariz., start making less milk at around 77 F.

Future temperaturesProjected changes in temperature from the ensemble average of global climate model simulation for the 2050s relative to historical.

Photo: Yoram Bauman

In humid Okeechobee, Fla., cows become less productive at about the same temperature but losses increase at a much faster rate than in Arizona. Fortunately for cows in Tillamook, however, the temperature there doesn’t stray upward often and so actual milk losses are negligible, the researchers said. In Maricopa, the mean daily losses in summer, when the temperature soars, reach nearly 50 per cent.In total milk production will only drop about 6 per cent by 2080, though in the Southern US, production will drop drastically. Bauman recommends ranchers looking to expand should think about climate and long term predictions before making decisions. The data will be freely available so that farmers can look up their counties and find how the climate may affect their cows.

Bauman is presenting his data at The Conference on Climate Change at the University of Washington on July 13.

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