Ferry Farms in Litchfield  MI.

Dairy farmer Scott Ferry’s grandpa used to haul milk to town in a 10-gallon container. He waited in line at the local dairy with hopes the facility would buy his milk.

The farm’s risk minimized when his grandpa established a relationship with the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA), a milk marketing cooperative, 70 years ago.

Today, fourth-generation farmers Scott and Ali Ferry maintain that relationship, which guarantees a daily market for their milk in southern Michigan. Their farm produces about 3,000 gallons of milk per day from 320 cows. That milk goes to the MMPA Constantine Plant, which produces instant non-fat dry milk, condensed skim milk, bulk butter and other dairy ingredients.

“With my relationship with MMPA, they find the market for me,” Scott says. “It has been a great partnership we have had for many decades.”

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Throughout the state, dairy processors provide a reliable market for Michigan’s 1,800 dairy farms. For the Ferry family, this processor relationship means they continue the dairy tradition his great-grandfather started in 1906 and allows them to raise their kids on the farm.

The state of Michigan benefits, too. Dairy is in the top-ranking segments of Michigan’s agriculture industry contributing in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent of Michigan’s agriculture cash receipts. The dairy industry generates an economic impact of $14.7 billion in the state, according to a report by the Michigan State University Product Center. The industry employs nearly 40,000 people on farms and in Michigan’s 86 dairy processing plants, reported by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2012. Those plants bottle fluid milk and produce cheese, ice cream, butter, milk powders and more.

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Michigan ranks eighth in milk production nationally, producing 8.9 billion pounds of milk (the equivalent of more than 1 billion gallons). Yet, dairy farmers are most proud of their productivity: the state ranks fifth in milk production per cow. Michigan is the only state east of the Mississippi River in the top 10 for productivity, says Ken Nobis, dairy farmer and MMPA President.

MMPA, headquartered in Novi, serves about 1,300 dairy farmers throughout Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. The cooperative owns processing plants in Ovid and Constantine. They produce butter, milk powders, cream and other products used by bakeries, ice cream manufacturers and other dairy ingredient customers.

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“We are seeing trends in greater efficiency, more focus on Michigan as a whole and what it has to offer the dairy industry,” he says. “Today, Michigan dairy farmers are producing more milk with fewer cows which in turn lowers the impact on the environment.”

Milk production in Michigan increased 56 percent between 2000 and 2012. Meanwhile, cow numbers have increased only 25 percent during this timeframe, the MMPA reports.

This increased productivity creates both opportunities and challenges for Michigan. Plant capacities must increase and demands for labor grow, Moser says.

Dairy farmers also face ongoing needs to communicate with a public increasingly distanced from the farm and food production, Ferry says. Meanwhile, demand for American dairy products continues to escalate and provides another outlet for the state’s increased production.

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“One of the bright spots for the Michigan dairy industry is the export market,” Nobis says. “We’re seeing a large increase in the products we’re shipping out of the country.”

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MMPA exported dairy products to nine countries in 2013, including about 40 percent of its butter production.

Nobis says, “American dairy products are really at a premium right now in certain parts of the world.”

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