Utah dairy farms have consistently produced more than 2 billion pounds of milk annually since 2011, which is the most milk in the state’s history. And Utah milk, valued at a record $397 million in 2013, consistently ranks among the state’s top agricultural commodities.
The impact of Utah dairy production remains constant, even though the state has lost 60 percent of its dairy farms over the past 20 years.
Volatile milk prices, increasing feed costs and retirements with no one to take over a dairy farm puts the state at just 200 dairy farms today, compared to more than 500 farms in 1994, the Dairy Council of Utah reports.
Yet, cow numbers have remained relatively constant, according to the council. In other words, dairy herds have increased in size over the years, but this growth doesn’t work for every farm.
Evolution By Expansion
“In order to survive and make the same margins, you have to get bigger,” says Grant Kohler, owner of Canyon View Farm and Heber Valley Artisan Cheese in Midway.
Residential areas surround the family farm, founded by his grandfather in 1929. “But it’s hard to get bigger here with the land values. I cannot afford to buy ground to support a larger dairy. We had to make a decision.”
The family decided to make cheese, which adds value to the farm’s milk production and makes room for the fourth generation to earn a living.
Others share Kohler’s value- added mindset. At Bown Dairy in Gunnison, for example, the family sells compost from their sixth-generation dairy farm.
Canyon Breeze holsteins in Minersville established a superior genetic line and sells dairy embryos both nationally and internationally.
“Some Utah dairy farms have become larger to remain viable and support the next generation,” says Kristi Spence, vice president of communications for the Dairy Council of Utah, “while others have embarked upon new business ventures or seized other opportunities to grow and succeed.”
Regardless of the business model, evolution is key. healthy cows are the lifeblood of dairymen, and technology has improved animal health tremendously. Cow pedometers allow for constant monitoring. Smartphone apps alert farmers the minute a cow needs attention.
The Bateman family utilizes these and other resources to produce enough milk to feed almost 500,000 people. On this large dairy farm in Elberta, Brad Bateman tells his employees, “No matter what, the cows always come first.”
And healthy, well cared for cows deliver great results. Utah’s farmers consistently win awards for their high quality milk and unique cheeses.
The Kohlers, along with other cheesemakers in the state, particularly those in the artisan niche, have a connection with Utah State University. The university’s Western Dairy Center conducts some of the nation’s leading dairy food research and maintains a strong focus on cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.
More than 300 people have taken the cheese-making short courses the center has offered for about 20 years, says Professor Donald J. McMahon, director of the Western Dairy Center.
“Being able to help the artisan cheese industry grow in Utah has been a very satisfying thing to do,” McMahon says. “It’s part of the heritage of Utah State being a land- grant university, and it’s something we hope we can continue.”
The opportunity to remain in the dairy business is a wish shared by every farm family in Utah. Chace Fullmer, a 27-year-old second generation dairyman in Richfield, is optimistic about the future. he just broke ground on a new milk barn and says, “This is what I want for my life, and I would love for my kids to do it too.”