Photo by Ansel Adams. The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service.
In the volumes of agricultural reading that I do, I have not run across a more scathing article about industrial agriculture than a recent feature story in High Country News. The article was about the environmental damage that has been done to water and waterways in Idaho due to its burgeoning dairy industry. The economic gains which are derived from this industry are, unfortunately, often outside the local Idaho communities which are negatively impacted, and sometimes even go to foreign-owned companies. This goes on largely for the purpose of exporting dry milk powder to nations such as China. If you think of Idaho as having pristine rivers, or as being immune to Big Ag, think again.
The article, “Idaho’s sewer system is the Snake River – As Big Ag flourishes, this massive waterway suffers.“, was written by Richard Manning. I do encourage you to read it. The overall issues, as I see it, are repeated across other states and also relate to other aspects of Big Ag. You name the subject. You name the state.
There is an environmental price to pay in subsidizing milk production for export abroad. What about New Zealand, the “Saudi Arabia of Milk”, are they experiencing problems with their waterways, too, just as Idaho? And, the EU is readying to ramp up its milk exports, too, after a 30-year milk-export quota expires this coming March 31st. Here, in the U.S., the new 2014 farm bill has greatly increased its subsidized protection of our dairy industry which probably means growth will continue in this lucrative milk powder export market.
When China thirsts for a safe milk product, the world responds.
1. Here is a graph of our growing exports of dairy/dry milk from the USDA:
U.S. commercial exports of dairy products have grown since 1995, accounting for an increasing share of the total commercial disappearance of U.S milk production. On a milk-equivalent skim-solids basis (a method of adding up quantities of diverse milk products based on their skim-solids content), U.S. commercial exports grew on average 11.8 percent per year between 1995 and 2013, with their share of total commercial disappearance rising from 3.4 percent in 1995 to 18.7 percent in 2013. Commercial exports of nonfat dry milk (NDM) and skim milk powder (SMP) played a major role in this increase. In recent years, major U.S. markets for NDM and SMP have been Mexico, China, Philippines, and Indonesia. Domestic commercial disappearance serves as a proxy for U.S. consumption, calculated as a residual after accounting for production, on-farm use, imports, exports, and changes in stocks. The commercial data also exclude USDA net removals (price support purchases plus subsidized exports minus sales to the commercial market) which were significant in earlier years but a minor factor since 2004.
Source: USDA, FAS, GATS. HS code: 0402,
Milk Concentrated. (Iowa State – Choices)
Article from Choices discussing global dairy subsidies: http://www.choicesmagazine.org/choices-magazine/theme-articles/3rd-quarter-2014/some-trade-implications-of-the-2014-agricultural-act
3. From the FT, an article about milk exports, including 2 great graphs: