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Dairy | What you need to know

Connie Spence
April 25, 2021

In 2020, the USDA directed $3.5 billion to dairy producers through direct payments, subsidies, and bailouts.

On the other hand, plant-based milk input producers, like oat farmers, received just $44 million.1 That means for every $1 that oat producers received, dairy farmers received about $80.

The dairy industry is failing as consumers switch to healthier alternatives with reduced environmental impacts. Dairy’s decline would be more precipitous except for the subsidies and bailouts that keep it afloat. But in a free market economy, is this the best use of our tax dollars?

  • Per capita fluid milk consumption has been declining for decades.2
  • Our partner dairy farmers want to transition out of this surplus industry 3 in order to produce more eco-friendly crops for plant-based markets.
  • Undercover investigations reveal that large scale dairy production is anything but wholesome.4 Since 2000, dairy companies have been hit with 213 regulatory violations.5
  • Environmental impacts of dairy are massive. According to the USDA, “Total livestock CH4 emissions in 2019 were 7,142 kilotons. Beef cattle remain the largest contributor of CH4 emissions from enteric fermentation, accounting for 72 percent in 2019. Emissions from dairy cattle in 2019 accounted for 24 percent.”6, 7. Based on the dairy methane inventory numbers, and size of the national dairy herd, we calculated that each milking cow in America accounted for 322kg or 710lbs of methane in 2019!
    (3.01 megatons of CH4 due to dairy8 / 9,336,000 milking cows9 = 322 kg or 710 lbs CH4 per cow)
  • Dairy is an inefficient food, given that “Only a fraction of the energy available at one trophic level is transferred to the next trophic level. The rule of thumb is 10%.” 10 One study found that “it costs about $0.01 to produce 1000 dietary calories (kcal) of corn or soybeans, but approximately $0.16 to produce a similar number of calories of milk from cattle.”11

Not all dairy farmers can or want to transition to growing eco-friendly crops. But for those who do, USDA programs should be in place to help. Especially given all of the issues listed above.


  2. Dairy farmers hit hard by declining milk demand( Fox News)
  3. Animal rights activists take aim at Central Valley farms; cruelty claims at Land O’Lakes (Fresno Bee)
  5. US GHG Inventory of Greenhouse Gases Chapter 5: Agriculture, 2019 data from Table 5-4: CH4 Emissions from Enteric Fermentation (kt) and Table 5-8: CH4 and N2O Emissions from Manure Management (kt)
  6. (2019 data)

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