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Can Suburbanization be a Savior for Farms in the US’ Dairy Death Spiral?

Authors: Dawn Drake*, Missouri Western State University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Economic Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: livestock, agricultural geography, economic geography, dairy farming, rural-urban fringe
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The expanding provision of urban activities, including housing, employment, and retailing, at the rural-urban fringe generally creates both challenges and opportunities for the agricultural community. For livestock operations, the headaches related to new neighbors that expect livestock to abide by quiet times and be generally odorless and unobtrusive, outweigh the opportunities. This often leads to shifts in operations from livestock to grain or total industry exit.

At the same time that these pressures are occurring, the US dairy industry is facing a death spiral of sorts. Production is at record highs, which is driving prices to record lows. Consumers are choosing alternatives to dairy milk, despite the known nutritional benefits. A series of trade wars are further eroding the market for dairy products. Dairy farmers are exiting the industry in record numbers, even in rural counties.

The question is, can suburbanization help some farmers resist the dairy death spiral? There are two sides to consider. Suburbanization drives out some dairy farms, which allows others to survive, as supply decreases. Since dairy farms in suburban areas tend to have smaller herd sizes, this is only small salvation. The way in which suburbanization will be a savior for the dairy industry is by providing opportunities for high value niche production, demanded by new consumers in suburban areas. Dairy farmers who provide local organic or raw milk to discerning consumers not only will have higher profit margins, but may be able to escape the dairy death spiral.

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