From Out of Left Field Comes What Could be the Biggest Change in Agriculture

Reader Contribution by Steve Judge
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John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens while your busy making other plans.”  As we grow more concerned about how and where our food is produced something huge is coming at us and only a few people see it coming. It could represent the biggest change in agriculture in generations.  It is now possible to produce animal free milk.  I call it “cow-less” milk.  And it is real.

Next year a brand of cow-less milk called Muufri will hit the market.

According to what I have read, the milk is produced by genetically modified yeast and is exactly the same as real milk.  You will be able to make cheese with it and it doesn’t need to be pasteurized.  They can even modify the milk and eliminate the bad stuff that comes with cow’s milk.  Even if this product isn’t a success, we can all be sure that cow-less milk is on the way. Since milk is food, as long as it tastes like milk and is perceived to be nutritious, consumers will accept it.  If it is priced the same as cows’ milk they will buy it, too.  The only problem I foresee is producing enough of it to meet demand.

Imagine the changes cow-less milk might cause.  U.S. farmers could be growing much less corn and soybeans.  The use of herbicides and chemicals may go way down. Large tracts of land will become available for recreation, reforestation, and parks etc.  Since cows drink enormous amounts of water, water use for agriculture may be greatly reduced in critical dairy areas such as California, Utah, Idaho, and the Southwest.  

Will this mean the end of dairy farming in the U.S.?  The short answer is no. It may however spell the death of large industrialized confinement dairy farms if enough cow-less milk can be produced to meet demand at a competitive price.  But, I believe farming is in the DNA of many people, as is the desire for real food.  If cow-less milk is successful, the U.S. dairy industry could shrink dramatically and revert back to small-scale dairy farms. Consumers will likely demand that these farms be clean, humane and appropriately scaled for the communities where they are located. Milk produced by cows, sheep, and goats etc. will become specialty products like fine wines or cheese varieties and milk’s flavor will once again be an important consideration, as it should be.

A shrinking market for cow-produced milk may also end the dominance of Holstein breed.  The milk they produce is generally watery and low in components needed to produce cheese and other dairy foods.  Plus their milk has an inferior flavor.  Rather, we may see the resurgence of minor breeds of cows that produce less but higher quality and better tasting milk. Those breeds include Jerseys, Dutch Belts, Devons, Kerrys, and Red Polls. 

Cow-less milk?  I think we can plan on it – we just can’t plan on what it will mean for the future of farming.

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