Global dairy industry on brink of mighty changes



  • Dairying currently faces major economic, social and environmental challenges worldwide.
  • Corporate dairy farming is placing undue strain on small-scale farmers, rural communities and the environment.
  • The dairy sector faces greater competition from plant-based and artificial milk alternatives.
  • Governments can help the ‘just transition’ of smaller-scale farmers and communities into opportunities provided by these challenges.

Contented cows quietly grazing lush green pastures to produce wholesome fresh milk could become a relic of the past if global trends highlighted by Macquarie researchers continue into the 21st century.

This bucolic ideal is already being replaced by huge, industrialised farms where herds are fed in mechanised sheds and milked by robotic machines as worldwide, large corporations replace traditional family-run farms.

Writing for the leading international journal Agriculture and Human Values, PhD candidate Milena Bojovic and Associate Professor Andrew McGregor from the Department of Geography and Planning in the Faculty of Arts believe the global dairy industry faces increasingly complex social, environmental and economic challenges from global, national and local sources. These include:

  • growth of milk markets and consumer demand in the Global South, particularly Asia, while milk consumption in the Global North has flattened or even decreased as more consumers demand plant-based alternatives such as soy and almond
  • intensified use of capital, land and animals to meet increasing production demands, whereby smaller scale farms are purchased by larger corporations
  • growing awareness of the ecological impacts of dairying, particularly on local soils, water quality and the global climate
  • rapid development of plant-based and ‘artificial’ milk in laboratories to replace products from dairy cows.

The authors contend that these challenges have important socio-ecological implications for farmers, communities and local environments, and highlight the complex interactions between these challenges. Larger corporations are better able to address the ‘cost-price squeeze’ faced by small-scale farms, forcing small farms to sell to corporations. In turn, farming populations diminish and services in local, dependent rural communities enter a downward spiral in populations and services.

Increased corporatisation also degrades the local environment and increases methane production from cows, contributing to anthropogenic climate change. Capital-intensive technologies, such as automated milking and feeding systems, reduce human-animal interactions to become rationalised, mechanistic and transactional, rather than the traditionally caring relations between farmers and their herds. Finally, the rapid development of dairy alternatives such as plant-based milk and synthetic milk, coupled with consumer awareness of the negative environmental impacts from industrialised dairy production, are decreasing demand for dairy milk in the global north and placing further social and economic pressures on local communities.

In response to these complex challenges, the authors highlight the important roles governments can play in moderating and providing leadership to support the transition of dairy-farming families and their impacted communities. This should be directed towards the opportunities offered by:

  • de-intensification to protect smaller, pasture-based milk producers from corporate takeover to encourage dairy milk production for niche milk markets
  • diversification to assist family farmers into alternative industries
  • upscaling the production of dairy alternatives and supporting farmers and their communities to transition into new food production systems.

Such government involvement would result in a more just transition for farmers and families to alternative industries that could maintain or even grow rural communities and their populations while improving environmental conditions in rural areas.





Back to homepage


Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *

We encourage active and constructive debate through our comments section, but please remain respectful. Your first and last name will be published alongside your comment.

Comments will not be pre-moderated but any comments deemed to be offensive, obscene, intimidating, discriminatory or defamatory will be removed and further action may be taken where such conduct breaches University policy or standards. Please keep in mind that This Week is a public site and comments should not contain information that is confidential or commercial in confidence.

Got a story to share?

Visit our contribute page >>