Being dairy farmers requires multi-disciplinary skills, and sometimes we would need to be relieved a little from some issues and responsibilities. However, our presence in specific areas of the world is fundamental both from an economic and social perspective.
In general, the backbone of the economy in rural areas is agriculture. The communities, the infrastructure, the employment and people living there are mainly concentrated on agriculture and food production, contributing to make rural villages and towns a worthy place to live.
Dairy production is a consolidated asset in rural areas since it supports livelihoods by providing regular source of products of animal origin that can be both food for local people and a market opportunity.
In particular, dairy farmers are the stewards of land and soil. Last week, we made the point on the impact of a good herd and farm management on land and soil (read “The circular nature of dairy farming”). This is worthwhile in particular for marginal rural areas, where dairy farming contributes to the reduction of the risk of hydrogeological instability.
Occupying marginal areas and continuing some of the traditions of dairy production help the society reduce the continuous depopulation of these regions, bringing back work and employment, while reducing gender inequalities.
Furthermore, it is important for many farms to be family-owned. Family farms help make the countryside a more inclusive place to live and encourage young men and women to get involved in rural activities, bringing innovation, development and strengthening the socio-economic network.
In the European Union, the depopulation of rural areas is an extremely important phenomenon: agriculture today is different from the one of decades ago. In the past, small farms were widely spread across the territory. With urbanization, rural realities have drastically reduced, but at the same time they have experienced a notable technological and productive evolution. This evolution is a step towards future demographic development.
Estimates show a global population growth of up to almost 9.7 billion by 2050. 70% of the population will be concentrated in urban areas and 30% in rural areas. This percentage will have to deal with agricultural production, and will have to do it with increasing efficiency.
Dairy farming can be both intensive and extensive, and both of them have their role in the social development. Intensive farming should not be seen negatively.
Intensive milk production is an approach designed to maximize outputs with reduced use of resources. Innovation has made it possible to improve animal welfare and health level, as well as the protection of the environment. Focusing on efficiency and sustainability, it is possible to understand the positive sides of intensive production.
Only the European Union milk production is estimated around 155 million tons per year. Germany, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain are the main producers – almost 70% of the EU production. Thus, it is a substantial, pervasive and heterogeneous economic sector.
The EU dairy herd (around 21 million cows in 2018) has been decreasing recently along with an increase of the milk yield per cow (7000 kg in 2018). This is a clear sign of efficiency.
In addition to its importance for land management, employment and food production, dairy farming is a hub of innovation, involving different fields of research – from life sciences to engineering. In particular, intensive production systematically allows a resource and technology transfer even where there are no adequate economic and structural possibilities, concretely supporting sustainable innovation in developing countries.
Now that we are facing new challenges – from the environmental issue to the price issue, we should be able to protect our role as guardians of the environment and in feeding the world.
These roles require the ability of creating, sharing and implementing our knowledge and new technologies, but also new ways to organize the supply chain and cooperate.
The final goal of cooperation must be economic, environmental and social sustainability. And this is also the objective of OZOLEA’s SSafeMILK project.