If you think golden-brown potatoes are still Idaho’s number one commodity, think again. Although spuds are still an option for decorative license plates, they’ve taken a backseat to a product that has exceeded the annual revenue of spud sales since 1997: dairy.
There is a growing global demand for dairy, and Idaho, the nation’s third largest dairy producer in the country, is poised to answer the call.
Idaho’s milk products, including yogurt, cream, butter, cheese, milk powder and specialty whey, represent more than a third of the state’s total agricultural receipts. Boasting the highest producing cows in the nation, the state consistently vies for top production rankings among California, New York and Wisconsin.
Idaho Dairy by the Numbers
Producing an average of 40 million pounds of milk per day, Idaho’s 600,000 dairy cows are always hard at work. More than 73% of those cows are located in the south-central Magic Valley region, a stone’s throw from the state’s largest processors and co-ops who contribute heavily to the state’s annual production of more than 15 billion pounds of milk.
According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council and National Milk Producers Federation, Idaho’s dairy industry also supports roughly 47,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly, making the dairy industry one of the largest economic drivers in the state.
In addition to economic support through its workforce, dairy continues to be Idaho’s top agricultural export, beating out processed vegetables by more than $60 million each year. With Magic Valley farms producing more milk than the region’s processors need, Idaho exported $407 million worth of dairy exports in 2018, generating more than $894 million in economic impact. In fact, one out of every six gallons of milk processed in Idaho are turned into dairy products and ingredients sold in other countries.
An Unexpected Dairy Paradise
Many people assume Idaho is synonymous with a jagged mountain landscape and months of snow and ice, however the state provides the perfect climate for raising milk cows. It’s cold winters stifle disease and the long, temperate growing seasons provide ample feed for herds. In addition to a dairyman’s ideal weather report, Idaho’s extensive irrigation systems and transportation networks, combined with a skilled, hard-working labor force make it a dairy production haven.
“It’s an agriculturally rich state with a quality milk pool, dedicated farmers and a uniquely beautiful community,” said Wilf Costello, Chief Commercial Officer at Glanbia Nutritionals in Twin Falls, Idaho. “Glanbia operates in 34 countries around the world and ships to more than 130 countries, but Idaho is the key to our production.”
Glanbia Nutritionals is one of 20 dairy processors in Idaho, the majority of which are located in the Magic Valley where more than 80% of the state’s milk is processed. The region is home to nearly 300 dairy farms who supply milk to local processing giants including the world’s largest yogurt factory, Chobani.
Idaho Milk Products and Magic Valley Quality Milk Producers also rely on the Magic Valley’s superior milk supply and have invested more than $50 million in expansions since 2018 as the industry continues to grow.
The number one dairy company in the world, Lactalis American Group, sees the value of Idaho-based operations, too. The state is home to the largest Lactalis plant in the country. According to Sebastien Gilbert, the Idaho site director for Lactalis American Group, the plant purchases milk from hundreds of Idaho dairy farmers throughout the Treasure and Magic Valleys each year. 95% of the milk processed at their plant is locally sourced and Lactalis has worked with some of those dairy farmers for more than 20 years.
Food processors of all sizes, including those mentioned above, are rethinking location strategies when it comes to production and distribution. By locating plants in the Magic Valley, companies have strategic access to high-traffic west coast markets, as well as peace of mind knowing their facility is housed in a region with a variety of food production and little-to-no natural threats.
Paving the Way for the Future of Dairy
The Magic Valley does more than rely on age-old doctrines to remain a top production contender on a national scale; industry leadership requires consistent innovation. Naturally, the region is home to the future site of the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE).
Through a partnership between education, industry and economic development stakeholders, Idaho CAFE is slated to be the largest research dairy in the United States, addressing animal, agriculture, and food processing challenges and opportunities nationwide. Through dynamic research, the center aims to improve upon existing sustainable agribusiness practices to support a profitable and environmentally sound dairy and food industry.
As CAFE moves towards its inaugural milking, Chobani’s Global Research and Development Center and Glanbia Nutritionals’ cheese and ingredient solution innovation centers continue to churn out new innovation. The Idaho Dairymen’s Association, based in Twin Falls, also funds ongoing research for production efficiencies, nutrient management, on-farm technologies, environmental studies and more.
While workforce, climate, production, processing and transportation make the Magic Valley a smart and stable choice for the dairy industry, the state’s low cost of doing business, friendly regulatory environment and quality of life truly seal the deal.
Home to a full range of food production, processing, science and related support services, dairy producers and processors can rest easy knowing all of their operations can take place within miles of one another, reducing unnecessary expenses and leaving more time for employees to enjoy the nearby rivers, lakes, ponds, mountain ranges, National Reserves and Forests.
When it comes to dairy, Idaho is the only place you want to be.