Wisconsin VS California Dairy System Adaptation

Dairy Cows. Photo: Kansas State Research and Extension


Three students at UW-Madison--Ryan, Chelsea, and Will--have combined their skills to form HZW Consulting. We are focused on investigating climate adaptability of food systems. We are specifically focused on understanding and explaining the affects of climate change on economic sustainability and long term profitability. HZW Consulting has been hired by a wealthy family who wants to invest some their money into the creation of a large-scale sustainable dairy farm. This family is both economically and environmentally conscious. For that reason they want their farm to be both environmentally sustainable and economically profitable--two of the three most important aspects of sustainability. Furthermore, this family is well aware of the dangers of global climate change and wants to invest in a dairy farm that will be able to adapt while maintaining profitability. The family is trying to decide between two separate locations--the San Joaquin valley in California or central Wisconsin. They have hired our agricultural consulting firm to investigate and determine the future climate adaptability and long term profitability of dairy production in California and Wisconsin. 

The United States Dairy industry is a major supplier of both domestic and international dairy consumption. In the next 35 years, both human population and consumption of animal protein--like dairy--are projected to increase dramatically. This international nutrition transition could prove incredibly lucrative for U.S. dairy producers. However, the effects of global climate change are projected to have a negative impact on both dairy productivity and profitability in the next 35 years. Not only is individual dairy cow productivity susceptible to increases in both temperature and humidity, so too are a number of important inputs, including feed, water, and land value. In order to maintain productivity, profitability, and sustainability in the uncertain future of climate change, dairy farmers in both California and Wisconsin must be able to adapt. To gain knowledge and insight into the future adaptive capacity of dairy production in both California and Wisconsin, we conducted both a literature review and multiple interviews with experts in agriculture, economics, and climatology. While there was not sufficient public information and knowledge available to allow us to declare either California or Wisconsin as having a greater adaptive capacity, we are able to conclude that each system has specific advantages and disadvantages that will play an important role in the future of dairy adaptability in each state. 


The U.S. Dairy industry is one of the most important and profitable agricultural industries in the U.S. and the world. It is estimated at $140 billion, and it produces more than 900,000 jobs. Additionally, it stimulates rural economies across the U.S. by generating income for dairy farmers and agricultural workers in all 50 states. The top two dairy production states are California and Wisconsin. 

Since 1993, California has been the most productive dairy state in the U.S. In 2014, California produced 42,337 million lbs. of milk with 1780 thousand dairy cows (Progressive Dairyman, 2014). These statistics correspond to per cow productivity of 23,785 lbs. per cow per year. (Progressive Dairyman, 2014). California's dairy production model is one of the most concentrated in the country--there are only 1,485 licensed herds, with 1,199 cows per herd (Progressive Dairyman, 2014). While there are dairy farms throughout the state, production is concentrated in the center--the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys (USDA-NASS, 2014). 

Similarly to California, Wisconsin relies on dairy as a critical aspect of its agricultural economy. Unlike California, Wisconsin's dairy production is much less concentrated. There are almost seven times more licensed dairy herds (10,290), but the average herd size, at 124 cows, is almost 10 times smaller than California (Progressive Dairyman, 2014). Wisconsin is 2nd to California in total annual production--it produces 27,795 lbs. of milk per year. 

 California Wisconsin
  Average Cropland Value in 2014 $10,140   Average Cropland Value in 2014 $4,350 
  Greater percentage of feed purchased   Greater percentage of feed grown on farm
 Crops need to be irrigated  Irrigation is not practical for geography
  More commercial focus--more export drive  Less export driven, more domestically focused 
 Commodities: Fluid Milk, Whey, Non-Fat Dry Milk, Milk powder Commodities: Soft Cheese, Whey,  

What is Climate Change? 
Climate change refers to changes in the climate over long periods of time, factors included in climate are temperature, precipitation and wind patterns. This change is the result of humans increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions mostly from burning fossil fuels, these gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. These gases trap energy in the atmosphere that cause it to warm, the gases vary in how long they stay and in the atmosphere and their warming strength. And although this phenomenon is natural and essential to maintain conditions for life on earth, their increased presence warms the planet to a dangerous level (US EPA, “Basics.”). This change in climate can danger human and ecosystem health by altering current climate cycles and patterns we depend on, like precipitation and temperature conditions we require to grow food. Agriculture is inherently sensitive to climatic changes, and is therefore one of the most vulnerable sectors to the changes in temperature, precipitation and CO2 concentration associated with global climate change (Parry et al., 2004). 

Why do Farmers Need to Adapt? 
Agriculture must move towards adaptive solutions to combat its vulnerability to the projected effects of climate change. According to Smit and Skinner 2002, “studies show that without adaptation, climate change is generally problematic for agricultural production and for agricultural economies and communities; but with adaptation, vulnerability can be reduced and there are numerous opportunities to be realized." We hope to shed some light on the potential for adaptability of dairy production systems in California as well as Wisconsin. 


We believe that the combination of the of increased temperature, more variable precipitation, and increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events will enable future dairy production in Wisconsin to more environmentally sustainable and less economically costly. In other words, we hypothesize that Wisconsin will have a greater adaptive capacity, and will therefore be more profitable in 2050. 

Materials and Methods

 Adaptability   The actions of adjusting practices, processes, and capital in response to the actuality or threat of climate change, as well as  responses in the decision environment, such as changes in social and institutional structures or altered technical options that can  affect the potential or capacity for these actions to be realized. 
 Profitability  A businesses ability to generate earnings as compared to its expenses and other relevant costs incurred during a specific period  of time.
 Resilience   The capability of a system to recover after stress.
 Global Climate Change 

 A change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.

Concentrates   A mixture of grain, protein supplements and minerals that is fed in addition to forage to dairy cows, they   are usually nutrient  dense with low fiber amounts.
 Forages   A grass or legume fed as a fiber source to ruminant animals.
Temperature Humidity Index   A combined measure of temperature and relative humidity. A measurement to estimate heat stress of  animals and the effect on  their milk productivity

We conducted a literature review on how climate change is projected to affect dairy farming in Wisconsin and California. We were focused on investigating the adaptive capacity of dairy farmers in the San Joaquin Valley of California and the central valley of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, we struggled to find adequate amounts of peer-reviewed publications on the adaptive capacity of dairy production systems in both California and Wisconsin. In an attempt to better understand dairy adaptability, we decided to conduct interviews with professors in agronomy, climatology, and agriculture and applied economics. We contacted professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California-Davis, and Purdue University. 

We selected three major inputs that all affect of dairy profitability--the cost and availability of feed, water, and land. These three indicators will give us insight into the long term profitability and adaptability of dairy production in both California and Wisconsin. Feed is the single greatest input cost for every dairy farmer, changes in feed price have serious ramifications for dairy farmer's bottom line (Mark Stephenson). Adequate water quality and quantity is necessary to maintain high levels of cropping systems productivity--which is required to supply dairy cows with enough feed to maintain optimal nutritional and energy requirements. We included land into our analysis because as the price of land increases, a dairy farmer's profitability decreases (Jim Mulhern). 

We limited the scope of our research project to the year 2050. We did so in accordance with the majority of the seminal papers we discovered through our literature review. The academic food system community recognizes 2050 as a critical indicator of progress in global agricultural sustainability and climate adaptability. Global population--expected to reach 9 billion--coupled with a simultaneous increase in income and purchasing power, will result in a much greater demand for animal protein products, like dairy commodities (Godfray, 2010). The end result of this growth is a need to double current agricultural productivity to sustain the population in the year 2050. 


Temperature and Humidity

 Figure 1.  Temperature humidity index load (THI) and location of dairy cows in 2007. California and Wisconsin currently have a similar THI load. Source: Key and Sneeringer, 2015 
The thermoneutral zone, a temperature tolerance range where an endotherm does not have to use large amounts of energy to control its temperature, for dairy cows ranges from 23 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures above this range cause decreased feed intake and increased energy necessary to control body temperature. The combination of these leads to decreased milk production per cow. 

West, 2003 found that increases in temperature and humidity are related to decreases in dry matter intake (DMI) in cows, which leads to reduced efficiency of milk yield. We discovered a number of other studies that agree with West, 2003. Some studies take these findings one step further and investigated the economic losses for dairy farmers (St. Pierre et al., 2003Bohmanova et al., 2007, Bernabucci et al., 2014).

Another study found that the increases in average daily temperature associated with climate change will only exacerbate the current heat stress that exists on cows--leading to greater reductions in milk yield efficiency (Fuhrer and Calanca, 2012).

How is temperature and humidity stress measured? 

The dairy industry measures heat and humidity stress with the Temperature Humidity Index (THI). THI load is a measure of time at a location spent above the optimal THI. Key and Sneeringer, 2015, uses models to estimate changes in THI load between 2010 and 2030 and how this will affect efficiency and milk production in the United States. Their results show that currently, California and Wisconsin have similar relative THI loads (Figure 1). Surprisingly, THI load predictions for 2030 are similar in both California and Wisconsin. This lack of significance is likely due to THI being a measure of not only temperature but relative humidity (Figure 2). Unfortunately, we were unable to find any studies that projected the differences in THI load between California and Wisconsin for 2050. 

While we have determined that climate change will increase THI load in both California and Wisconsin, we are unable to conclude which state will be more adversely affected in 2050

 Figure 2.  Predicted annual reduction in milk production from climate change induced heat stress, 2030. All four models have Wisconsin and California within a .3% and a 1% decrease. Source: Key and Sneeringer, 2015 


Dairy Diet Composition: The average annual dairy ration is incredibly diverse and includes a large number of commodity crops as well as co- and waste products. For the purposes of our research we will be focusing on three of the most important feed crops; corn, soybeans, and alfalfa.
 Figure 3. Map of where major dairy feed crops are grown in the United States. Source: Han et al., 2012 

Figure 4: Percent yield impact on crops in different regions of the world from 1980 to 2008. Source: Lobell et. al., 2011 
Lobell et. al., 2011 found that “at the global scale, maize and wheat exhibited negative impacts for several major producers and global net loss of 3.8% and 5.5%, respectively, relative to what would have been achieved without the climate trends in 1980–2008." 

However, the global net loss does not tell the whole story. There are distinct regional differences in percent yield impact on maize production. Whereas maize production in the U.S. was only slightly reduced, production in China, Brazil, and France was much more negatively impacted. These findings imply that maize production in the U.S and India was more climate resilient compared to other major producers between the years 1980-2008. To some, this would incorrectly suggest that future U.S. maize production will not be negatively impacted by global climate change. That is a dangerous and unscientific assumption to make. While this study does provide evidence that U.S. cropping systems may be more climate resilient than their counterparts in China, Brazil, and France, it is incorrect that conclude that they will be unaffected by climate change in the future. The rate of climate change is constantly increasing, which makes historical empirical evidence exceedingly less reliable. In other words, the past is not a guide for the future. 

The majority of the literature concluded that increasing CO2 concentrations will offset some of the detrimental effects of climate change on agricultural productivity. The rationale behind their findings is that all plants convert CO2 into energy through photosynthesis. A vast majority of these plants, including soybeans and alfalfa, have C3 photosynthetic pathways. Compared to C4 plants (maize), C3 plants are less efficient at fixing CO2 and converting it into a usable form of carbon. Therefore, it would follow that increases in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere would lead to increases in productivity of C3 plants. While this relationship does appear to hold true for both soybeans and alfalfa, Leakey et al., 2007, found that "photosynthesis and production of maize may be unaffected by rising [CO2] in the absence of drought."

Table 1. Biomass of stover and grain, kernel number, individual kernel weight, total leaf area, and DOY of anthesis and silking for maize grown at ambient (370 μmol mol−1) or elevated [CO2] (550 μmol mol−1) upon harvest at the end of the growing season in 2004 at SoyFACE in Urbana, IL. Leakey et al., 2007
 Parameter  [CO2] 370  [CO2] 550  P
Stover Biomass    134 ± 11   131 ± 9  0.68
Grain Biomass    140 ± 6   142 ± 6  0.8
 Kernel Number    598 ± 38   609 ± 29  0.37
 Kernel Weight    248 ± 7   247 ± 5   0.37
 Total Leaf Area    6280 ± 471   6,304 ± 365  0.48
 Anthesis Date    188.9 ± 0.3   188.7 ± 0.2   0.53
 Silking Date    188.9 ± 0.3   188.1 ± 0.3   0.63

 Figure 5: The annualized effects of changes in monthly precipitation and temperature on state-specific soybean yield and monetary impacts for the from 1994 to 2013. Source: Mourtzinis et. al., 2015

In similar fashion to Lobell et. al., 2011Mourtzinis et. al., 2015 found that historic changes in seasonal temperature and precipitation suppressed potential crop productivity. More specifically, the study concluded that between the years 1994-2013, "soybean yields fell by around 2.4% for every 1 °C rise in growing season temperature" (Mourtzinis et. al., 2015). This study goes on to estimate "that year-to-year changes in precipitation and temperature combined suppressed the US average yield gain by around 30% over the annualized effects of changes in monthly precipitation and temperature on state-specific soybean yield trends measurement period, leading to a loss of U.S. $11 billion” (Mourtzinis et. al., 2015). 

Another important takeaway from this study is the concentration of soybean production in the U.S. The majority of soybeans produced in the U.S. are grown in the Midwest. The concentration of important feed grains (corn, soybeans, etc.) is illustrated in figure 1. This concentration of feed crops gives Wisconsin a significant advantage over California in terms of cost of transportation of dairy feed. 

In addition to the retroactive analyses conducted by Lobell et. al., 2011 and Mourtzinis et. al., 2015, we also discovered a number of publications that use Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report Emission Scenarios (SRES) to project the future effects of climate change on agricultural production. One of the more prominent paper, Parry et al., 2004, focused on the effects of climate change on cereal production, cereal price, and the number of people at risk from hunger. This study found that "in most cases the SRES scenarios exerted a slight to moderate (0 to −5%) negative impact on simulated world crop yields, even with beneficial direct effects of CO2 and farm-level adaptations taken into account" (Parry et al., 2004). However, when taking a more regionalized view, we discovered that the slight to moderate negative impact on cereal production was more of a result of developing, rather than developed, countries being negatively affected by climate change. The author's of this study took farm-level and regional-scale adaptability into account in their analysis, which led them discover the stark differences in adaptive capacity between developed and developing countries. Farmers in developed countries, like the United States, have a greater ability to invest in adaptive infrastructure and technology. 


Alfalfa is one of the most important forage crops used for feed in dairy systems. Alfalfa produces high quality and quantity feed for producers and plays a vital role in crop rotations for its nitrogen fixation abilities and deep root system that help control soil erosion. However, because of its high water need, alfalfa may be vulnerable to the changes in hydrology associated with climate change. The plant has a deep root system, a long growing season and a dense canopy; all of these factors increase water requirements. Water requirements are also dependent on temperature, light intensity, wind and humidity, all of which will be unpredictable and changing with climate change. 
We haven't found any novel publications on the effects of climate change on alfalfa, but Professor Kucharik says that “alfalfa would be impacted like many of our other crops; potentially reduced production due to increased likelihood of extreme heat and more drought frequency. However, because it is a C3 crop, it could benefit from increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2." Additionally, Professor Kucharik sees the potential for reductions due to increased competition from "weed species that will benefit from increased CO2.” However, Professor Albrecht doesn’t agree with Professor Kucharik’s intuition on increased weed competition. In fact, Albrecht says he "wouldn’t be too concerned with weeds in alfalfa and climate change. The biggest issue with weeds is during establishment and now there's good herbicides for control of weeds during establishment of conventional alfalfa varieties." Furthermore, he cites glyphosate resistant alfalfa as a tool to make weed control even easier. 

One important fact about alfalfa is, causality in price of alfalfa and milk goes both ways. In other words, increase in alfalfa price leads to an increase in milk price and increase in milk price leads to an increase in alfalfa price. This fact would allow California producers to maintain profit margins if they purchase alfalfa, while it may increase profits for Wisconsin producers who producer their own alfalfa and sell any excess. 
So although increase CO2 in the atmosphere could help increase productivity of alfalfa, water shortages (and potentially increased weed competition) will likely decrease productivity of the alfalfa. While CO2 concentrations will be uniform throughout the United States, precipitation trends are more localized and as you will read later on, are predicted to be more suitable in Wisconsin (IPCC, 2007).

Figure 6. Price Received for Alfalfa in California and Wisconsin. Source: Brian Gould, 2015


Figure 7: Precipitation totals for 2014 across the United States. San Joaquin area totals 10-25 inches annually, while Wisconsin averages between 25-50 inches annually. Source:NOAA-ESRL 
One of the most important consequences of climate change on agriculture is its effect on water quantity and quality. Climate change affects water availability in two major ways--increasing variation in precipitation trends and increasing the likelihood, frequency, and magnitude of severe weather events like droughts and flood (Trenberth et al., 2003, Dai, 2013). Although there are no published studies that compare the regional likelihood of future drought within the United States, we determined, through an interview with Professor Chris Kucharik, that droughts will be more likely to hit both California and Wisconsin in the year 2050. This increased likelihood will make growing crops more difficult, which will increase the variability in yield. We looked at IPCC models to estimate general changes in precipitation in both California and Wisconsin. Precipitation overall for both California and Wisconsin is predicted to increase, from 0 to 5 % in California and from 0 to 10% in Wisconsin. However, we are focused on changes in precipitation during the growing season in the United States--June, July and August. According to the IPCC models, for the months of June, July and August, California’s precipitation is predicted to decrease 0-15%, while Wisconsin’s precipitation is predicted to decrease 0-5% (IPCC, 2007). 

When these predictions are taken into account with current precipitation levels, the growing of crops may become even more difficult in California compared to Wisconsin. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration keeps records of annual rainfall, and in 2014, the San Joaquin Valley only received between 10-25 inches of rain while Wisconsin received between 25-50 inches annually (Figure 7). This could leave California’s crop production more vulnerable, since precipitation amounts are below or on the low end of the three major crop water requirements. Corn requires between 20-32 inches of water during the growing season (FAO, 2015), while alfalfa requires between 31-63 inches (FAO, 2015), and soybean requires between 18-28 inches (FAO, 2015). Therefore, success crop production in California depends heavily on irrigation and water policy


Unfortunately, we were unable to find any novel publications that project the effects of global climate change on land values in the United States. That being said, we did collect data and conduct interviews to gain insight into how land values change. 

While Wisconsin and California have two completely different landscapes, both are profitable agricultural areas--crops have the potential to prosper. The main difference in between the two states is price. According to the 2014 USDA Land Values Summary California's cropland is much more valuable than Wisconsin's. In 2014 cropland in California was estimated at an average of $10,140 per acre, while in Wisconsin cropland was estimated at an average of $4,350 per acre--a difference of $5,790 dollars per acre. A farmer could buy more than 2 acres of Wisconsin cropland per acre in California. According to Professor Bradford Barham, a major reason for the disparity of land value in California versus Wisconsin comes from the pressure of both urban and suburban sprawl. 

Land Values throughout the United States have been increasing over time. In the last 10 years the average cost of cropland in the United States has gone from just above $2000 per acre to close to $4000 in 2014 (USDA, 2014). Furthermore, not a single state experienced a decrease in land value in the past 10 years. According to Bill Matzke, a crop consultant from California, this overall increase in cropland value stems directly from the increasing global population. As the population continues to grow, there is a subsequent increase in demand for agricultural commodities. In addition, as more people continue to move into urban and suburban areas, more rural land will be taken out of agricultural production. 

In the future, we are uncertain as to whether land prices will to continue to increase, or whether they will be negatively affected by global climate change. In a comparison of 2013 to 2014, Wisconsin's cropland value increases 8.5%, while California's cropland value only increased 2.8%. In this same time period the national average was +7.5% (USDA, 2014). While there are a multitude of reasons for California's meager increase in cropland value, Mark Stephenson informed us that the current drought in California is playing a major role. If this drought continues at its current pace, it is likely that cropland values in California would begin to diminish. 


With the current information and knowledge we have collected, we are unable to confidently conclude whether dairy production will be more adaptable--and therefore more profitable--in California or Wisconsin in 2050. That being said, based on the literature reviewed and interviews conducted, we believe it would be more profitable, at least in the short term, to start a dairy farm in California instead of Wisconsin. Currently, California is experiencing the 4th year of a severe drought. We have been told, by numerous professors and experts in dairy profitability, that there is a current exodus of dairy farmers in California. In the current situation, California dairy farmers are not able to maintain profitability, therefore a number of them are deciding to move their operations to other states like Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas.

We believe Wisconsin dairy farmers are better prepared to adapt to the effects of global reductions in major feed crops like corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. Because Wisconsin dairy farmers grow a much greater percentage of their feed on farm they are hedged against adverse increases in the prices of agricultural commodities. California dairy farmers, on the other hand, purchase a much greater proportion of the feed from external sources. They are reliant on international commodity markets to determine the price of feed. In the next 35 years, climate change is projected to reduce global yields in major commodity crops like corn and soybeans. A global reduction in crop supply will inevitably lead to an increase in price of feed, which is have a greater impact on California dairy farmers.

Furthermore, the concentration of major feed crops in the Midwest give Wisconsin dairy farmers another advantage in terms of feed cost. Crops like corn and soybeans must be transported across the United States to reach dairy farmers in California. This increase in distance increases the cost of feed for dairy farmers in California. With all that said, California does have access to a number of agricultural co-products like cottonseed meal and almond hulls, which it can substitute into daily dairy rations when prices for other commodities of similar nutritional value are too expensive.


Climate change is projected to increase the likelihood of droughts in both California and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, we were unable to determine which state will be more severely impacted. Currently, California is experiencing the 4th year of a severe drought. This drought is putting a strain of both cropping and dairy system profitability. Although the current drought in California shows no signs of slowing down, we cannot conclude with any real certainty that California will continue to be stuck in a drought in the year 2050. However, California's current experience does provide insight into how dairy production will be affected by drought in the future.

Additionally, current IPCC models predict a larger decrease in precipitation in June, July and August, in California compared to Wisconsin. If future precipitation trends follow these projections, California will be at greater risk for drought, and the host of agricultural ramifications associated with drought.


We were unable to find any novel papers that investigated the relationship between climate change and agricultural land values. Currently, Wisconsin dairy farmers have an advantage over California dairy farmers. In Wisconsin, land prices are cheaper and population is much smaller compared to California. That being said, we are uncertain about the future of agricultural land values in California and Wisconsin--especially in the context of climate change.

International Demand 

If the current global demand for dairy commodities continues at its current pace, California is favored to meet this demand and significantly increase its profitability. In terms of proximity, California dairy farmers are much closer to international ports, compared to farmers in Wisconsin. This gives California a distinct advantage in terms of transportation cost and feasibility of shipping commodities. Furthermore, California produces more international commodities--like non-fat dry milk, whole milk powder, and whey. Wisconsin, on the other hand, produces more domestic commodities like soft cheese. If this trend continues into 2050, California will be better positioned to increase dairy farmer profitability through export demand.


One of the major limitations to our study was that we simply did not have enough time nor resources to conduct the proper research on such a complex subject and large-scale. We conducted a time intensive literature review and we still struggled to find an adequate number of peer-reviewed, reputable papers on the future adaptability of dairy production systems in Wisconsin and California. In an attempt to augment our research, we decided to reach out to experts in agronomy, climatology, dairy profitability, and agriculture and applied economics. In total we were able to get in contact with 9 respective experts: Professor David Stoltenberg (UW-Madison), Professor Chris Kucharik (UW-Madison), Professor Bees Butler (UC-Davis), Brad Barham (UW-Madison), Mark Stephenson (UW-Madison), Brian Gould (UW-Madison), Jospeh Balagatas (Purdue University), Kenneth Albrecht (UW-Madison), and Jim Mulhern (National Milk Producers Federation). The communication we had with these 9 experts was incredibly informative and beneficial to our project. Nevertheless, even these experts acknowledge the difficulty and complexity of our research question. Professor Bees Butler went on to say that this is “a particularly knotty problem that is frustrating to most of [his colleagues].”

Another major constraint in our research is the difficulty of accurately predicting how cropping systems, water availability, land price, and overall milk profitability will be affected 35 years out. From our conversations with experts in dairy profitability—Mark Stephenson and Jim Mulhern—we learned that it is “hard enough to predict land, feed and water costs over a 5-10 year horizon just assuming normal conditions” (Jim Mulhern). Moreover, neither of them are aware of any reputable analyses suggesting how quickly climate change impacts will be felt and how systems will react to them. More work needs to be done by dairy scientists in concert with economists, climatologists, and climate modelers to create long term dairy productivity and profitability models.


There is a great deal of uncertainty associated with climate change adaptation science. The causes and effects of global climate change are diverse and complex, which makes it incredibly difficult to make declarative statements about how dairy productivity and profitability will be directly affected by climate change, and how it will adapt in the future. 

Another aspect of dairy adaptability we were unable to control for is the future genetic improvements and technological innovations within the U.S. dairy industry. Undoubtedly there will be a number of significant advances in the next 35 years that will improve the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of the U.S. dairy industry. These advances will have a significant impact on the adaptability of dairy production in both California and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, since we are unable to predict what these improvements will be, we do not know what impact they will have on both systems. 

We are also unaware of the future impact of biofuels of dairy feed cost and availability. We intuited that as the demand for biofuels continues to burgeon, the price for corn will continue to increase as well. In turn this would increase the price of corn in the average dairy cow ration. This change in the commodity marketplace would give farmers who are able to grow corn on farm a serious advantage over farmers who are forced to import the majority of their feed. Unfortunately, we did not have the expertise necessary to analyze the future impact of biofuel demand on the price of dairy feed in California and Wisconsin. 


The Progressive Dairyman. “2014 U.S. Dairy Stats.” Accessed April 25, 2015.

USDA-NASS. “NASS - Charts and Maps - Milk Cows and Milk Production.” Accessed April 30, 2015.

Smit, Barry, and Mark W. Skinner. “Adaptation Options in Agriculture to Climate Change: A Typology.” Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 7, no. 1 (March 1, 2002): 85–114.

US EPA, Climate Change Division. “Basics.” Overviews & Factsheets,. Accessed April 22, 2015.

Parry, M. L, C Rosenzweig, A Iglesias, M Livermore, and G Fischer. “Effects of Climate Change on Global Food Production under SRES Emissions and Socio-Economic Scenarios.” Global Environmental Change, Climate Change, 14, no. 1 (April 2004): 53–67.

Godfray, H. Charles J., John R. Beddington, Ian R. Crute, Lawrence Haddad, David Lawrence, James F. Muir, Jules Pretty, Sherman Robinson, Sandy M. Thomas, and Camilla Toulmin. “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People.Science 327, no. 5967 (February 12, 2010): 812–18.

West, J. W. “Effects of Heat-Stress on Production in Dairy Cattle.” Journal of Dairy Science 86, no. 6 (June 2003): 2131–44.

St-Pierre, N. R., B. Cobanov, and G. Schnitkey. “Economic Losses from Heat Stress by US Livestock Industries1.Journal of Dairy Science, Electronic Supplement, 86, Supplement (June 2003): E52–77.

Bohmanova, J., I. Misztal, and J. B. Cole. “Temperature-Humidity Indices as Indicators of Milk Production Losses due to Heat Stress.” Journal of Dairy Science 90, no. 4 (April 2007): 1947–56.

Bernabucci, U., S. Biffani, L. Buggiotti, A. Vitali, N. Lacetera, and A. Nardone. “The Effects of Heat Stress in Italian Holstein Dairy Cattle.” Journal of Dairy Science 97, no. 1 (January 2014): 471–86.

Fuhrer, Juerg, and Pierluigi Calanca. “Climate change affects welfare of dairy cows.Agrarforschung Schweiz 3, no. 3 (March 2012): 132–39.

Key, Nigel, and Stacy Sneeringer. “Potential Effects of Climate Change on the Productivity of U.S. Dairies.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 96, no. 4 (July 1, 2014): 1136–56.

Han, W., Yang, Z., Di, L., Mueller, R., 2012. "CropScape: A Web service based application for exploring and disseminating US conterminous geospatial cropland data products for decision support.Computers and Electronics in Agriculture. 84, 111–123.

Lobell, David B., Wolfram Schlenker, and Justin Costa-Roberts. “Climate Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980.Science 333, no. 6042 (July 29, 2011): 616–20.

Leakey, Andrew D. B., Martin Uribelarrea, Elizabeth A. Ainsworth, Shawna L. Naidu, Alistair Rogers, Donald R. Ort, and Stephen P. Long. “Photosynthesis, Productivity, and Yield of Maize Are Not Affected by Open-Air Elevation of CO2 Concentration in the Absence of Drought.Plant Physiology 140, no. 2 (February 1, 2006): 779–90.

Mourtzinis, Spyridon, James E. Specht, Laura E. Lindsey, William J. Wiebold, Jeremy Ross, Emerson D. Nafziger, Herman J. Kandel, et al. “Climate-Induced Reduction in US-Wide Soybean Yields Underpinned by Region- and in-Season-Specific Responses.” Nature Plants 1, no. 2 (February 2, 2015): 14026.\

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “ Precipitation - AR4 WGI Chapter 11: Regional Climate Projections,” 2007.

Gould, Brian. “Monthly Data - Hay, Alfalfa - Price Received.” Understanding Dairy Markets. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Trenberth, Kevin E., Aiguo Dai, Roy M. Rasmussen, and David B. Parsons. “The Changing Character of Precipitation.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 84, no. 9 (September 1, 2003): 1205–17.

Dai, Aiguo. “Increasing Drought under Global Warming in Observations and Models.” Nature Climate Change 3, no. 1 (January 2013): 52–58.

FAO - Water Development and Management Unit - Crop Water Information: Alfalfa.” Accessed April 25, 2015.

FAO - Water Development and Management Unit - Crop Water Information: Soybeans.” Accessed April 25, 2015.

FAO - Water Development and Management Unit - Crop Water Information: Maize.” Accessed April 25, 2015.

Agricultural Land Values. USDA-National Agriculture Statistics Survery, August 2014.  

Yturralde, Victoria. Guide to the California Dairy Industry History Collection. California State Parks, April 2005.

About the Authors
The Team

Ryan is currently a senior Dairy Science major on campus. He grew up on a 550 cow registered Holstein Dairy Farm in Cecil WI. Growing up he was involved in FFA,Track, and Cross Country. His hobbies include snowmobiling, playing basketball, and basically doing anything and everything with his friends. When he graduate he will be moving to Howard Wisconsin and working as a nutritionist for United Cooperative. After several years of industry experience he plans on moving back home and joining my brother as part of the 5th generation at his family Dairy. 
Chelsea is a first year graduate student in the Agroecology Program, studying grazing different legume species at different plant maturities and animal densities, as well as relationships effecting productivity in organic pastures. She got her undergraduate degree at UW-Madison in conservation biology and is interested in ecosystem services of agriculture, the cycling of carbon and nitrogen through the soil, and extension work. In her free time Chelsea likes to spend time outdoors, cook, and cheer on the badgers! 
Will is a junior majoring in environmental science. Will's research interests include transparency, traceability, and resiliency of global food systems. He is particularly focused on the impact of dairy production, processing, and distribution. In his free time Will enjoys hiking, biking, cooking, and playing basketball.

Keywords:Adaptability   Doc ID:48427
Owner:Kate A.Group:DS Food Systems, Sustainability and Climate Change
Created:2015-03-05 15:49 CSTUpdated:2015-05-14 12:17 CST
Sites:DS Food Systems, Sustainability and Climate Change
Feedback:  0   0