Lloyd Metzger explains why milk is unique

It used to be that all farmers had a cow to produce milk for the family.

The milk from that cow, which was most likely a Jersey, was broken down into different components right at home, said Lloyd Metzger, director of the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center and an associate professor in the dairy science department at South Dakota State University. Metzger spoke Jan. 25 at the joint annual meeting for districts 16 and 20 of the Minnesota Division of the Midwest Dairy Council.

The farm family drank some milk. They also churned some into butter. The skim milk was fed to the hogs or made into cottage cheese. His grandmother made the best cottage cheese pie, he said.

Later, the whey was fed to hogs.

That was 80 to 100 years ago, he said. Today, the milk is delivered to processing plants where some is pasteurized and bottled for consumption and others is broken down into components.


In 1960, the nation's dairy herd stood at about 18 million cows. It dropped like a rock to 1998 and has stabilized at 9.1 million head. At the same time, production per cow increased and that's a testament to the work of dairy farmers, he said. The easiest way to make more money is to get more milk per cow, Metzger said.

From 1960 to 2007, milk production per cow has increased by 272 pounds per cow per year. Next year, if the dairy herd stays at 9.1 million cows and production stands on trend, the nation's dairy herds will produce 2.5 billion pounds of milk.

It's a sobering number, Metzger said. When Midwest Dairy representatives talk about initiatives to utilize a million pounds here and a million pounds there, 2.5 billion is the number that needs to be in the back of your mind, he said.

The only way that milk won't get created is if cow numbers go down, Metzger said. He asked the dairy farmers if they wanted their cow numbers to go down. One said he wants his neighbor's cow numbers to go down, which drew laughs from the others.

There is some good news, Metzger said. The United States population is increasing gradually, which will consume some of that additional milk production.

"You do a better job of making your cows give more milk next year than we generating more population," he said.

So what are dairy producers to do?

"I can guarantee if we do nothing that the price of milk will go down," Metzger said. Then some farmers will go out of business. Prices will eventually go back up when enough people go out of business that there's a need for more milk.


"We can increase the consumption of existing products and we all need to say a little thank you to cheese for the last 20 years. Without the increasing consumption we've had in cheese — I really should say the last 40 years — without that increasing consumption of cheese half of you wouldn't be in the room, you'd be doing something else," Metzger said.

"Cheese has been phenomenal for milk utilization," he said. Cheese grew from using a small portion of the milk supply to utilizing 30 percent to 40 percent, he said. It's because of pizza and the introduction of other cheeses. It takes 10 pounds of milk to produce one pound of cheese.

The MDA initiatives to support cheese were the right thing to do, Metzger said. At one time there wasn't mozzarella cheese, now it consumes a large portion of milk.

What's the new product initiatives and how should MDA support those initiatives?

Milk can be fractionated and converted to new products. There's also a lot of other people in this world who need milk protein.

"Why can't we be the source for milk and milk ingredients for people outside the United States?" Metzger said.

The cheese strategy was wonderful, but other strategies are needed to consume more milk.

When it comes to fractionating milk and breaking it into components, producers must look at what's valuable.


The two most abundant components of milk are the least valuable with water at 88 percent and lactose at 4.8 percent. The good news is the milk fat, protein and minerals. The best option for new ingredients is protein in a world that is deficient in protein, Metzger said. But uses must be found for other components as well.

"What milk proteins have that no other protein that exists in nature has like milk is that they have a phosphate group attached to the protein," he said. "So the casein component of milk consists of proteins that have phosphate groups attached to them."

The calcium in milk is spread throughout the milk, unlike calcium fortified drinks.

"Nature invented that system with milk protein so we can get calcium and phosphorus and protein out of our mothers and transfer it in a liquid system that we can easily consume and be able to eat and get that calcium and phosphorus and protein delivered to our system," Metzger said.

Whey utilization is a good example of how milk product uses have changed. As recent as 1970, whey was either put on cropland or fed to farm animals. Today, most of U.S. whey protein is fed to body builders or put in baby formula. Most cheese plants make as much money from whey protein as they do on the cheese side, Metzger said. Without the process of ultrafiltration, processors would not be able to harvest whey.

A new kind of filtration, microfiltration is emerging. With microfiltration, whey protein isolate can be made without making cheese. Will milk processing change in the next 20 to 40 years with microfiltration? He argues the opportunity is there.

At South Dakota State, they've decided to make a very large focus on the export market and dairy based ingredients.

"I think that's where our future is in the next 20 to 40 years," Metzger said.


They are renovating their dairy plant for the first time in 53 years to focus on dairy ingredients. The dairy plant project cost is $9.6 million. The cost of the filtration equipment, evaporator and dryer is $2.1 million, he said.

The ADA of South Dakota, Minnesota Division of Midwest Dairy Association and Iowa Division of Midwest Dairy have contributed to the project. About 75 percent of the cost was covered by private industry.

There are no pilot facilities anywhere in the United States at a government facility or a research university where a commercial manufacturer can go to test a new ingredient or test a new product to make a new ingredient, Metzger said. The 10,850 square foot SDSU facility will have the largest version of a pilot plant dryer before it's a commercial dryer. It will be available for industry to use on a tiered rate plan with those who donated getting rate breaks.

The facility is expected to be up and running in March or April. Renovations at the existing plant will begin following the new plant opening and are expected to be completed by August.

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