Climate change has not only changed the physical nature of the desert environment, but there is also an accompanying issue at hand: the economic environment. It has become increasingly difficult for farmers who want to maintain a thriving dairy farm to accomplish the same.
Chad Linder, a fourth-generation dairy farmer from the Coachella Valley, said that people are leaving the industry all the time. He said that recent regulations requiring larger and larger swaths of land for grazing were already problematic, but they have also had an effect on the dairy business on the national scale.
“Obviously they’re going to be less efficient in terms of the overall economics, so as a result they’re losing cows, more cows are going to be on land that is less productive,” Linder told HuffPost.
With lower productivity, Linder said, a cow requires more investment to milk.
“I hear them say that bigger is better,” he said. “But does it make you money? Not necessarily. It will pay your electric bill, but it’s really great that the baby gets to come into the house because it’s actually more productive than if you were milking more cows on the same land.”
It’s not just the number of cows that can decrease efficiency, Linder said, it’s also the time the cows are on the farm. That and of course, the environmental impact of agriculture and the planet. “Is [the] animal feed going to be wasted, you’re not going to be able to carry enough water to do the farming that you would do if you didn’t do any of this?” he asked.
A bill, backed by President Donald Trump, would repeal regulations and get rid of a price-insurance program for dairy farmers that is currently under consideration. It would also end a rent regulation program for rental structures, and it would end restrictions on milk’s use for processed food production.
For Linder, nothing could match the memories of his working family as a kid, but he said he can’t see farming continuing without change. “I do believe climate change is something that’s going to threaten not only dairy but agriculture in general,” he said. “I don’t know how we can go back to where we’ve been.”
The cuts the Trump administration is proposing would not only affect the costs of milk and the cattle that are used to feed it, but would also limit how much the family can put toward technology to improve the cows’ efficiency in their daily lives.
Linder said that some people mistakenly associate all farmers with cattle. “A lot of people don’t realize that the cattle business for us isn’t where we’re making our money. We’re making our money farming,” he said.
When the crops that people grow and the livestock that are raised become competing options, there’s more emphasis on which category the farmer ends up working in.
“They say that the ag industry is dying, and that’s actually not really true because we don’t know the true impact, but there’s a lot of changes taking place,” Linder said. “In the long run, I’m going to have to get into that business because that’s just the way it is now.”