Texas freeze may signal long-term dairy woes, minimal national effect

Cornell University
Icicles hang off the  State Highway 195 sign on Feb. 18 in Killeen, Texas. Winter storm Uri brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas.

Power outages caused by the devastating winter storm in Texas put some dairy farmers in crisis situations, forcing them to dump milk as processing plants shut down. The impact from the storm has brought up concerns of long-term production delays and ripple effects on supply.

Cornell University agricultural economist, Christopher Wolf, says

He adds while it’s possible there will be milk shortages in Texas and the surrounding regions, national milk production levels have been high, so most U.S. consumers will not see supply issues caused by the storm.

“Weather events that result in loss of power and/or shut down highway travel have implications up and down the dairy supply chain," Wolf said.

When farms lose power, unless there is a backup generator, Wolf said cows will miss one or more milkings.

"This results in not just lost milk on the days without power but lost production in future days, weeks and months because of the health problems that can follow," Wolf said. "Following Winter Storm Goliath in 2015, milk production was lower for months in the affected regions as more cows were culled."

If plants lose power, Wolf says it can mean more dumping of milk even if the farms have power and can milk the cows.

"Milk can only be kept for so long before it must be pasteurized and bottled," he said

Unfortunately due to high milk production levels across the country and large stocks of dairy products in storage, Wolf says most U.S. consumers will not notice the dairy issues caused by the recent weather and power event.

“It is certainly possible that there was local milk shortages as regional plants and farms couldn't get milk to market and road conditions made it difficult to bring in milk from elsewhere," he said, adding that as a result, local shortages may contribute to higher prices. "This is most likely to affect beverage milk.”