Climate change and milk composition in South Africa

Climate change and milk composition in South Africa

The impact of fluctuating weather conditions has been evident throughout agricultural markets over the past decades. Dairy production in South Africa is responsive to the growing domestic and regional demand but is also sensitive to the producer price. The Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal together are responsible for most of milk national production in South Africa. They have climates with mild temperatures and sufficient rainfall, which is required for growth of good quality natural land, planted pastures, providing a lower cost production system. The drier and hotter inland regions are not well suited to dairy production that is only possible with highly intensive high-cost feedlot systems. Is it sustainable for producers to continue bearing the costs of adaptation as climate changes? An animal is never independent of the environment in which it lives. In other words, the animal and its environment form a system in which both act and react upon each other. The vulnerability of animals to weather is well established; their performance and even their survival are strongly influenced by direct effects of weather.

Climate change and milk composition in South AfricaWarm climates depress feed intake, milk production, and reproductive performance in dairy cows, while metabolic heat production also declines and thus have major implications for dairy farming economics. The composition of raw milk determines to a large extent, the nutritional value and the technologies properties of milk and dairy products. Dietary composition and feeding management are some of the major factors that contribute to the variation in milk composition. It is a fact that feed can change the fat content of milk over a wide range of about three percentage units. A short study to determine how the composition of raw milk was affected by climate change in South Africa was done at the ARC-Irene by analysing milk in all four seasons summer (Oct-Feb), autumn (Mar-May), winter (June-Jul), and spring (Sept-Oct). Despite challenges faced by farmers due to drought and dry spells in the past few years, the quality of milk that was analysed showed good consistency. The figure below illustrates the consistency of milk components throughout all the seasons. The highest produced total solids were in autumn; meanwhile fat and protein were highest in autumn and winter. This illustrates that supplement feeding in months of scarcity ensures nutritional milk throughout the year irrespective of season.

In the supply chain, prices are established through negotiations, between farmers and buyers (dairy companies), and between processors and retailers. Farmers in fact remain “price takers” in this system and experience continuous “price-cost squeeze” because affordability to the consumer must also be considered. Growth of the dairy industry nationally is limited by the availability of farmland and water. Sufficient and reliable rainfall is required for pasture growth, and water availability is essential for milking and processing. Area based expansion, herd sizes expansion and increasing efficiencies can all contribute to growth of the industry. Producers can be expected to respond mainly to milk and feed price signals and locally specific climatic challenges.

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