MURDOCK, Minn. – The milking carousel at the Louriston Dairy turns 22 hours a day and milks more cows in half an hour than most dairies do all day.
Cows step onto the slow-moving merry-go-round in single file. A worker sprays disinfectant on each cow’s udder, another wipes the teats clean with a paper towel, and another secures suction cups onto the teats for milking during a seven-minute trip around the room. Gleaming silver tanks in the next room fill with flash-cooled milk as 106 cows are milked at once.
The farm 18 miles west of Willmar is home to 9,500 cows, 40 times larger than the average U.S. dairy operation. It is part of a fast-growing network of giant farms built and run by Riverview LLP, a Morris, Minn.-based firm that is a game-changer for the Minnesota dairy industry. The company owns 92,000 milk cows — more than all the farmers in Illinois or Virginia — and 60,000 of them are in western Minnesota, where it has nine dairies and is building more.
And each day, an average of 25 new calves are born at each dairy. Half of them are dairy cattle that will be shipped to New Mexico to grow up in warm weather for about 18 months before returning to Minnesota to be milked and bred for several years. The other half are beef cattle that get sold to beef feedlots, mostly in South Dakota.
All of the milk that’s trucked away from Riverview’s nine dairies in #Minnesota goes to make #cheese.
Milk cows drink around 30 gallons of water a day, so abundant groundwater is critical when Riverview builds one of its farms.
The company had to drill an extra welll near a dairy in Campbell to make sure it wasn’t pumping too much from the aquifer under the dairy. Riverview has also been scrutinized for its role in depleting the aquifer in a heavily farmed valley in southeast Arizona, where it operates a dairy and grows its own feed to supply it.
Today, milk prices are down by a third since their most recent peak in 2014. Growth in demand has lately been driven by exports, mostly to #Mexico, which have plateaued. Now President DonaldTrump has launched an international trade war and #cheese factories in the region are already running at full capacity.