While the outlook for beef cattle production across the Southwest has been shadowed by lingering concerns and issues related to a historic drought, Texas dairymen are expressing optimism in spite of higher feed costs and shortages of forage acres, spurred on by a promising market and an escalating demand for dairy products.

Darren Turley, executive director with the Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD), says winter and spring rains offer hope for improving forage conditions after a dreadful year of drought but admits his real optimism comes on the wings of an expanding global market and a strong demand for a popular new product.

“The Texas Association of Dairymen has received calls for information on new dairies, new plants and about innovative dairy products,” Turley reported in the latest issue of TAD’s Dairy Dispatch newsletter. “There is a lot of optimism about the future of agriculture, especially for dairy.”

That optimism, he says, is largely rooted in a growing world population and an expanding demand for dairy products. Turley says that while population numbers increase every day by nearly a quarter million new births, the world looks to American agriculture to feed the multitudes in the years ahead.

The latest dairy numbers support the claim. U.S. dairy product exports have reached a new milestone with more than13 percent of U.S. dairy production sold in foreign markets. Turley says this trend will continue.

Adding to a bright future for U.S. dairymen is the unexpected popularity of a new dairy product—Greek style yogurt. Domestic demand for the yogurt has been a surprise, but Turley says the superior taste of the product promises to encourage market expansion in years ahead.

Overshadowing dairy production is the concern for continued forage improvement through the summer months. Turley admits drought conditions linger across areas of Texas and the Southwest but says most dairy operators in Texas are reporting greatly improved pastures on the heels of recent and substantial rains.

“The cost of forage last year was staggering and dairy producers suffered,” he says, but most Texas dairy producers are optimistic that changing weather patterns will continue to bring relief.

While many forecasters say it is too early to predict whether summer rainfall will return to more normal levels this year, more are admitting that the La Nińa weather pattern continues to fade and has reached what many are calling a neutral pattern. Early indications are that an El Nińo event may develop by mid-summer, which could bring more favorable conditions for rain.

“There is little doubt we have seen vast improvement in moisture conditions over parts of the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles,” said Associate Oklahoma climatologist Gary McManus. “Whether it represents the end of the drought or not remains to be seen. But for many, pastures have greened up considerably and there is a degree of optimism that the drought may have been broken. But I don’t know that we are out of the woods yet.”

Turley says regardless of whether wet conditions remain, Texas dairymen are hoping for brighter days ahead.

“The Texas Association of Dairymen has received calls for information on new dairies, new plants and about innovative dairy products. There is a lot of optimism about the future of agriculture, especially for dairy,” Turley says. “Texas dairymen have shown their resilience over the last few years…the outlook is starting to brighten for dairy products and markets.

“The green landscape of spring is always a welcome sight, but it is enjoyed more following some relief to the extreme drought that Texas has been experiencing.

“The national dairy industry is poised for future growth and expansion,” he adds.