Hundreds of thousands of America's dairy cows are being turned into hamburgers because milk prices have dropped so low that farmers can no longer afford to feed the animals. Dairy farmers say they face a perfect storm of destructive economic forces: At home, feed prices are rising and consumers are eating out less often. Meanwhile, abroad, the global recession has cut into demand for butter and cheese exported from the US.
Milk now costs about half what it costs farmers to produce it, and consumer prices are falling. Unless the market can be bolstered, industry officials project that more than 1.5 million of the nation's 9.3 million milking cows could be slaughtered this year. "This could destroy our dairy infrastructure," says the CEO of a dairy trade association. On the beef market, dairy cows sell for about $1100 each—less than half the $2500 a mature milker would fetch.