Julie Ackerman is PMMI's senior director PR/communications.U.S. dairy farmers produced a record 200 million gallons of milk in 2012, with more than half (57%) generated by dairy farms managing at least 500 cows. By 2013, worldwide milk production will jump 19% to 827 million tons. As the farms produce more milk per cow, so do dairy processors increase their output. For its "2013 Dairy Industry Assessment” published in September, PMMI interviewed 50 dairy professionals to explore the needs of dairy producers in this rapidly changing, highly competitive environment.

One overarching trend identified through the study is the increasing need to improve operational efficiencies. The rise in output stems from technological advances, access to higher quality feed and the increasingly large herds kept by larger dairy producers. No surprise, then, that operational efficiency is central to dairy producers and processors today.

Dairy processors evaluate their need for new equipment

With the tools in place to deliver a competitive advantage, we’re also seeing more consolidation — as we have for over a decade. The number of licensed U.S. dairy farms has decreased by 61% since 1992. And, as large dairy producers continue to increase their use of automation and other efficiency-enhancing technologies, the environment is becoming much more competitive for smaller, less technologically-sophisticated dairy farmers.

Here’s something else we know. Dairy manufacturers must work closely with the suppliers of processing and packaging technologies to find and implement operations and production lines changes that will foster growth. In fact, 80% of study participants confirmed they are evaluating their needs for new equipment, and 91% cited increasing production volume and operational efficiency as key goals.

Suppliers are working to stay ahead of these needs, designing machinery that will comply with current and future food safety regulations, work with increasingly popular packaging formats and help streamline efficiency and maximize output with greater capacity, faster speeds and enhanced flexibility.

But more than ever, it is critical that suppliers and dairy manufacturers come together and troubleshoot potential challenges in the early stages of building or redesigning production lines. The Pack Expo trade shows meet that need, allowing attendees to see the technologies and solutions they need at any point in the production line.

See dairy processing and packaging equipment at Pack Expo in Chicago in 2014

More than 27,000 processing and packaging professionals – from a range of consumer packaged goods companies that serves dairy manufacturers as well as soft drink makers — came together at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2013 this fall (Sept. 23–5 Las Vegas Convention Center), the year’s largest processing and packaging event, with more than 1750 exhibitors and to take place in North America this year, with more than 1,750 exhibitors and attracting over 27,000 professionals from a wide range of industries and locations.

For information about next year’s show in Chicago, visit packexpo.com and sign up to be notified when registration opens.