Butterfat Continues to be a Major Driver of Milk Value

Dairy farmers in the Southeast, Appalachian, and Florida Federal Milk Marketing #7 (FMMO #7) orders are ultimately paid on the amount of skim milk and butterfat they produce. Growing demand for dairy products like cheese and butter have increased butterfat values and their impact on milk prices over time.  For some perspective, Figure 1 contains the historical Uniform Butterfat Price for the Southeast Federal Milk Marketing Order from 2000 to 2024. There has been significant volatility, and the impact of COVID is pretty clear, but the general upward trend is evident – butterfat has become increasingly valuable over the last 24 years.

In the interest of painting a complete picture, Figure 2 contains the Uniform Skim Price for FMMO #7. As with the butterfat series (Figure 1), volatility is clearly present. One can see strong skim milk price levels in 2007, 2014, and 2022, but one can also see multiple times when skim milk prices were south of $10 per cwt. The slight upward trend over time in skim milk price is not as evident as the trend in butterfat prices. 

Because butterfat only represents a small percentage of the milk that is produced, it is easy to underestimate its significance on milk price at the farm level. To emphasize, for the month of March 2024, the uniform skim milk price was $11.23 per cwt and the butterfat price was $3.2099 per lb. When uniform milk prices are calculated by the orders, they are done so by assuming 3.5% butterfat levels. With that 3.5% butterfat assumption and a $3.2099 butterfat value per lb, each cwt of milk yields a butterfat value of $11.23 (3.5 lbs @ $3.2099 per lb). At the same time, the skim milk value from a cwt of milk was calculated to be $10.84 (96.5 lbs @ $11.23 per cwt). Combining the butterfat and skim values results in a uniform milk price of $22.07 per cwt for the month of March. This calculation can be seen in the first row of Table 1. Note that even at 3.5%, the butterfat value represents just over half of the uniform milk value. 

This uniform milk price does not represent the price that an individual dairy producer would receive as that would be impacted by any premiums and/or deductions, as well as how their location differential compares to that of the base zone. Readers should use the specific prices with caution as they are just used for illustration. But, the difference in milk price as butterfat increases is very telling. Note that each additional 0.25% increase in butterfat results in an increase in milk value of $0.77 per cwt. Table 1 also illustrates the same milk price calculation for butterfat percentages from 3.5% to 5.0%. At 5%, milk price exceeds $26 per cwt, and butterfat accounts for over 60% of that value. Given the value differences calculated in Table 1, it is clear why increasing butterfat has been a focus of many dairy farmers in recent years. It is important to note that Table 1 looks only at price and does not consider the potential for increased expenses that may be associated with increasing butterfat.  

Table 1. Uniform Skim Milk and Butterfat Price and Their Impact on Milk Value

% ButterfatSkim Milk ValueButterfat ValueMilk Price% of Value from Butterfat
Estimated from March 2024 Uniform Price Computations for FMMO #7. Uniform Skim Milk Price was $11.23 per cwt and Uniform Butterfat Price was $3.2099 per lb.
(March 2024, Southeast Federal Milk Marketing Order)

Burdine, Kenny. “Butterfat Continues to be a Major Driver of Milk Value.” Southern Ag Today 4(18.2). April 30, 2024. Permalink