We all know you're supposed to keep the milk you buy cool to keep it from spoiling prematurely. But apparently, it's also important that the cows producing that milk don't get too toasty.
According to Accuweather, the West experienced a stretch of record-breaking high temperatures in June and July, and another heat wave is predicted to hit the Midwest soon. All that brutal heat, they say, will have an impact at grocery stores across the country. High temperatures affect cows' energy levels; the overheated cows tend to eat less and feel "heat stress," both of which cause them to produce less milk. And when large numbers of America's cows produce less milk, the laws of supply and demand take over, and milk gets pricier.
So how hot is too hot? Well, according to Dr. Tamilee Nennich of Purdue University, a professor of animal sciences quoted by Accuweather, cows begin to experience "heat stress" when the temperature/humidity index hits 72 degrees. With temperatures in the Midwest expected to remain in the 80s and 90s through the next couple of weeks, we could be looking at a lot of cows who are too hot to produce as much milk as usual. And Accuweather says that things will get even worse in September, when heat peaks in many parts of the country.
Fortunately, there are ways to cool down cows and keep the milk flowing. Marie teVelde, a dairy industry group spokeswoman, chimes in to explain that farmers ease the heat stress on their herds by providing shade and water, as well as using fans and water soakers.
But all of that might not be enough to keep milk prices from rising along with the mercury. So if the cost of a gallon of 2% -- or a half-gallon of rocky road -- goes up as the season wears on, don't blame your local supermarket, blame global warming.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
Why You Should Grow Your Own Veggies
Hot Cows Could Mean Higher Milk Prices This Summer
Sure, you can buy lettuce in any grocery store, but if you want something a little more exotic than iceberg lettuce -- aka "the astroturf of greens" -- you're likely to pay quite a bit more. Not surprisingly, premium greens, like cilantro, chard and arugula, are among the most profitable things you can grow: according to some estimates, they can save you up to $20 per square foot!
If you like tomatoes, you're in luck -- they're incredibly profitable. The small and medium-sized varieties, which mature quickly and grow in considerable profusion, can save an estimated $16.50 for every square foot you plant. Best of all, their flavor will leave your grocery store's sickly offerings in the dust.
When it comes to saving money and making a big impact on your cooking, it's hard to beat herbs. Depending on the plant, they can save you up to $18 per square foot -- while supercharging the flavor of your cooking. As an added bonus, many popular herbs, including sage, rosemary, thyme, and mint, are perennials, which means that your initial planting cost will pay you back with a rich harvest every year.
Peas, particularly snow peas, are among the more profitable things that you can grow in your garden. The bigger payoff, however, comes in terms of flavor: it's hard to beat the wonderful, sweet taste of raw peas, picked and eaten fresh in your garden. For that matter, string beans -- a close relative of peas -- taste great raw, boiled (what do you want? I'm from the South!), steamed, or even pickled and served in a Bloody Mary.
Among backyard farmers, the incredible growth rate of squash and zucchini is a running joke: a couple of plants, properly watered and maintained, will leave you with more food than you can (or want to) eat. Luckily, there are hundreds of tasty dishes that you can make with them.
Grandma always made a big deal about eating vegetables -- a tough sell when it comes to Brussels sprouts. To begin with, these things are weird: on the stalk, they look like a cross between an octopus and a cabbage. And in terms of flavor, they can easily turn the corner from yummy to revolting (big hint: boiling them is not a great idea). On the other hand, they are very profitable and, when properly prepared, they can be amazing. Personally, I love this recipe, which uses Sriracha hot sauce, honey and lime juice to temper the cabbagy flavor of the sprouts.
If you've ever fought with wild onions, you already know how hardy members of the allium, or onion family, can be. When it comes to growing your own green onions or scallions, that can be a blessing. To begin with, scallion bulbs take about a month to mature, which means that you can continue to refresh your garden throughout the summer. They're easy to use -- you can eat the onions raw, or can snip the leaves into dozens of foods. And, as an added bonus, they can save you about $4 for every square foot that you plant.
It's hard to beat the clean, cool scent of a freshly sliced cucumber; unfortunately, though, many store-bought cukes fall down when it comes to flavor. Luckily, cucumbers are easy to grow, can be incredibly prolific, and are quite delicious when grown in your garden. But if you grow cukes, be sure to do two things: first, remember to wash off the spines, as many varieties have little thorns that aren't too hard on the hand, but can really irritate your mouth. Second, don't waste them on pickles or a salad -- garden fresh cucumbers deserve to be shown off to their best effect, as in Greek tzatziki dip.