Milk is Back!

Jay Matteson

For too many years, fewer and fewer Americans were drinking milk. There were many more choices for consumers to quench their thirst than ever before and honestly, the dairy industry had not done a good job of keeping up with marketing their product in a modern, exciting manner. The old white jug had lost its appeal. The previous administration in the White House changed the school lunch program removing whole and 2% milk options and forcing schools to offer only skim milk. This change reduced the desire by children to drink milk. 

    Then the Coronavirus disaster set in. Food service businesses closed their doors. According to an April 3, 2020 article written by P.J. Huffstutter on Reuters website, the closure of food service businesses – restaurants, schools, and fast food restaurants sent a shock wave through the dairy industry. Plants that manufacture dairy products used in food service are not easily converted to retail manufacturing. With the onset of Coronavirus shutdown of food service businesses, the outlook for dairy initially was very dark. American diets typically consisted of 35 – 40% food service purchases. Dairy products are extensively used by food service to add flavor and nutrition to many products. The Virus also disrupted distribution systems and plant workforce. Dairy cooperatives told their member farms to dump their milk because there became a tremendous glut of milk on the market. Dairy Farmers of America estimated at one point that 3.7 million gallons of milk a day was being dumped. 

    At the same time, people did not know what to expect when told to shelter at home. Store shelves emptied of food, paper products and milk! People were buying two gallons at a time and freezing it, just in case. It appears that consumers turned to what they knew was very healthy, satisfying and comforting, milk. According to an article published online on June 15, 2020 on the AgDaily website, from March 9 to March 22, 2020 fluid milk sales increased by 45,000,000 gallons compared to the same period in 2019. Plant based beverage sales in the same period increased by approximately 7.9 million gallons. This was huge news for American dairy farmers. 

    Those of us in the agricultural industry saw the initial demand for fluid milk and were hopeful, but worried that after the initial run on the grocery stores, consumers would return to old habits. Consumers, however, appear to want nutritious and tasty milk and dairy products back in their diets! Ag Daily reports that from March 23 to May 31, 2020 fluid milk consumption increased by nearly 60,000,000 gallons compared to the same period in 2019. Plant based beverages increased by just over 10,000,000 gallons. Also noticed was consumers were trending to whole and 2% milk. Many enjoy the taste and satisfaction of whole milk compared to skim milk. 

    It appears, when difficult times arose, the American consumer came back to a food product they knew was wholesome, nutritious, and tasty – milk. In Jefferson County, we saw two dairy farms begin bottling their own milk. Next Generation Milk from Grimshaw Farms and Old McDonald’s Farm Milk from North Harbor Dairy Farm were an instant hit. Both operations had difficulty keeping up with demand. When a very local option became available to consumers, they swung quickly to supporting local dairy as much as possible. I can personally testify that my 19-year-old son will travel out of his way to make sure we always have milk from both farms in our refrigerator. Most times, he pays for it! 

    The dairy industry will still have challenges with balancing supply and demand fluctuations. Our dairy farms are coming off five years of difficult prices for their product. But if the demand for dairy continues to grow as people realize what they have been missing, perhaps we will see a brighter future for our dairy farms and the American consumer. Thanks to consumers, we see a path out of this current quagmire we are in. We are looking out to 2025 and building a path forward. 

    Welcome home, America! 

What Challenges Will The Dairy Industry Face in 2020?

Jay Matteson

We begin 2020 with nearly 30 dairy farms facing an uncertain outlook. It is hard to write an economic outlook for 2020 when this many of our family-owned businesses are not sure they will have a market for their product. The leadership of Jefferson Bulk Milk Cooperative is working diligently to find new milk markets. They face a daunting task. Jefferson County Economic Development office has offered our full assistance and support. Our elected officials have also offered to assist. 

    The entire dairy industry, especially in New York state, is undergoing a massive change. New York state passed new labor laws in 2019 that are now in full effect as of January 1. Over the last several months, since the laws were passed, farms and their representative organizations were trying to figure out how to comply with the laws. They encountered changes in the regulations after regulatory agencies changed interpretations of the laws. It has been a difficult challenge and farms will continue to do everything they can to comply with the regulations. 

    We are finally seeing recovery in the recognition that dairy products taste great and are healthy components of your diet. People are slowly recognizing, after years of being told otherwise, that whole milk, butter, and cheese are good for you. 94% of American households buy milk. 

    Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? I carefully answer yes. A very qualified yes dependent on many factors. Milk prices are very slowly creeping up. It appears that the dairy industry will see some level of profit from milk sales. It is critical that the United States Congress finally act on President Trump’s U.S., Mexico, Canada (USMCA) trade agreement. This will improve markets for United States milk. The USMCA will benefit other agricultural sectors, too. We are seeing progress in negotiations of other trade agreements that will continue to improve markets for U.S. agricultural products. I am worried, that any new trade agreements needing Congressional approval may be delayed with the presidential election coming in November. 

    Our office continues to search for new dairy processing companies looking for a New York state location. Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties produce over two billion pounds of milk per year. We have enough milk to support another dairy processing company the size of Great Lakes Cheese or HP Hood. We are very proud of Great Lakes Cheese in Adams NY and HP Hood in LaFargeville. These two plants, and the local people who make up their employee teams, are producing some of the best cheddar cheese, cheese curd, sour cream, cottage cheese and yogurt of any place in the world. We are doing everything we can to attract a new dairy manufacturer that values high-quality milk and great employees. 

    We are very excited about what is happening in local agricultural education and workforce development initiatives! We are home to some of the best middle school and high school agricultural education programs in New York state. Alexandria, Belleville- Henderson, Carthage, Indian River and South Jefferson school districts have a long history of offering fantastic agricultural programming and FFA Chapters. A couple years ago, Watertown City School District started an agricultural program and FFA Chapter. Jefferson Community College recently started an agribusiness program offering associate degrees for students pursuing agricultural careers. 

    And just over a month ago, Jefferson – Lewis BOCES announced they will begin an Environment and Agriculture Academy! Juniors and seniors across Jefferson and Lewis counties, starting in fall of 2020, will have a choice to pursue environmental and agricultural programming in their high school careers. BOCES is planning to start an FFA Chapter as part of this new academy. This is great news for school districts without agricultural programs as they will now have this option through BOCES. After many years of hard work, this fall we will offer a complete pathway for all students in Jefferson and Lewis counties to pursue an agricultural career. Students will have the opportunity to pursue agricultural careers either in their local high school or at Jefferson – Lewis BOCES, advance on to Jefferson Community College, and then attend a four-year program at a SUNY school. 

    Yes, 2020 will offer difficult challenges as our dairy industry deals with the changes happening. We are excited to see growth in local food production, and exciting developments in agricultural workforce development. Agriculture has always been a strong foundation to our local economy and will continue to be that bedrock we build upon. 

Lewis County is Dairy

 

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The Dairy Debate: When and how will the industry change?

DAYTONA NILES / NNY BUSINESS
A few Dairy cows drink some water off of W. Martinsburg Road in Lowville.

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Agriculture Through the Ages: The changing, youthful face of north country agriculture

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
The Porter family still owns an operates Porterdale Farms in Jefferson County, from left, Stephen, and wife, Angela, with children Landon, 11, Collin, 8, Kennedy, 6, and Katelyn, 5, David Porter, and Lisa, and husband Greg.

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May 2016: Agri-Business

What’s happening in our dairy industry?

Jay Matteson

Jay Matteson

As we approach the annual June Dairy Month celebration, it is important to recognize that Jefferson County’s dairy industry is by far its largest sector of agriculture. Dairy accounts for roughly 66 percent of product sales. Our 200 dairy farms produce 600 million pounds of milk annually. That’s about eight trillion 8-ounce glasses of milk. Jefferson County ranks fourth in the state in dairy production and in the top 50 counties nationwide. Unfortunately, our dairy farms are hurting nationwide due to horrible prices for the milk they produce. [Read more…]

Dairy industry leaders, businesses brainstorm ways to solve NYS milk crisis

Dairy industry experts say finding solutions for farmers to boost milk production seems like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Participants in an agriculture business round-table discussion Wednesday at Watertown’s Ramada Inn used words like “crossroads,” “turmoil” and “volatile” to describe their industry. But by the end of back-and-forth conversation, educators, business leaders and farmers were armed with fresh ideas about how to turn the industry in a positive direction.

Attended by about 40 people, the discussion underscored the many challenges that face dairy farmers.

But while farmers here are awash in challenges, the state’s milk demand is poised to boom in the next two years with the launch of several Greek yogurt plants. Milk cooperatives in New York state and across the Northeast — which supply milk from farmers to production plants — are struggling to get enough milk to meet the high demand, said Bruce W. Krupke, vice president of the Northeast Dairy Foods Association, which represents 120 dairy plants across eight states in the region.

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