Lewis County is Dairy

 

BY: Olivia Belanger
Lewis County Economic Development provides assistance to help local businesses grow and succeed, while also promoting the quality of life the north country has to offer. Recently, these services have been extended to the county’s agriculture community.
 

    Brittany L. Davis, marketing and communications specialist for the organization, said they began dabbling in agriculture about two years ago, focused on the struggle for dairy farmers. 

“Dairy is Lewis County,” Mrs. Davis said. “We need to preserve that legacy and heritage, and it’s also the backbone of our economy.” 

    Farmers’ earnings for their milk, determined by milk prices, have remained relatively low in recent years. As product costs have continued to rise, several have struggled to keep up with expenses and, for some, even pay their bills. 

    Many have widely blamed low milk prices on an international oversupply of dairy goods. Farmers from several countries have continuously increased their milk output in recent years to keep up with costs, but the additional milk has contributed to an oversupply in the worldwide market and kept milk prices low. 

    Experts have predicted that dairy prices this year are expected to climb slightly from at least the previous year, particularly due to a growing demand for fat-based dairy products. A price uptick may give some relief for farmers, although it would not cure problems fueled by the marketplace glut. 

    Some producers, experts and agriculture advocates believe that the upcoming replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, will provide some benefit because it includes an agreement to increase the amount of dairy that the U.S. can export to Canada. But, dairy farmers have faced tariffs of up to 270 percent on fluid milk exported to Canada, as well as restrictions on other dairy products, in recent years. 

    Mrs. Davis said after dairy farmers started to voice their concerns, the organization wanted to find a way to help combat the issues they were facing. 

    “Dairy is in need right now, so if we can’t control the prices, it was like ‘What can we do?’” Mrs. Davis said. 

    Similar to what they do with other local businesses, Mrs. Davis said the organization brainstormed ways to financially assist farmers. 

    One local business, Black River Valley Natural, Lyons Falls, was created because of this. 

    About three years ago, Mrs. Davis said the now-owner moved back home to the county, and wanted to find a way to invest in the community. The organization decided dairy processing would be a smart choice because it would provide an opportunity to use local milk. 

    “We hooked up with Clarkson University and they did a whole market analysis on the data for dairy products and the data said to create butter,” Mrs. Davis said. “All the other products the markets are saturated, such as cheese, no one is drinking whole milk anymore. So, we created artisan-flavored butters.” 

    The organization helped the new business find a location and finance equipment, and will help them with any future resources they may need. 

    “That’s mainly where we stand in the agriculture industry,” Mrs. Davis said.  

    The organization also, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension, launched the Naturally Dairy campaign in June of 2018. The campaign, a branch of the Naturally Lewis brand, promotes the county’s strengths in agriculture, highlight the hard-working farms, remind consumers of the benefits of dairy in a well-balanced diet and educates the community on the impact of dairy to the overall economy. 

    The county’s public health department also jumped on this rebranding campaign, and created the app Naturally Healthy Lewis County. The app lists where to find the best hiking trails, farmer’s markets, community centers and healthy eating options. 

    Through all of the rebranding for the county, the goal to market the county as a great place to live, work and do business, Mrs. Davis said. 

    Part of this was the start of the newly-opened Lewis County Cuisine Trail, co-sponsored by the county Chamber of Commerce and Cornell Cooperative Extension. The trail points the way to locally grown and produced artisanal food products with scenic vistas and wine as well. 

    “It was the businesses that came together and said they wanted to do this, so we worked together to bring it to fruition,” Mrs. Davis said about the three-year project. 

    Trail signs lead food-finders through the towns of Lowville, Croghan and Copenhagen to 11 local businesses including stores, farm shops, a restaurant and a vineyard. 

    All of these projects, Mrs. Davis said, are all focused on building a sense of community pride. 

    “A lot of times in the north country, we get bogged down by how there’s nothing happening here, but there really are some awesome things that are going on,” Mrs. Davis said.