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.