June Dairy Month: A Spotlight on Farms and Families

America’s dairy industry is much more than milk. It’s jobs, economic activity and supporting local businesses for people in our communities. The United States is home to a mixture of large and small dairy farms — both of which contribute to the local economy. Each dollar a dairy producer receives in milk sales generates more money for their local economy. More than 51,000 U.S. dairy farms provide milk, cheese and yogurt to the United States and other countries. About 97 percent of all dairy farms are family-owned and have been run for multiple generations. On dairy farms, the average herd size is 115 cows. In fact, 74 percent of dairy farms have fewer than 100 cows. However, farms with more than 100 cows produce 85 percent of the milk made in America. The average U.S. cow will produce nearly 7 gallons per day over the course of a typical year. That’s nearly 2,500 average gallons a year. Collectively, U.S. dairy farms produce almost 196 billion pounds of milk annually. There are dairy farms spread across all 50 states and Puerto Rico. California produces the most milk at 21 percent of U.S. production. Dairy is also the number one agricultural business in Wisconsin, New York, and Pennsylvania. Dairies create a ripple effect on the agricultural economy. When a dairy farmer sells a dollars worth of milk, it generates economic activity of $3, because of the production costs behind that milk, and every $1 million of U.S. milk sales generates 17 jobs. The U.S. dairy industry is estimated at $140 billion in economic output, $29 billion in household earnings, and more than 900,000 jobs.

Milk doesn’t stay on the farm – where milk goes, jobs follow. Our dairies create jobs for people who grow and ship feed for our cows, as well as for veterinarians, insurance agents, accountants, bankers, and grocery store owners. Dairy farmers purchase machinery, trucks, fuel, and more from local companies, which, again, generates jobs and income. After milk leaves our farms, it travels by truck to a processor, where people make cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt, and other dairy products.

Truckers, packaging manufacturers and food marketers complete the cycle by transporting and marketing the dairy products everyone loves. This means more jobs in the transportation, distribution, retail, and grocery industries. As said before, family farms make up 97% of the country’s dairy industry, with only 3% being commercial farms. As the economy continues to expand, dairy farmers continue to give their all on their farms.

Dairy farmers don‘t raise the price of milk and other products so they can get rich; in fact, farmers only collect about 30 cents per dollar. Milk prices that were at record-high levels in 2014 have abruptly plunged this winter, bringing new economic pressures on the region’s dairy farmers. Milk prices that exceeded $24 per 100 lbs. of milk — roughly 11 gallons — at times have dropped into the $15 range, reminding farmers of 2009, the year prices fell below $12 and many farms lost money and had to shut their barns down. Low milk prices could echo through the rest of the upstate economy, since dairy farming accounts for billions of dollars in economic activity across the state each year. Despite the number of farms that have gone out of dairying in recent decades, New York is still the third most-productive dairy state — though it trails far behind California and Wisconsin. There are about 5,000 dairy farms in the state.

The number of active dairy facilities decreased by 18 thousand farms during 2014. Locally, central New York is home to over 250 dairies, and a popular co-op, Byrne Dairy. They have partnered with 200 plus farms to provide New York State with the freshest milk and dairy products they can. Dairy is the largest source of revenue for Cortland county and brings in over $6 million dollars for the local government.

Want to see inside a milk bottling plant? Schedule a tour at Trinity Valley Farms, on route 13 in East Homer! They process and bottle their own cream line milk, which comes from their farm of roughly 120 cows. They also have fresh cheese curds, made every Thursday on site, and a complete bakery of homemade goods. They are a fourth generation dairy farm, and their courteous staff will be sure to accommodate your needs. Like them on Facebook or visit their website at trinityvalleydairy.com!

Author: Emma Murphy

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