Farmers Remain Skeptical Despite Lawmakers’ Attempts to Strengthen, Grow Dairy Industry

| August 30, 2018

PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE, Pa. (EYT) – With state officials scrambling to help bolster Pennsylvania’s dairy farms, many in the industry remain skeptical.

The Pennsylvania Dairy Development Plan, announced earlier this month by Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, is seeking to make immediate and long-term changes by focusing on the following areas:

– Better use of existing funding to support research and development;
– Identifying effective economic development projects;
– Providing incentives for existing producers to upgrade their dairy equipment and facilities;
– Streamlining and reforming Pennsylvania’s regulatory processes; and
– Developing broader marketing efforts to promote the sale, consumption, and health benefits on Pennsylvania milk.

“Pennsylvania’s dairy industry is a treasure to our Commonwealth,” said Secretary Redding. “It’s an industry that’s grappling with difficult global market conditions, but one that is also resilient and dominated by hardworking individuals who are entrepreneurial and eager to do what it takes for this industry to grow here.”

“Pennsylvania’s Dairy Development Plan is our attempt to lay out a plan for the future. It represents months of work gathering input from the public and industry, as well as extensive research and a hard look at Pennsylvania policy. It lays out both short-term and long-term goals and recommendations that stakeholders can use as a starting place to strengthen and expand their operations.”

Secretary Redding unveiled the plan on behalf of Governor Wolf at a breakfast of dairy leaders at the annual Ag Progress Days exhibition on August 15.

Jayne Sebright, Executive Director of the Center for Dairy Excellence, believes that the plan lays the groundwork for growth in the industry.

“The Dairy Development Plan introduced by Secretary Redding demonstrates a recognition by the administration of the important contribution dairy makes to our commonwealth. The plan provides a framework to encourage reinvestment in the infrastructure that is so critical to our industry.”

The plan seeks to work with many of the strategies already put in place over the previous months by the Wolf Administration. These strategies included a statewide study by dairy economists evaluating positives and the greatest detractors to growth in the dairy industry, petitioning the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to provide all needed resources to provide relief to dairy farmers affected by the low-priced industry, and evaluating changes that may need to be made to the state’s Milk Marketing Law that are needed for the present day challenges of the dairy industry.

In May, Wolf, dairy farmers, and industry advocates worked together to create a campaign called “Choose PA Dairy: Goodness that Matters.” Seeking to support Pennsylvania’s dairy industry by teaching consumers how to find and buy local milk and the vital role it plays to Pennsylvania’s economy, the campaign will be able to utilize $5 million set aside in the 2018-2019 budget to help create additional investment and innovation in the industry.

While many applaud the efforts, farmers are still skeptical.

Adam Barrett, of Barrett Farms in Templeton, says that the actions being taken are missing the mark.

“For my own business, I would like to see the government come in and force a cap on these larger farms to keep the cow totals lower. Seeing that I believe in capitalism, I think that the government should get out of the way. I’m in a strange business of being the producer, but the government regulates the price.”

“The dairy industry isn’t very good right now. We are getting paid the same that my grandfather did in the 70s while the cost of everything else has quadrupled. The main reason that I’ve been in business so long is because we don’t have much debt at all. I see some farms that are taking out loans to pay the bills and then eventually have to go bankrupt, and the bank comes and takes the house and farm. I told my dad that I’m not doing that. If it gets to where I can’t pay the bills, the cows are leaving, and I’m changing careers.”

ExploreClarion.com also reached out to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau to gauge their response to the recent unveiling of the plan. The bureau’s Director of Media and Strategic Communications, Mark O’Neill says that while the plan is not something that is necessarily new, it does have the same end goal of plans that have been laid out over the past few years.

“We’re working together with a lot of different groups to make the dairy industry a prosperous one. Due to low milk prices, many farmers are losing money so we support any and all actions that help alleviate those problems.”

For O’Neill, much of the problem lies in lack of knowledge in the health benefits of milk. This lack of knowledge, he explains, has been compounded over the past five years.

“A major thing for us is to make people aware that milk is healthy. We feel like we lost an entire generation of milk drinkers when milk was taken out of the school system. Mrs. Obama really pushed health and nutrition during her time as First Lady and that’s great. We’re all for good health and proper nutrition. However, somehow it was determined that 2% and whole milk is detrimental to one’s health which simply is not true. As a result of that, milk consumption in schools plummeted in favor of juices and “nut juices” that many times have more sugar and a higher fat content than milk.”

O’Neill says that the Farm Bureau is currently working with government officials to try to get 2% and whole milk back in schools as well as various types of flavored milks to ultimately raise milk consumption among school-aged children.

“We believe in choice,” O’Neill added. “If someone simply prefers almond milk over milk, that’s fine. We do, however, want to ensure that correct information is being distributed, so people can make the right choices about what they consume.”

Many may remember the national “Got Milk?” campaign of year’s past. The success of this campaign eventually faded a bit, and O’Neill points out that there has not since been a campaign on the national level that has been able to match the success of the popular milk mustache ads.

milk

On the state level, however, O’Neill and the Farm Bureau very much endorse the “Choose PA Dairy: Goodness That Matters” campaign which not only educates the public on the health benefits of milk but also shows exactly where Pennsylvania residents can go to purchase locally produced Pennsylvania milk.

“We know it is a struggle, and there are no simple answers,” O’Neill concluded.

“No single answer will fix our dairy crisis, but specific actions can be beneficial.”


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