The COVID-19 health crisis has caused a major economic impact and dairy farmers across America still need the support of consumers, friends and families, said John Dickinson, board chair of the Northeast Dairy Producers Association.
Those challenges have made Dairy Month, celebrated annually each June, that much more significant.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the food insecurity challenges our country has faced because of it has emphasized the critical importance of the farms producing food, and also the processors, distributors, wholesalers and retailers required to get food from the farm to the consumer,” said Dickinson, also of Ideal Dairy in Hudson Falls. “There has never been a more important time to celebrate and recognize the important role the dairy industry provides in our world.”
NEDPA and other advocacy organizations such as farm bureaus – both local and state – and promotional organizations such as American Dairy Association North East once again marked “Dairy Month” during June. The month, which has its origins in “National Milk Month” in the 1930s, is a chance to remind people of the health benefits that dairy product provide through essential nutrients such as calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein.
The pandemic has meant Dairy Month has been celebrated in a way that’s never been charted before. Instead of farm festivals and visits, there have been tribute videos, virtual campaigns such as highlighting “30 farmers in 30 Days” on the ADA North East Facebook page, and food distribution events, including one on June 1 – “World Milk Day” – at Craigs Creamery in York.
The Livingston County Farm Bureau is again teaming with Craigs Creamery for a milk distribution event – this time at Mulligan Farm, 5403 Barber Rd., Avon – from 4 to 6 p.m. June 29. The event is open to anyone. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Livingston County will also be providing a take-home activity for children.
“Dairy month is key in recognition because of its backbone to New York State,” said Kirsty Northrop of Lawnel Farms in Piffard. “Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in New York and dairy represents a large portion of that. Without agriculture and the representation much of the infrastructure in New York State would not be in existence. Other businesses are successful because of agriculture and the large land base supports much of the local/state and school tax compositions.”
ADA North East also offered a virtual farm tour. The program was created for use in schools, but was made more widely available to help families at home looking for activities to educate and entertain their children. The organization also started a “Fun on the Farm” Facebook series that featured a different farm family each week and topics such as recycling, technology on the farm and staying fit and healthy.
Dairy Month, Dickinson said, “is a great opportunity to celebrate all things dairy – from the hard-working employees that we consider part of our farm families, to the nutritious and delicious milk and dairy products we’re able to provide our communities.”
With the dairy industry being “New York’s largest agriculture sector and contributing more than half of the $5.8 billion in gross income generated by New York State’s farms, it’s imperative to rejoice and recognize the generations of dairy farmers who have invested their time and effort into their communities,” Dickinson said.
Dickson noted the number of hats worn by dairy farmers who must care for their cows around the clock, 365 days a year, and also serve roles such as veterinarian, soil and plant specialists, human resource managers, accountants, mechanics, parents and husbands and wives.
“Now more than ever, our farmers and their employees deserve to be recognized for their essential work during these trying times,” Dickinson said.
Dairy farming is tough work with no end in sight, but dairy farmers have faith in the industry and know what it means to keep pushing forward, Dickinson said.
“Dairy farmers are no strangers to facing challenges, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is unchartered territory for all,” he said. “The beginning of 2020 was appearing to look up in terms of prices farmers were paid for their milk. The industry could have never predicted that the market would be completely turned on its head just months later.”
COVID-19, which has challenged many family-owned and small businesses, also affected the farming industry.
“Things are very different in the world of agriculture right now,” said Northrop. “Much of our food supply chain is broken.”
Demand from the wholesale and restaurant industries suffered when restaurants and schools closed or greatly reduced services.
“With this decrease in demand and consistent supply it is difficult to make a balance,” Northrop said. “Cows don’t stop producing and fresh vegetables that were in storage or going to be planted need to be shipped somewhere as that is what accounts for income in many ag businesses.”
The closures significantly reduced demand for dairy products and created bottlenecks at the processing level. Processors eventually adapted by producing smaller quantities and portions that grocery stores and food banks require, and which are more suitable for families at home. Milk and other dairy products were also distributed to area food banks and food deficient communities, including in New York City. The state also launched Nourish NY, a program that helped excess dairy products be packaged and donated to food banks throughout the state.
“Farmers are very tough individuals. We have weathered some pretty tough storms,” Northrop said.
While dairy farms face an unknown future, Dickinson said they continue to manage what is in their control, which includes feeding and caring for their cows and keeping their employees safe.
“The pandemic has shown the compassion, dedication, and perseverance of the dairy industry in that even when they struggle, the drive to provide high-quality food for others remains strong,” Dickinson said.
Consumers can continue to show support for dairy farmers by purchasing dairy products. Those looking to support local farmers should look for the production stamp on all dairy products. The New York State code is 36.
“Our dairy farm families are committed to providing wholesome dairy products to feed our communities, especially during these challenging, changing times,” said American Dairy Association North East CEO Rick Naczi. “Consumers can continue to support the local economy and farmers by purchasing dairy as a part of their regular groceries. As our state begins opening back up for business, think about adding extra cheese to your pizza or burger. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone, milkshake or smoothies. And order an ice-cold glass of milk – or chocolate milk – with your meal.”