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June 8, 2014

Farmers strive for quality, safety, animal welfare

This June will mark the 77th National Dairy Month since its establishment in 1937. Dairy Month was created to promote demand for dairy products during a time of surplus. 

When milk production increased due to cows going out on pasture and spring calving, the market was flooded and unless consumption increased, farmers’ prices dropped. Over the years, farming practices have changed significantly and so has the number of people involved in the dairy industry, making dairy month an excellent time to renew awareness of where your food comes from and the challenges that producers are facing.

Today about 2 percent of Americans work in an agricultural career compared to 70-80 percent of the population in 1870. Much of the impetus behind this change is that farms have increased efficiency over time, with the average U.S. farmer now able to produce enough food for roughly 100 people. One of the side effects resulting from this shift is that very few people in today’s society understand how food is grown and harvested. 

Most American high-school students do not take a food system or agriculture class and they have probably never visited a farm. In the North Country, we have more exposure to farms than many areas of the country, but consider that as of 2010, 80 percent of Americans were living in an urban area (U.S. Census data, 2010). Compare that to the population of Plattsburgh (less than 20,000) and the magnitude of people living in large cities becomes appreciable.

In an age when fewer people know about agriculture and dairy farming, some concern has been raised regarding animal welfare on dairy farms. The welfare of dairy cows is extremely important to dairy producers both because it is an ethical concern and the right thing to do, but also because it is critical for the dairy business. 

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