Each year, we celebrate Dairy Month to honor America’s dairy-farm families and the wholesome, nutritious milk they produce. The North Country has a long and proud dairy-farming heritage. Dairy farming is the number-one agricultural business in Northern New York primarily because the fertile Champlain and St. Lawrence valleys and temperate climate are ideal for growing forages like grasses, alfalfa and corn silage. In Clinton County alone, the dairy industry generates more than $65 million in milk sales as well as additional sales of livestock and crops. Dairy Month helps to remind our city cousins that their food comes from somewhere beyond the local grocery store.
As New York’s largest contributor to the agricultural economy, the dairy industry generated $1.7 billion in 2009. Statistics show that one-third of the state’s milk production is for drinking and the remainder is processed into cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products. According to the last ag census, Clinton County had about 18,500 dairy cows, ranking 13th in New York State. Nationally, New York ranks third in milk production behind only California and Wisconsin, first in cottage cheese and third in other cheeses.
Dairy farmers work hard every day to bring you fresh, great tasting, wholesome milk products. The dairy industry recognizes the importance of its customers and consumers not just in June but every month of the year. Almost all dairies in Clinton, Essex and Franklin County are family-owned, and as active members of their communities, farm families take pride in feeding our neighbors and maintaining natural resources. Our local farmers recognize the importance of preserving the land where they live and work, protecting the air and water they share with neighbors, and providing the best care for their cows — the lifeblood of their business.
The North Country has an amazing diversity of dairy farms — from very large, modern dairies with over a thousand cows to small, grass-based organic dairies that have taken a fresh look at simpler practices of the past. Regardless, most dairy farmers, like other business owners, are modernizing and improving their efficiency in order to continue to support their families and provide high-quality and affordable dairy products. As farms increase in size, they are able to take advantage of economies of scale that enable them to better weather the ups and downs of the always variable dairy economy. Dairy farmers have always taken pride in producing a high-quality product for consumers, and with today’s tight margins, they are working even harder to achieve the milk quality premiums that are paid for the best milk.
Now more than ever, we need to support and appreciate the local dairy farmers that continue to work the land. Like the rest of us, farmers are suffering from increasing costs of feed, fuel and transportation — all necessary to produce milk. Regardless of these adversities, they continue to keep our local landscapes scenic, support our local economy and maintain the rural quality of life that we all enjoy in Northern New York.
Cornell University’s Pro-Dairy Program exists to increase the profitability and competitiveness of New York dairy farmers. A collaboration of educational, industry and family-farm partners, the program is committed to keeping the industry strong, improving environmental stewardship, crop, herd and nutrient management and the financial health of family farms and their future operators.
For more information about Pro-Dairy, visit www.ansci.cornell.edu/prodairy/index.html
Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22, Suite #5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450, fax 561-0183, email Phh7@cornell.edu.