By Jayne Sebright, Center for Dairy Excellence Executive Director
The other day I received a request from a local newspaper for a quote on “Why I still believe in dairy.” The reporter who sent the request explained that they were writing a positive article offering encouragement to struggling farmers during June Dairy Month. When I read that question, I considered all the reasons I have to believe in dairy and thought of how difficult it would be to summarize them in just one quote.
Steve Jobs, the late founder and CEO of Apple Inc., once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
I have always counted myself as very fortunate because of how strongly I believe in the dairy industry – in its people, our product and in our role in feeding a hungry world. I’ve found very few people who work in dairy who don’t share that same belief with me. The challenge we have is cutting through all the rhetoric and false marketing to show those outside our industry why they should still believe in dairy.
Here are just a few reasons I would share with them:
- Dairy’s Health Benefits. Milk is a naturally sourced nutrient powerhouse that contains the nine essential nutrients for good nutrition. Research shows that regardless of fat content, dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt are associated with improved bone health— especially in children and teens— and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and lower blood pressure in adults.
- Our Product Versatility. When you think of how many products can be derived from milk, it’s nothing short of amazing – cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, cottage cheese, sour cream, and the list goes on. Then consider all the foods that have dairy as a key ingredient. It’s used as a base for soup and in chocolate. It’s used in biscuit mixes and to add flavoring to snacks. When you consider the variety of foods that include dairy out there, I cannot think of any other natural food that’s as versatile as milk.
- A Clean Label. One challenge we have in the dairy industry right now is the systemic decline in fluid milk sales. While there may be more competitors in the beverage aisle, one advantage milk has that many of these competitors don’t is a clean label. We need to remind consumers that milk is all natural, and it doesn’t take a chemical process to make. The chemistry exists within the dairy cow.
- The Foster Mother of Humanity. Recently, I had the opportunity to tour the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center and one of the exhibits called the dairy cow a “modern marvel.” If you look back through history, a dairy cow has been a part of our culture since before biblical times because of her ability to take forages and other things we can’t eat and transform them into nutritious food. When you think about it that way, the dairy cow truly is the foster mother of humanity.
- A Local Supply. Local is the new buzzword, and consumers will drive out of their way to the local farm market just to be sure they are buying local products. Grocery stores even have special displays featuring local foods to prevent those lost sales. Milk is one of the freshest local products we can offer consumers. It’s produced locally here in Pennsylvania 52 weeks out of the year, and it is often in the grocery store within three days of being produced.
- A Stronger Infrastructure. Dairy fuels jobs. In Pennsylvania alone, the dairy industry is responsible for 52,000 jobs across the Commonwealth. A study conducted by the Center shows that 48 percent of those jobs come from the farm level, while 52 percent of them are in the post-farm dairy-processing activities. Those jobs depend on the strength and resiliency of our dairy farms and the broader industry.
- A Huge Economic Impact. The 2017 study also demonstrated how important dairy is to our local economy. Along with supporting good jobs, the Pennsylvania dairy industry contributes nearly $15 billion in annual economic revenue to our Commonwealth. A single dairy cow contributes $24,000 to the local economy, and the average dairy farm generates about $1.9 million in annual economic revenue.
- The Backbone of Our Communities. In addition to nutrition and economic impacts, dairy farms provide other benefits to Pennsylvania’s rural communities – wide open spaces and natural water filtration. Farm families are also often valuable contributors to the local community through being involved in civic organizations, churches, school boards, and local government. Service and community are values that are instilled in farm families, and these traits are passed from generation to generation.
- A Faith-Based Heritage. Farming is about faith. We plant crops in the spring and have faith that God will provide the harvest we need in the fall. We nurture a newborn calf and have faith that she will one day be a productive member of our herd. Farm families have meals together, pray together and go to church together. That is a value lost by much of our society that still exists in our farming culture, and it’s the foundation of what our nation was built upon.
- Passion and Care. Farm families care deeply for their farms, for the animals they raise, for the crops they grow, and for the land they call home. It is easy to get frustrated by all the anti-farming rhetoric out there, but we must continue to tell our story and share our passion with our non-farm neighbors. People will never understand what we do until they realize how much we care.
So, ask me again why I still believe in dairy. There are so many reasons, and with this being June Dairy Month, it’s important we remind those who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the industry why they should always believe in dairy. Invite a youth group to tour your farm, help the local dairy princess host a demonstration at the local grocery store, or write a letter to the editor of your local paper. If we all did one thing to encourage others to believe, what a difference we could make.
The Center has materials that can help you share the benefits of dairy. Call us at 717-346-0849 to order free copies of our “Choose PA Dairy” posters and rack cards to use in promotions. Follow along with our Center Focus Column each month.