June Is Dairy Month: Celebrating Rural America’s Hidden Economic Engine

6/22/2011 6:29 AM
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June is a month I always get to stand a little taller and show my dairy pride. I love the celebrations from dipping ice cream at the state capitol, Ag/Dairy nights at many of the minor league baseball parks and the celebration of what has often been dubbed “nature’s almost perfect product” – milk.

However, in a time of recession it is good to note the value of the dairy industry to the U.S. economy. In Pennsylvania, agriculture is the leading industry, and we are defined as a “dairy state” – coming in fifth nationally. The power of the state’s dairy industry is not in our milk production prowess, but in the role dairy plays in Pennsylvania’s economic well-being.

According to the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence, each dollar returned to the farm creates $8 in economic impact in the local community. Dairy farms bring in outside funds, which are then spent locally in feed and hardware stores, lumber yards and other local businesses. The center also notes that nine additional cows on a farm create one additional job.

So what does all of that money mean? The power of the dairy economic engine is impressive. For example, a 100-cow dairy generates $1.3 million in economic impact annually. Expand to a 500-cow dairy, and $6.86 million is the economic impact.

Local economic development agencies would celebrate to have that kind of business from any nonagricultural industry. However, when a dairy decides to invest in its operation by updating equipment, expanding to bring on an additional generation or improving its environmental impact – it largely goes unheralded.

With the news media, politicians and advocacy groups searching frantically for a way to give America’s economic engine a needed kick-start, maybe now is the time to take another look at dairy.
-- Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, Special Sections Editor

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Does milk have a lot of untapped potential in today’s competitive beverage market?

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