Nelson Troutman, left, creator of the 97 Milk campaign, speaks Wednesday at Homestead Nutrition's dairy meeting.

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. — The first hay bale that Nelson Troutman painted with a dairy slogan never went on display at his Berks County farm.

A rainstorm washed the run-of-the-mill paint off his plastic bale wrapping.

On his second try, he used Krylon brand paint, and the words stayed put — at least on the bale.

Troutman’s message — that whole milk is about 97% fat free — has spread like wildfire in Pennsylvania this year as dairy farmers sought new ways to reintroduce consumers to milk.

Bales bearing Troutman’s slogan have even been spotted in New York state.

Troutman reflected on what’s become a dairy promotional campaign at Homestead Nutrition’s dairy day Wednesday at Yoder’s Restaurant.

Troutman’s creativity was sparked last December after the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board held a listening session at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center & Fairgrounds.

“I was just frustrated,” Troutman said.

The dairy industry has been mired in a multiyear downturn, and farmers were hungry for ways to boost their margins.

Some talked about promoting milk on billboards along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other highways, but that cost about $95 a day.

“It seemed no one wanted to write that check,” Troutman said.

Shortly after painting his white-wrapped bale with the durable paint, Troutman sent a photo to a friend in the ag press, who ran it.

As days passed and more people saw the bale at the intersection by Troutman’s farm, “baleboards” imitating his starting popping up on nearby farms.

Jackie Behr, the marketing manager at R&J Dairy Consulting, took the campaign to the next level by creating the 97milk.com website.

The site includes promotional materials that flesh out the whole milk message, shows pictures of modern dairy farms, and has a place where people can submit their questions about dairy products and farming.

The site receives a lot of questions and comments. One person amused Troutman by saying she would drink more milk if it had more water in it.

“Almond milk — it says the first thing on the label: water,” he said.

Cow’s milk is about 87% water, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Through his interactions with consumers during the campaign, Troutman has decided that milk labels are too confusing. Many people don’t know that “Vitamin D Milk” is whole milk, he said.

Local ag activist Bernie Morrissey, who built an insurance business that serves farmers, has helped 97 Milk attract agribusiness sponsors.

His goal? “To give back to the dairy farmers who made me and my family who run the business now,” he said.

Troutman also encouraged attendees to talk up whole milk with their doctors, their children’s schoolteachers, legislators and other consumers.

“We are going to be a fluid (milk) state, and we have the people to drink it,” Troutman said.

Lancaster Farming

Special Sections Editor

Courtney Love is Special Sections Editor at Lancaster Farming. She can be reached at 717-721-4426 or clove@lancasterfarming.com