Dairy farmers have never had an easy job, but it’s no secret that life has been particularly hard the past few years.
Low prices. Cost cutting. Bad weather. Sleepless nights.
It’s enough to make a dairy farmer lose hope, and indeed, thousands have decided that the best path for their family is to sell the cows.
But dairy farming hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaurs.
There are still 12,800 dairy farms in the Northeast, more than twice the number of Walmarts in the entire U.S.
And despite their economic challenges, dairy farmers remain widely respected, and their products are popular.
Over the past few weeks, Lancaster Farming editors Philip Gruber, Stephanie Speicher and Courtney Love have asked people around the industry a simple question: Why do you still believe in dairy?
Here are the verbatim messages of support and encouragement for dairy farmers that we received.
I believe in dairy because of its rich tradition, importance to agriculture and love of the animals. Being on the land surrounded by cows and beautiful scenery brings a sense of calm in a world of chaos that is irreplaceable. I’ve never felt closer to friends, family and God than I do on the farm, which is why I will never lose my passion for dairying.
— Whitney Porter Lenhart
Dairy farmer, Morgantown, W.Va.
I still believe in and trust dairy farmers because, for generations, they have needed to be innovative, resourceful, tenacious and wise. Their legacy, while continuing to evolve, will serve to inspire others to persevere, reaping the fruits of diligence and Providential provision.
— Don Hoover
Binkley & Hurst equipment dealership, Lititz, Pa.
I still believe in dairy because I know that our hardworking dairy farmers are providing consumers with safe, wholesome and nutritious dairy products 365 days a year! As the Maryland dairy princess, it has been my honor to educate consumers about the dairy industry and the nutrients in delicious milk, cheese, and yogurt. Since many of the nutrients found in dairy products are lacking in the average American’s diet, I believe that our dairy industry is more important now then ever. Thank you, dairy farmers, for continuing to produce nature’s most perfect food!
— Lynne Thomas
Maryland dairy princess
I couldn’t make it through a DAY without my cheese!!
— Lenore Buchta
Consumer, Houston, Pa.
Because plant-based milk isn’t real milk! I want real milk in my coffee.
— Taylor Buchta
Consumer, Frederick, Md.
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.
Not only is milk a naturally sourced nutrient powerhouse that contains the nine essential nutrients for good nutrition, dairy also fuels jobs. In Pennsylvania alone, the dairy industry is responsible for 52,000 jobs across the commonwealth.
However, the dairy industry is about more than nutrition and economic impacts. It’s about community and passion. Farm families are often valuable members of the local community, and they care deeply for their farms, for the animals they raise, for the crops they grow, and for the land they call home.
During challenging and uncertain times, we must continue to share our passion and heart with others and remind those who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the industry why they should still believe in dairy.
— Jayne Sebright
Executive director, Center for Dairy Excellence
I still believe in dairy because milk is a simple and delicious way to get important nutrients your body needs. I know farmers are good people who work hard taking great care of their cows, the environment, and their communities.
— Margaret Quaassdorff
Dairy management specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension Genesee County
We believe in our dairy families, who invest their lives and livelihoods in providing Pennsylvania with healthy, high quality products, through hard times and good times. Here in Harrisburg, we have been inspired by our belief in the dairy industry to invest in the future for these families. Through proposals in the PA Farm Bill — including the Dairy Investment Program, removing regulatory burdens, supporting business development and succession planning, and strengthening our future workforce — we aspire to back up our belief with action by continuing to invest in the people of our dairy industry.
— Tom Wolf
Governor of Pennsylvania
Why does the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board believe in Pennsylvania dairy? Dairy has many products that not only provide unmatched nutrition, but provide some of the greatest family and cultural experiences. Milk and its products provide real products and real experiences.
Pennsylvania dairy farmers are some of the hardest-working, most dedicated individuals. They not only work hard, but take a special pride in doing things right and treating their animals with the greatest respect. I am confident that dairy products will continue to regain favor with consumers and take back the market from the “fakes” because dairy is real.
— Robert N. Barley
Dairy farmer and chairman of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board
Pennsylvania dairy, to me, represents what Pennsylvania is all about in many ways. It is a part of our most treasured cultural fabric and is a visible manifestation of how we want to live. When I travel to other states I am often told how beautiful Pennsylvania is, and the farms are always mentioned. We on the board are aware of how much dairy contributes to the PA economy, but we consider that as only part of why we believe in dairy and work to preserve the family farms.
— Carol A. Hardbarger
Consumer member, Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board
More studies are showing that a balanced diet that includes dairy and meat (especially whole milk) is the healthiest alternative. Artificial substitutes are always found to be much less healthy. Real dairy products are healthier than nondairy creamer and margarine. The more we learn about plant-based flavored sugar waters, the less attractive they are also.
Our dairy farmers are the backbone of our communities. When we lose them, dependent businesses like veterinarians, supply companies, machinery dealers, and feed companies also suffer.
— Allen Stiles
Dairy farmer and president of the Maryland State Grange
I started dairy farming in the 1960s with 18 cows. We have had many good years and some not so good years in dairy farming. I have been blessed with health and a wonderful family support system over the years. Some years it has been very hard to pay the bills, but we have always made it through. We are blessed to have markets close to population and a great infrastructure and great agriculture support in the area that we live. And so here is my prayer for farmers:
Lord, bless this land you’ve given us, and may I always know as I tend each crop and creature you are the one who makes the crops grow and helps us through good and hard times.
— Luke Brubaker
Dairy farmer, Mount Joy, Pa.
Two of the most powerful words in the English language are “I believe.” As an FFA member I began each paragraph of the time-honored creed with these words. I continue to find these words both inspirational and aspirational, and transferable to dairy today.
When we say “I believe,” we accept what we know and the uncertainties. The last three years are proof these words are shared by many in the dairy industry because we have been tested as never before, and still we see the very best in the dairy community and farm families.
Even under great stress they treat each other with respect, civility and care, demonstrating the finest qualities of the agricultural community. They showed us why dairy occupies a special place in our state and in our lives. They represent the very best of who we are, and that’s why I believe in dairy.
— Russell Redding
Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture and former dairy farmer
I believe in dairy because for generations milk producers have done more than just produce milk — they generate jobs and drive the local economy. The supply chain is intertwined in a rural community. Dairies do business with feed stores, veterinarians, equipment dealers, truck drivers, retailers and more.
Dairy farmers have — without question — faced difficult economic times over the last decade, but I know that if we encourage new markets and fair competition at home and abroad, our dairy farms will continue to be an economic engine in Pennsylvania for generations to come.
— U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson
Sponsor, Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act
We still believe in dairy because it is one of the many areas of agriculture that has always been the backbone of our society. Why wouldn’t we? We all love our milk, cheese and other products that are always available at affordable prices for us daily.
— Tabby Kuckuck
Public relations specialist
West Virginia Farm Bureau
The values and appreciation for the land and animals taught to me from being raised on a dairy farm have been a blessing to me and now passed onto the next generation. The dairy products produced are pure and a gift to us from God’s creation!
— Tammy Murphy
Consumer who grew up on a dairy farm
I still believe in dairy because no matter how challenging it gets on the farm, dairy farmers still get up and work hard every single day of the year to produce healthy, safe and nutritious milk for others to enjoy. Dairy farmers are some of the hardest working, (most) dedicated and passionate people, and I’m proud to say I get to work with them.
— Lindsay Ferlito
Regional dairy specialist
Cornell North Country Regional Ag Team
I think the best optimism is the Farm Bill that Congress has passed this past year, which is real help for the dairy industry.
(Farmers) were really bearing the brunt of the less-than-hopeful issues in the 2014 Farm Bill, with a (Margin) Protection Program which was not very effective.
They’ve got a new program (Dairy Margin Coverage), beginning January the 1st.
They’ve got an insurance program by Farm Bureau and (USDA’s Risk Management Agency) in crop insurance that’s going to be very helpful.
They can also do the other program combined with the LGM program in the USDA. ...
There’s no doubt they’ve borne an economic duress and stress over the last few years. I believe this will be very helpful to certainly those families’ dairies that are here, particularly in the Northeast.
— Sonny Perdue
U.S. ag secretary, in an interview
during a May 30 visit to Pennsylvania
(We have hope) that prices are coming back, that the trade agreement between the U.S. and Mexico and Canada is getting that close. I think once it gets signed, it’ll help move more product out for us.
— Rick Ebert
Dairy farmer and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president, during Perdue’s visit
An absolutely wonderful way to live, indescribable. Yes, it is demanding, milking those girls never ever stops, so better have some backup. But it is a wonderful life. (My) grandparents were farmers. Much later in life my wife and I often traveled to Potter County, Pennsylvania, to spend weekends on a 300-acre farm, milking, driving the manure spreader, and on and on. Milk prices should at least be doubled or more.
— Jack Adams
We use dairy in so many ways we don’t realize: cheese, ice cream, baking, on and on. Grateful to our dairy farmers!
— Raymond Schell
Consumer, Decker, Mont.
I am privileged to work with dairy farmers every day. They are some of the hardest working and honest people I know, and they produce milk, nature’s most nearly perfect food.
— Mike Hosterman
Ag business consultant, AgChoice Farm Credit
Merriam-Webster defines belief as a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.
There are approximately 5,600 farms in Lancaster County, 1,776 of those are dairy farms (of course the number is 1776 — independence day/year). Those 1,776 dairy farms are producing milk for 10.6 million people to drink. The value of local milk produced annually is $425 million. ...
We trust our local dairy farms! We believe in our local dairy farms!
— Jeremy Weaver
Project manager, TeamAg Inc., Ephrata, Pa.
We believe in dairy for the way it has shaped and molded us. For the jobs it provides, for working before the sun is up and well after it sets. For training our children up to know just that — and the value of a dollar. For whole milk, which starts with healthy heifers that turn into happy cows.
Dairy, and farming as a whole, is a lifestyle. Dairy and farming have grounded me. I have been incredibly blessed to be a part of the camaraderie — or shall we call it family I am a part of.
Tom/Andy Bollinger family, Eric and Laura Eberly, and Warren and Chris Hoover — thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
— Rachel Elliott
Chicken farmer who milks for dairy farmers
Lancaster County, Pa.
Pennsylvania’s dairy industry is an economic engine powering many of our small, rural communities. It is an important part of our state’s collective history. As a dairy farmer and legislator, my goal is to invest in and empower the next generation of producers and consumers, so they are equipped to tackle the challenges facing the industry. I am confident that we will continue to do so.
— Sen. Elder Vogel
Chairman, Pennsylvania Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee
I believe in dairy because it provides the most delicious AND nutritious food and beverages in the world. I especially believe in PA dairy farmers and producers because they produce the finest milk and dairy products anywhere — strengthening our diets and our economy.
— Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski
Minority chairman, Pennsylvania House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee
You know your herd better than anyone. At Farm Credit, we believe in the dairy industry because of dedicated farmers like you who work every morning and night. We know you have what it takes to produce safe and abundant milk products for our local communities to enjoy. The future of dairy is in good hands, and we’re always just a phone call away.
— Katie Ward
Division marketing specialist
MidAtlantic Farm Credit
Dairy farmers, like all farmers, are strong, proud individuals. They are among a small group of people who can say they truly do what they love every day. They rise early in the morning and work late into the night many days. They are committed to a seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year job, and they love it!
They support each other and are committed to not only their family, but their friends and neighbors. They share equipment and physical labor in times of need, asking nothing in return.
Their gratification comes in the feeling of a warm heart, watching their children grow and develop the same love for animals and of the land that they have, and being able to look over their shoulder at the end of the day and see what they have done.
It is this type of dedication, commitment, and love for what they do, that I will always believe in dairy farmers.
— Wayne D. Campbell
President, Pennsylvania State Grange
Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative has been a part of our region’s history for nearly 100 years. We are committed to moving the industry forward, supporting our farmer members’ legacy and history with optimism.
— Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association
I believe in dairy because I believe in the power and potential of the small family farm to be a positive force in the world. The more small farms there are, the more equipment dealers there are. The more hardware stores there are. The more feed dealers, and mechanics, and Extension agents and veterinarians there are. Small farms build communities, and communities build economies that are resilient and strong. Dairy is the leading agricultural industry in Pennsylvania, and it has been built with herd sizes averaging under 100 cows.
I believe in dairy because I believe the notion that animal agriculture inevitably drives climate change is incorrect. There are dairies actively employing practices that are actually sequestering carbon and building soil organic matter, while mitigating phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. Such farms, through practices like management-intensive rotational grazing, far from being at the heart of an environmental problem, are actually closer to the center of the solution in building a resilient and strong food system.
Dairy is changing, and it’s a painful time for many right now all across our society. To give up on dairy would be a massive missed opportunity, however. Pennsylvania’s largest agricultural industry, and the foundation of so many of our rural communities, has the potential to be one of our most powerful agents toward positive change, if we can only envision that future together.
— Aaron deLong
Manager, Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
We love ice cream! Thank you, American dairy farmers, for providing that, and so many more dairy delights.
— Monongalia County Farm Bureau
The farm is still a way of life that is good and decent. It supports the community and the community supports the farm. It is the way it should be.
— Terrie Hemsley
via FacebookPhoto by Missi Mortimer
Sara Bollinger feeds the calves at Meadow Spring Farm in Ephrata Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.