When a pipe leaks, there are two courses of action: shut off the water or continue filling buckets. The first, while it does involve some thought, is by far the more effective solution. America has run into this problem of sorts; dairy farmers are producing more milk than the market demands. However, instead of turning down the milk flow, the government is continually scrambling to find new buckets to take on the excess milk. This surplus of dairy is not a new issue; it has plagued politicians since the conclusion of World War I, but now, the problem has reached a crux, and the nation has run out of buckets.
Among the diverse tactics to market and sell surplus milk to the public, dairy food trends have become a consistent strategy. However, just like using buckets to fix a leak, these trends are only a temporary solution. The rise and decline of greek yogurt is a recent example.
In 2005, Chobani hooked American consumers with its greek yogurt; by 2007 the brand had become a supermarket staple. The company, based in New York, helped escalate the state to the nation’s top yogurt producer by 2013. In response of this “accomplishment,” Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a bill to allow dairy farmers to raise up to 299 cows instead of the former 199 before the farms were held to certain environmental regulations. The dairy industry boomed.
Fast forward to 2017, and yogurt sales have declined. Yogurt companies are no longer able to support these dairy farmers at the same capacity, and some have even shut down. In July, Chobani shut down its manufacturing plant in New York, leaving a significant hole in the bucket meant for the state’s free-flowing milk.
Unable to sell their milk, even at reduced prices, many dairy farmers have been forced to dump their product. According to a report by MSN, 23.6 million pounds of milk were dumped just in July of this year. And yet, despite this gargantuan waste, no one is willing to turn off the faucet.
“Dairy farmers are free market guys—they don’t want to be told how much to produce,” said Richard A. Ball, commissioner of New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets. He continued, “It’s a lot more fun to talk about how to increase demand than restrict what they’re doing.” According to Ball, the state will continue to invest resources and funds to find new ways to market the ever-growing surplus of milk.
This is a cycle that cannot continue. Conscious consumerism is steadily growing in the U.S., and shoppers are demanding transparency. The dairy-free food category is blossoming across all markets – from plant-based milks to nondairy ice creams. With the current trajectory of these dairy-free foods, there will simply not be a market large enough to consume this constant stream of cow’s milk.
A wise government expenditure would be to take its marketing money and invest it in helping dairy farmers make the transition to more sustainable alternatives. Elmhurst, a 90-year-old dairy company based in New York, did just that. In 2016, it shut down its dairy operation and debuted its new “milked nuts” plant milks in 2017. With financial and educational support, dairy farmers could also look into making this transition, or look to other successful crops, such as pulses, which are in high demand in the food innovation category. In fact, the Canadian government recently invested $11.1 million to support its pulse farmers. There are other profitable and far more sustainable options for dairy farmers; dairy is by no means the only way to make a living.