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Drink milk — and save a farm

U.S. dairy farmers work 365 days a year to provide the most nutritious, natural, local, farm-to-table drink. It's milk, found in your grocer's dairy case.

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According to Progressive Dairyman, in 2017 there were 40,217 dairy herds in the U.S., which is down from about 65,000 in 2009. (Katie Pinke/Agweek)

U.S. dairy farmers work 365 days a year to provide the most nutritious, natural, local, farm-to-table drink. It's milk, found in your grocer's dairy case.

Were you raised drinking milk at meal times? My family drinks milk on our cereal or oatmeal each morning, and we add a little to our coffee. Milk is also our drink of choice at meals - it's served cold and set on the table by the gallon. And I can't serve chocolate chip cookies without offering milk.

Based on a simple Facebook inquiry of my connections, I learned milk is a staple at Midwestern tables and particularly in rural homes. I'm guessing it's linked to tradition. Every family once had a milk cow, and milk was served for nutrition and hydration.

As a kid, a "milkman" delivered milk and dairy items to our home each week. I ate two yogurts every morning for breakfast and drank milk at every meal. Sometimes we mixed in Nestle chocolate or strawberry flavoring for a special treat.

When our son, Hunter, was in high school, I bought five to seven gallons of milk a week from our local grocery store. After many basketball games, our daughters and I delivered cookies and gallons of milk to the locker room for the team. Other times, I bought cases of individual cartons for bus rides. When our son went to college, I let our local dairy distributor know because I knew his fluid milk sales would drop. As a college football athlete, our son drinks a couple glasses of chocolate milk as a post-workout recovery drink, then goes to the dining hall to drink a few more glasses of milk.

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Through my work in agriculture, I've toured and visited many dairy farms from New York to California. I've never met a dairy farmer I didn't trust. I've seen how attentive dairy farmers are when it comes to their cows' comfort and health, even more so than their own comfort and health. I've watched fluid milk make its way from farms to processing facilities and within days it is sitting in your dairy case.

I naively assumed all moms serve their kids milk like my parents and grandparents taught me to do. But culture has changed and milk isn't a staple on tables like it once was.

Changes in milk consumption, and dairy products as a whole, are negatively impacting dairy farmers. My home state of North Dakota has fewer than 90 dairy farms remaining. According to Progressive Dairyman, in 2017 there were 40,217 dairy herds in the U.S., which is down from about 65,000 in 2009. About 97 percent of dairy farms are family-owned and operated.

The good news is we - you and I - can positively influence the livelihoods of dairy farmers. It's simple. Drink more milk and eat cheese, yogurt, ice cream or your favorite items from the dairy case.

The urgency is actually a crisis.

Many dairy farming families are faced with the worst prices they've ever seen for some, the same prices they were getting in the 1970s. Unless you're a farmer, it is difficult to fathom earning the same or less than you were making 40 years ago.

Dairy cows are producing more milk, and we aren't buying enough of it. It's a fluid product with a limited shelf life, so farmers can't store it like corn in a bin until prices go up. The milk in your dairy case is fresh and ready for you to serve and drink.

We cannot save every dairy farm but what you buy impacts real farmers and families. I don't care where you buy your milk, whether it's skim, 2 percent, whole, cream, half and half, chocolate, strawberry or lactose free.

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I have no ties to a dairy farm. I don't milk cows. But I care about many dairy farming friends whose livelihoods are on the line.

Serve milk.

Drink milk.

Support dairy farmers - and possibly save a farm and a family's livelihood.

Katie Pinke
Katie Pinke

Katie Pinke
Katie Pinke

Related Topics: DAIRY
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