Terry McAteer: Elsie the Cow has been put out to pasture | TheUnion.com

Terry McAteer: Elsie the Cow has been put out to pasture

Terry McAteer
Columnist

Two of America’s largest dairies, Borden’s and Land-O-Lakes, have recently filed for bankruptcy. The state of the American dairy farmer is dire.

The days of milk mustache campaigns and slogans like “Happy Cows From California,” which added to our love affair with Guernseys and Holsteins, is in serious jeopardy.

Green Bay Packer fans, also known as “cheeseheads” may make you think that most cheese and milk comes from Wisconsin. The reality is that California is the nation’s largest producer of milk but the slow demise of the milk industry is affecting our local family farms throughout the Golden State. Last year alone, over 2,700 family dairy farms nationwide went out of business.

Milk consumption is down over 50% per capita since the 1960s. Urban childhood residents, like myself, remember the milkman’s truck chock full of milk, cottage cheese, eggs, cream and butter with his weekly door-to-door deliveries. Local Nevada County folks remember Gallino Dairy, formerly located where the current day Gold-N-Green Equipment Rental Shop sits on Railroad Avenue in Grass Valley. In those days, the average American consumed over 250 pints of milk a year.

The demise of the family dairy farm … is just one more chapter in the changing landscape of America.

My mother ingrained in me that milk was essential for strong bones and muscles. This meant milk on my cereal in the morning, a carton of milk at school for lunch and a huge glass or two of milk over dinner.

What would cookies be without milk? What would a peanut butter and jelly sandwich be without milk?

With the rise of lactose intolerance and concerns over milk’s hormone additives, many consumers have shied away from dairy products leading to the rise in alternatives. Sales are booming for non-dairy alternatives. Almond milk, the largest in the category, has more than one billion annually in U.S. sales and is growing at a 10% rate.

Milk consumption, according to a 2010 USDA report, shows that all age groups are below what is recommended for a healthy diet. The study concludes that the rise in soda and sport drink consumption has replaced milk, especially during lunch and dinner meals.

The only bright light for the dairy industry has been the rise in the demand for butter as the consumer has ended its romance with margarine. The plight of the dairy farmer has also been exacerbated due to improved production methods, which has “Elsie” producing 20% more milk than a decade ago. To add salt to the farmer’s wounds, 16% of American milk products were exported, mainly to China and Mexico, but due to the recent trade war our milk exports have been sharply reduced. These two factors have led to falling milk prices due to a glut of milk on the market.

While it might be easy for the auto industry to cut back on production when a glut of cars are on the market, the dairy farmer does not have that luxury. The cows need to be fed and milked twice a day. The profit margin for the family dairy farm is just pennies these days which is why so many are throwing in the towel.

The demise of the family dairy farm, many of which have been in existence for generations, is just one more chapter in the changing landscape of America.

Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at editboard@theunion.com.


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