2013-06-27 / Local & State

Pa.’s Dairy Industry Fifth In United States

Submitted by Greg Strait


Throughout June, “Dairy Month,” we recognize Pennsylvania’s dairy industry and our more than 7,200 dairy farm families that produce a safe, wholesome, nutritious product for consumers.

There’s a lot to celebrate. Dairy is an important part of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry, contributing 34 percent of all agricultural income and generating more than $1.9 billion in revenue. Dairy farmers manage 541,000 cows that produce 10.7 billion pounds, or 5.5 percent, of the nation’s milk supply each year, ranking Pennsylvania fifth nationally in milk production.

These impressive statistics require a lot of hard work: waking before the sun to milk, then a full day of barn chores and business decisions, milk again, help the kids with homework, and squeeze in a community meeting before going to bed to get up to do it all over again.

As dairy farmers, our plates are full, but we wouldn’t trade our lives for anything. We love the quiet, predawn mornings followed by busy days that always bring new opportunities and challenges. We take pride in knowing our animals are well cared for. Most of all, we enjoy knowing our work is nourishing our neighbors near and far.

Our job at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is to work with our industry partners to encourage, promote and protect the work dairy farmers do.

Our staff continues to follow the progression of the 2013 Farm Bill, especially with regard to dairy. We’ve been talking with Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to ensure the bill isn’t just a one-size-fits-all policy document, but rather something that’s workable for the unique industries in each state.

The next farm bill should expand risk management tools for Pennsylvania’s dairy producers, giving farmers a safety net during times of low margins. This safety net should not require that dairy producers participate in a government- run supply management program. The new dairy policy also should promote domestic competition for milk, herd growth and business expansion while allowing for substantial growth in dairy exports.

We’re strengthening the dairy industry and equipping farmers with tools to keep farms viable through the Dairy Leadership Council. Gov. Tom Corbett created this group of producers and industry leaders to look at regulatory structures, marketing strategies, producer and next-generation education, and economic development, finance and infrastructure. The council is reviewing work-group reports, establishing priorities and determining next steps before reporting to the governor.

The Center for Dairy Excellence is working to keep our dairy farms profitable. More than 1,000 producers have taken advantage of its profit team program, which links them with business experts to make better business decisions, troubleshoot or come up with new ideas that lead to greater profitability and efficiency.

Not only is the center educating current dairy leaders, it’s preparing the next generation to take over through the Dairy Leader of Tomorrow curriculum. Piloted in more than 20 schools, the curriculum provides dairy business training to high school students interested in working on or managing dairy farms. Its Discover Dairy program is educating elementary and middle school students about the industry through lessons, videos, activities and games.

The center’s open house and dairy tours give local dairy farm families and others in the industry an opportunity to tour a dairy farm and learn about business resources. Taking part in these tours generates ideas farmers can take home, whether it’s a way to improve efficiency and genetics, or an idea on how to better manage cow comfort or feed rations.

One of the best ways I know to get new ideas is by watching exceptional show cattle and talking to the men, women and youths beside them. They know what it takes to produce the most productive cows, and this year we’re recognizing their work in a big way during the 50th All-American Dairy Show. The golden jubilee is set for Sept. 7-12 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg.

Thousands of dairymen, women and youths from across the nation will gather in Harrisburg to showcase their best cows and heifers. It’s themed “A Celebration of Generations of Excellence,” and we’ll pay tribute to longtime exhibitors and honor youths, our future dairy leaders, who participate in the show. This is a must-see event, and I encourage all dairy enthusiasts to make the trip to Harrisburg to celebrate our dairy progress.

We are fortunate to have a strong dairy industry in the Keystone State. It is because of the producers’ commitment, whether from a 20- cow dairy or a 2,000- cow dairy, that we are a national leader in milk production and are able to offer our consumers, including our own families, an abundant, safe product. This is just another example of how our agriculture industry is doing its part to keep Pennsylvania growing.

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