March 29, 2021 - Dairy Industry Struggles In A Sea of Plant-Based Milks


Monday, March 29, 2021 - Historically, milk prices have been low compared to what small farmers pay for production, one of the incentives to produce cheese as well, according to Milk! A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, a 2018 book by Mark Kurlansky.

In 1942, the average cow produced under 5,000 pounds of milk in a lifetime, and that average has increased to 21,000 pounds, according to the book, with farmers overfeeding protein to their cows to increase output.

All of this has happened as dairy milk consumption has declined. Americans drank 149 pounds of dairy milk per capita in 2017, down from 247 pounds in 1975, according to USDA data. There is too much dairy milk.

Over the past five years, dairy companies who have invested in milk alternatives, by planting almond trees or buying brands, for example, have shown returns above standalone dairy. Even large dairy companies like Hood are producing their own oat milk to meet consumer tastes. It makes sense for farmers too.

“A lot of small dairy companies from upstate New York to the Midwest now do an almond or soy milk — and probably if this really takes off, oat,” Christopher Ross, vice president of marketing for Hood, said.

Other small dairy farmers are producing maple to stay afloat.

Coombs Family Farms is a seventh-generation organic maple brand in the U.S. Coombs purchases maple from about 3,000 farmers, serving as their outlet to the marketplace and sees increased maple production as a good thing, Arnold Coombs, owner of the company, said.

“There’s not much else to do in springtime up here. It’s always been good second crop for dairy farmers,” Coombs said. “There’s money in maple, and it brings more stability to the annual cash flow.”

The best weather for maple is low 20s at night and 40 degrees during day, he said. Since many dairy farmers don’t spend much time in the fields in that type of weather, maple is a great crop for them.

The process is labor intensive. Forty gallons of sap creates only 1 gallon of maple. The raw sap looks like water when it leaves the tree and spoils very quickly, he said.

The farm bill approved an important update for the maple industry. Along with honey, agave and other syrup companies, maple makers no longer have to state “includes X g Added Sugars,” on their labels, since their products do not have added sugars. The bill also extended grants for maple research and promotion.

With a bustling CBD market, hemp could be the next alternative crop for dairy farmers, Coombs said.  “They are under a lot of stress and trying to figure out other ways,” he said.

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