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COLUMN: Dairy Day brings home lessons of farming, value-added products

— We had some fun last week in Albany at the annual Dairy Day. One newspaper quipped "Dairy Day ups Cheese Intake in the Well of the LOB (Legislative Office Building)." This was the case, though whether the Times Union meant this in more ways than one is up to the reader to decide. While mascots and celebrities did traverse crowds, it was clear we were celebrating what has become a fun and important tradition in Albany: Dairy Day.

Dairy Day is a representation of the value of milk and agriculture in this state. These are good reminders, especially for downstate lawmakers who do not have the privilege to represent agricultural districts in the Legislature, yet they vote on legislation that will determine the future of agriculture. I am reminded when I make the drive from Albany to home the value of dairy farming and then again, when I talk to people in the district who are either feed producers for cows or dairy farmers themselves. I take my hat off to the men and women who run these farms – reliant on the elements and milking cows sometimes up to three times a day.

Milk and agriculture create jobs, not just on the farm where there are various tasks to maintain every day but through other businesses, such as milk packaging companies and value-added products. Cows not only produce fluid milk, but potential. In many cases, the co-ops sell to local milk bottlers such as Kraft, Byrne and Dairylea. However, value-added products are where more profits have been realized given the general downturn of the fluid milk market. Whether milk travels to Heluva Good in Sodus or at the Chobani Greek Yogurt plant in Greece, that milk is being converted into cheese, ice cream, yogurt, butter, sour cream and anything else dairy. Some milk even goes to make wine ice cream.

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