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Dairy Month reminds us of industry's work

June Dairy Month is our annual reminder to consumers that the U.S. dairy industry supplies many trust worthy contributions to their health and well-being in the form of real milk, real cheese, real butter, ice cream, cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, and more. Never before has that “Real Seal” meant so much.
But, as I have opined in previous June Dairy Month columns, consumers assume and take it for granted that they will always find the products that they want at their grocery store. U.S. consumers have never seen a day that they walked in and found an empty dairy case and, probably never will.
But, behind that full dairy case is the hardworking dairy farmer whose 24/7 business often, like now, finds itself receiving prices below the cost to produce the milk. 
And, while consumer interest is growing substantially as to where their food is coming from and how it’s produced, the concern is more self-centered and not farmer-centered. It should be!
Dairy producers today are hurting financially and haven’t seen ‘rewarding prices’ in four years. 
Rising feed prices are currently offsetting the slowly recovering milk prices and global trade disputes threaten a vital part of dairy farm income, so the road ahead is very uncertain for many generation old operations and many have had to sell their cows and call it quits already. A wonderful rural way of life for many families is under great threat.
Solutions are few and far between even as Congress is going through the weary toil of developing a new Farm Bill. Political divisions in this country seem deeper than ever and pose a grave threat that a solution might come from the Farm Bill.
Dairy farmers also face many competitive challenges in the form of alternatives especially in fluid sales. Changing consumer eating habits and beverage choice changes continue to reduce the consumption of milk from the bottle or jug and, if that isn’t enough, the growing popularity of plant-based beverages calling themselves ‘milk’ pose another threat.
Fluid milk first lost the battle to soda and while consumers have since even lessened soda consumption, fluid milk then succumbed to bottled water. Are the plant-based beverages next?
Consumer habits and preferences have indeed changed over the years, but the one thing that has not changed is the nutritional package that is best found in natural cow’s milk and real dairy products. Increasing scientific studies support the validity of the benefits of real dairy and that story needs to be told.
The fake alternatives may call themselves by the names best known in the dairy case, but they are not and they cannot provide dairy’s nutrition. That is the unchanging bottom line.
And, speaking of the bottom line, dairy farmers deserve a fair share of the retail dairy dollar. How we go about achieving that would take up a lot more space than I have here but, suffice it to say that a “cheap food policy” cannot come at the farmer’s expense or we all lose.
Consumers who like to eat need to voice their thoughts and concerns about agriculture policy to their elected representatives and not just leave that to others.
If the day ever comes that we depend on other countries providing our food and fiber, our well-being and very existence will be in their hands, not ours, and that’s a vulnerability I don’t think we want to have.
So get involved in the conversation and drink up. Have another slice of pizza with extra cheese, then top it off with a bowl of ice cream and celebrate June Dairy Month, it’s your month to celebrate!