International dairy company Arla Foods has announced that it is planning to cut contracts with 11 Wisconsin dairy farms, which is about one-third of the company’s milk suppliers for its cheese plant in Hollandtown, Wisconsin. According to a statement, the cuts were caused by “increased production and market volatility,” which does not really come as a surprise. Overall demand for milk in the U.S. has been on a downward trend for years – and it is expected to continue waning.
“It was the case that if a plant happened to drop their customers or go out of business, that you’d typically have another plant right there on the farm the following day looking for additional milk supplies, because the state was tight on milk production,” Mark Stephenson, director of Dairy Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Wisconsin Public Radio. “That’s not true now, and so we find ourselves in a different kind of position, and farms need to worry about not having a home for their milk.”
According to Stephenson, the industry is likely to see more cutbacks of this kind going forward. “Last month it was Dean Foods that was dropping about 100 producers over in the eastern part of the country,” he said. “This is something that’s a bit new to our industry, but I suspect we’ll see more of it.” The news of the cuts come a year after Grassland Dairy Products announced it would stop buying milk from 75 Wisconsin producers.
The consumption of dairy has been facing a steady decline for a long time. Currently, Americans drink 37 percent less dairy than they did in 1970. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2016, consumption of low-fat milk dropped by 13 percent – while almond milk sales rose by 4.2 percent. Largely, this shift to plant-based alternatives was driven by concerns over hormones and antibiotics in milk, the environmental impact of the dairy industry, and the growing knowledge that cow’s milk is not the only way to get calcium in our diets. The switch from dairy to plant milk makes every sense to more and more consumers – and the industry is beginning to catch up as well. In fact, there have been a number of cases of dairy farmers converting a portion of their land to grow almond crops, or like in the case of Elmhurst, shuttered their plants altogether to start producing plant-based milks.
As Adam Lowry, CEO of Ripple Foods said, “A cow is a very inefficient way to produce milk.” Why bother putting an animal through terrible factory conditions and the pain of losing their baby when you could make a similar product – with potentially better nutrition – from a plant-based source?
To learn more about the impact dairy farming has on the environment and people, check out the Eat For The Planet book!
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