Increasing youth consumption of New York milk and dairy products through school breakfast and lunch programs is this year’s top priority for a 10-person state Dairy Promotion Order Advisory Board.
The panel, consisting of farmers and industry leaders from across New York, welcomed five new members during a recent teleconference organizational meeting.
Promoting milk in schools is especially important to new board member Alicia Lamb, a mother of two young children, and a partner, with her husband, Jonathan, in Lamb Farms Inc., a family-owned enterprise that milks 9,000 cows at three western New York farms and one in Ohio.
“As dairy farmers, we need to make sure we’re not only getting milk into schools, but that we’re doing it the right way,” she said.
A former long-time dairy nutrition consultant, Lamb routinely serves her children milk and was surprised to learn how little is consumed in school when her 5- and 3-year-olds started pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.
“Milk is not a very common form of nutrition for a lot of kids,” she said.
Part of the problem, she said, is that many schools only offer non-fat or 1% milk, which isn’t as flavorful as whole or 2% milk. And milk sometimes isn’t kept at cold enough temperatures, which also makes it less desirable.
Getting more milk on children’s menus is “going to take a concerted effort and obviously have to be mandated in some way,” Lamb said.
The board is charged with advising the state agriculture commissioner on the annual distribution of approximately $15 million in funds collected from milk producers under the producer-approved New York Dairy Promotion Order.
The board meets regularly to recommend allocations to new programs and to review progress of programs currently funded under the Order, which include dairy promotion programs, nutrition, education and outreach programs, as well as a variety of innovative dairy product research projects.
The first Dairy Promotion Order Advisory Board was appointed in May 1972 at the request of dairy producers.
New York, the nation’s fourth-leading dairy producer, has nearly 3,900 dairy farms that produce over 15 billion pounds of milk annually. Dairy is the state’s largest agricultural sector, contributing significantly to the economy by generating nearly half of New York’s total agricultural receipts and providing some of the highest economic multipliers in the state.
“The board’s work is critical to the continued research and promotion of the state’s dairy industry, and to the education of consumers about the importance of dairy to our economy, communities and to our health,” said Richard Ball, state Department of Agriculture and Markets commissioner.
All members serve three-year terms.
In addition to Lamb, an at-large member, other new members are at-large members Dean Handy of St. Johnsville and Judy Whittaker of Whitney Point; Donald Harwood of Perry, endorsed by Rochester Cooperative Milk Producers’ Bargaining Agency Inc.; and Sheila Marshman of Oxford, endorsed by New York State Grange.
Returning board members are Chair LouAnne King of Waddington, endorsed by New York Farm Bureau; Larry Bailey of Fort Ann, endorsed by Dairy Farmers of America; Kim Nelson of West Winfield, endorsed by Agri-Mark; Julie Patterson of Auburn, an at-large member; and Jason Kehl of Strykersville, endorsed by Niagara Frontier Cooperative Milk Producers’ Bargaining Agency Inc.
Other stated board goals for 2020 are:
• Increase retail sales of New York milk and dairy products.
• Improve the image of dairy products and producers among consumers to enhance consumption of milk and dairy products.
• Improve communication to farmers so they can help increase consumption of milk and dairy products.
• Increase sale and consumption of milk and dairy products throughout the U.S. and with exports to other countries.
• Participation in national programs that influence increased consumption of milk and dairy products.
During opening remarks, Ball briefly outlined how the industry has faced challenges related to this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been focusing very hard on keeping our processing and manufacturing facilities open and functioning, we’ve been trying to keep the food supply chain working as best we can, and we’ve focused on workers’ health,” he said.
Ball said ag department officials are “talking to retail stores and farmers every day.”
When the pandemic first hit, there was a huge demand for fluid milk. Then many farms began dumping milk when large markets such as schools, colleges and restaurants were closed.
But a newly implemented Nourish New York program has seen more than 5 million pounds of milk get purchased, processed and redirected to consumers in need.
Under this initiative, Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized $25 million to be spent for purchase of New York dairy, fruit and vegetable products, with goods purchased going to food banks throughout the state.
This way farmers earned much-needed income while supplying food to consumers hit hardest by the pandemic.
“We feel pretty good about the direction we’re going,” Ball said. “Our numbers in New York state are going the right way. Things are getting better.”