Each year, we celebrate Dairy Month to honor America's dairy-farm families and the wholesome, nutritious milk they produce.
The North Country has a long and proud dairy-farming heritage. Dairy farming is the number-one agricultural business in Northern New York primarily because the fertile Champlain and St. Lawrence valleys and temperate climate are ideal for growing forages like grasses, alfalfa and corn silage.
In Clinton County alone, the dairy industry generates more than $65,000,000 in milk sales as well as additional sales of livestock and crops. Dairy Month helps to remind our city cousins that their food comes from somewhere beyond the local grocery store.
Dairy farmers work hard every day to bring you fresh, great tasting, wholesome milk products. The dairy industry recognizes the importance of its customers and consumers not just in June but every month of the year. Almost all dairies in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties are family-owned, and as active members of their communities, farm families take pride in feeding our neighbors and maintaining natural resources. Our local farmers recognize the importance of preserving the land where they live and work, protecting the air and water they share with neighbors and providing the best care for their cows — the lifeblood of their business.
This spring has not made their job any easier. Excess rain made it impossible for most farmers to plant their corn and harvest their hay crops as soon as they would have liked.
Spreading of fertilizer and manure had to be delayed to avoid ruts and runoff and for those farmers who graze their heifers or cows on grass, pastures were too soggy to let them outside.
Saturated soils have just recently begun to dry out, and farmers have been making up for lost time. During my recent travels around the county, it appears that harvesting of hay crops are being accomplished and corn is sprouting up in many fields.
The North Country has an amazing diversity of dairy farms — from very large, modern dairies with more than 1,000 cows to small, grass-based organic dairies that have taken a fresh look at simpler practices of the past. Regardless, most dairy farmers, like other business owners, are modernizing and improving their efficiency in order to continue to support their families and provide high-quality and affordable dairy products.
As farms increase in size, they are able to take advantage of economies of scale that enable them to better weather the ups and downs of the always variable dairy economy. While milk prices are much better now than a year ago, the cost of feed, fuel and supplies have also risen.
Dairy farmers have always taken pride in producing a high-quality product for consumers, and with today's tight margins, they are working even harder to achieve the milk-quality premiums that are paid for the best milk.
Now, more than ever, we need to support and appreciate the local dairy farmers who continue to work the land. Like the rest of us, farmers are suffering from increasing costs of feed, fuel and transportation — all necessary to produce milk.
Regardless of these adversities, they continue to keep our local landscapes scenic, support our local economy and maintain the rural quality of life that we all enjoy in Northern New York.
For more information about National Dairy Month and to learn about the importance of milk in a healthy diet, visit the National Dairy Council's website at www.national dairycouncil.org.
Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450.