A Premium on Local Milk
By Tom Long
Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
What would “Cow Hampshire” be without its signature bovines? If current trends continue, we may find out. The number of Granite State dairies is falling precipitously. But we can all be local heroes by touting a new program designed to throw them a lifeline.
The New Hampshire’s Own dairy premium program, run by the state Department of Agriculture, will allow buyers to help local dairy farmers by paying a premium of 50 cents a gallon for milk, with 7 cents used to advertise the program and the remaining 43 cents going directly to dairy farmers.
The program has been approved by the state Legislature and the governor, but, at press time, had yet to find grocery stores and/or a milk processor to sponsor it. In the meantime, New Hampshire’s Own has broadcast TV ads, created a logo, a Facebook page and a website in the hopes of “building public pressure to inspire grocery stores and processors to cooperate.”
There are currently 94 dairy farms in the state. Fifty years ago, there were 850. The reasons for the steep decline are many, including the creation of almond, oat and other non-dairy milks.
“One of the main problems New Hampshire dairy farms face is competition from states that produce more milk than their population consumes,” said New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper. “Unfortunately, too few of them have the ability to market their products directly. The success of our dairy farms is also closely linked to many other parts of our economy, and their continued success go hand in hand.”
Jasper added that the state’s dairy farms have roughly 12,000 milking cows and for each one of those, one calf is raised on average. This requires farmers to keep 24,000 acres of hay or corn planted to feed the herd. Bringing in the feed crops results in machinery purchased locally, and Jasper estimated all of this results in 7,000 jobs.
“Without our dairy farms,” he said, “farming becomes much more expensive and more difficult for other commercial farms, as well for the thousands of our citizens who have small farming operations.”
Jasper was at a recent media event at the farm of brothers Stewart and William Yeaton of Epsom, fifth-generation dairy farmers working a 300-acre farm with 110 milking cows and producing about 320,000 gallons of milk a year.
“There’s no reason at this point that Hannaford and Market Basket shouldn’t be on board,” Jasper said. “Where do you go where 85 percent of your consumers, your customers, want something and you’re not willing to give it to them? It’s mind-boggling to me. Their customers want this.”
Jasper encouraged consumers to talk to store managers at their local chain supermarkets and stress the economic benefits of providing premium milk.
“It’s disappointing that we haven’t been able to find a retailer or processor,” said Amy Flynn-Hall, executive director at Granite State Dairy Promotion. “Right now, it’s up to the retailers to say, ‘We want to give our consumers and our shoppers what they want.’”
Visit the New Hampshire’s Own website, follow the program on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and share the pages with your friends. Raise your voice in support of the program. The cows you save may be your neighbor’s.