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More Yogurt Can Be Good for New Yorkers and the Environment

A group of holstein cowsOn August 15, New York’s Governor Cuomo held the state’s first ever “Yogurt Summit” in Albany to discuss the rapid expansion of the yogurt industry in New York State and emphasize the vital role the state’s dairy farms play in this fast-growing market. Industry leaders, farmers and other stakeholders discussed strategies to help ensure that the yogurt industry continues to grow and create jobs in New York.

“Dairy farming has long been the backbone of New York’s farm economy and scenic working landscapes”, said David Haight, New York State Director for American Farmland Trust.  “We commend Governor Cuomo and other state leaders for recognizing that farms aren’t just a part of our historical legacy, they are a critical piece of New York’s economic future.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, New York is the fourth largest producer of milk in the nation and dairy represents over half of the state’s agricultural output. Dairy farmers manage more than 2.5 million acres of farmland in New York, growing crops such as corn, soybeans, alfalfa and hay to feed cows on dairy farms across the state.

Abundant farmland and clean water are critical to the success of dairy farms and the burgeoning yogurt industry. A typical dairy cow must drink between 30 and 40 gallons of water and eat approximately 40 pounds of feed a day in order to produce an average daily output of 55 pounds of milk, the equivalent of 7 gallons.

One of the advantages New York’s dairy industry has over rival states, such as California, is the state’s productive cropland and steady supply of clean water. Because dairy farmers grow most of their own feed, they are able to offer high quality, locally produced hay and grains to their animals, instead of having to import feed that is becoming increasingly expensive due to this summer’s drought conditions. This productive agricultural environment, combined with easy access to major markets, is a major reason cited by manufacturers of Greek yogurt that chose to locate in upstate New York.

“New York’s competitive advantages are our natural assets such as healthy soil and clean water.  New York has more than 7 million acres of farmland and an abundance of fresh water.  Farmers have been good stewards of these resources and with funding and technical support from local, state and federal partners can be so in the future, while producing more milk,” said Haight.

In order for dairy farms to increase milk production it is important to protect our agricultural land base from suburban sprawl, ensuring that farmers have access to enough land to grow forage and grain to feed a growing number of dairy cows. It is also critical to provide dairy farmers with financial support to install manure management systems to capture and recycle cow manure and protect streams, lakes and other water bodies.

New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund accomplishes both of these goals. Established in 1993, the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) is a dedicated source of funding for critical environmental programs including programs that help farmers keep water clean and protect working farmland from real estate development.  The EPF is the sole funding source for the state’s Farmland Protection Program, which protects agricultural land from development, as well as the Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control Grant Program, which assists farmers in mitigating runoff and protecting water quality.

Between 1982 and 2007, New York lost more than 400,000 acres of farmland to real estate development – an area equal to approximately 4,000 median-sized farms. The state’s Farmland Protection Program has provided over $170 million to communities to permanently protect over 300 farms encompassing 72,000 acres of farmland across New York.  Many farmers reinvest these funds in their family businesses by upgrading buildings, modernizing equipment or purchasing more land.

The state’s Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution Program and Soil and Water Conservation Districts help dairy farmers keep water clean by using environmentally sound manure management strategies including safe manure containment and run-off control systems. Since the program began in 1994 more than $100 million has been awarded to 53 Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the state to help farmers reduce and prevent water pollution.

“We support Governor Cuomo’s vision that New York can have a healthy environment and a strong economy,” concluded Haight.  “Investing in the Environmental Protection Fund and programs like the Farmland Protection Program and the Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution program can help grow our dairy industry and yogurt businesses while protecting the clean water and productive working land vital to the business of food production for generations to come.”

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