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September 24, 2012

In Our Opinion: Yogurt could be healthy for local farms

The Daily Star

---- — The recent Greek yogurt boom offers an opportunity to boost the economic status of New York state.

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, since 2000, the number of yogurt processing plants in New York has increased from 14 to 29. And between 2005 and 2011, yogurt plants have doubled their production.

This can be seen locally with the explosion in popularity of Chobani yogurt, produced in Columbus. Chobani has become the top producer of Greek yogurt in the United States, expanding from fewer than 10 employees in 2005 to more than 1,000 today.

The stage is set for growth and financial gains not only by Chobani — and its parent company, Agro Farma — but also local dairy farmers. Two or three times as much milk is needed to make Greek-style yogurt compared to regular yogurt, which means an increased demand and potential benefits for one of our area’s greatest assets — small dairy farms.

It is time for us to encourage our area lawmakers to seek ways for local dairy farmer to benefit from the demand for milk needed in the Greek yogurt industry.

Lawmakers took a first step toward focusing on the benefits of the Greek yogurt boom with a “Yogurt Summit” in Albany earlier this year. This was a chance to gather farmers, yogurt producers and lawmakers for a public display of support for our state’s role as the Empire State of Yogurt.

While this was a good public relations opportunity, our lawmakers need to give us tangible ways to boost economic growth.

This includes accepting the proposal by the state government to raise the number of cows allowed on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations — which are facilities of 200 or more large animals in relatively small areas.

The change would allow small dairy farmers to better meet the demand for milk needed for the Greek yogurt industry.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, is planning a mini-summit in the area in the near future, which will directly involve ways to connect local dairy farmers to the yogurt industry. We praise his efforts to keep our area in the minds of state dairy leaders. And we hope other lawmakers serving our area — including Assemblymen Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, and Bill Magee, D-Nelson, will do the same.

We also need to encourage our local dairy farmers to work with each other and the dairy cooperatives they belong to — which handle the distribution of the milk gathered by area farms — on ways to produce the type of milk used in Greek-style yogurt.

Yogurt is made with Class II milk; Class I is fluid milk, which is what most local family farms produce.

The change in milk production is not something that can be done overnight, but must be considered as a long-term way to boost our local family farms and their incomes.