While the numbers are down, we still have a lot of outstanding dairy farms in our area. Farmers who manage and operate these farms have to be well-informed and use recommended practices that provide the best of care for their cows to produce top-quality milk.
So when you go to the store to buy that gallon or half gallon of milk, piece of cheese, ice cream or package of yogurt, you can be sure local dairy farmers have done their part to make it a quality product. But they have been looking at a trend that concerns them. That is the gradual decline in the amount of milk we are drinking.
Dairy farmers and the dairy industry are asking why and looking for ways to reverse that trend. Milk is an excellent energy-packed drink and many of us would benefit from drinking more.
On the other hand we are eating more of other dairy products.
Cheese sales are booming for several reasons. One of them is a revitalized pizza category and partnerships between dairy farmers and pizza makers.
A major company serving coffee drinks actually sells more milk than coffee.
Yogurt is also a popular food that many enjoy and we are eating more.
Dairy farmers have always been a group that is interested in helping themselves. That is why they have voted to have 15 cents taken from the price they get for every hundred pounds of milk they sell to develop new products and promote all dairy products. They have also established a program called Cooperatives Working Together (CWT), in which cooperatives and individual producers voluntarily contribute 2 cents a hundred toward dairy export programs.
While about 70 percent of dairy farmers support this program, research indicates it has added 43 cents a hundred to milk checks this year. That is a good investment and would help even more if all dairy farmers were involved.
Dairy farmers and the industry are taking a hard look at what needs to be done to encourage us to drink more milk. They realize that our population and market is changing. They see other products taking milk's identity by adding calcium to their drinks or calling a beverage "milk" when it is not.
So they are looking at ways to improve branding and innovative packaging. And with upward of half of our meals eaten away from home today, looking at ways to encourage more people to drink milk in restaurants. All too often milk is not mentioned by those serving their customers.
Many of you are familiar with the "Real Seal" that we see on a lot of dairy products. To use the Real Seal, products must be made from 100 percent U.S. cow's milk. More use is going to be made of the Real Seal in the future. Look for it when you buy dairy products. More than 360 companies are registered to use the Real Seal.
We will be seeing some changes in the way milk is packaged and sold in your favorite store. For example, we are seeing more sales of milk in half-gallon containers that are convenient for older folks or one- or two-person families. Some companies are trying different style gallon jugs that are easier to handle and store in your refrigerator.
So help your local dairy farmer by drinking a couple of extra glasses of milk every day. When you do that, you are also helping yourself from a healthy point of view. You have lots of choices of milk with various fat levels from none to 3.4 percent. And you can buy flavored milks with chocolate a favorite.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer for the Tribune.