Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding praised dairy processors such as Penn Hills’ Turner Dairy Farms on Thursday for thinking beyond fluid milk.
“We need more dairy processing in the state to correspond with where the consumer trends are,” Redding said at the annual Turner Dairy Producers Luncheon in Blairsville.
Those trends over the past five years have been away from fluid milk consumption and toward greater consumption of milk products such as cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream, he said.
“That’s good for us,” Redding said, “but it means that we need to sort of ‘up’ our game, all the time looking for new products and looking for some way to connect, finding a way for people to consume what it is we offer.”
To that end, the state this week awarded Turner Dairy a $23,500 grant for research and development of a new ready-to-drink coffee beverage to be produced at its dairy processing facility in Penn Hills.
Turner Dairy introduced its own lactose-free milk last year and is preparing to launch a single-serve cottage cheese line.
The grant was one of several totaling $5 million that were given to dairy farms across the state through the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, a new program designed to encourage development of more “value-added” dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese.
“The Dairy Investment Program is about trying to build the capacity of value-added processing, so more butter, more ice cream, more yogurt – not at the expense of fluid milk but in addition to it,” Redding said.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s $24 million farm bill proposal for 2019-20 includes another $5 million for the program, Redding said. Only 25 of the 45 submitted grant applications were funded this year, he said.
“When I look down these 45 projects, it’s a pretty amazing group of innovators,” he said. “It gives me a lot of hope.”
Among the grant recipients present at Thursday’s meeting was Pleasant Lane Farms of Unity, which received $286,744 to construct a creamery for cheesemaking. Redding briefly met with farm owner Ralph Frye Jr. and his sons Jason and Todd after the meeting.
Redding said dairy farmers are “caught in a vortex” of depressed prices, declining consumption, poor market conditions and bad weather.
“It’s partly driven by what’s happening on the world market in terms of trade and the status of our trade agreements with Mexico, Canada and China. … Twenty-five percent of our total dairy production in the U.S. goes international, so what happens on those international markets is important,” he said.