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What’s behind the crippling dairy crisis? Family farmers speak out.

Alternative milk is ascending as U.S. cow milk sales are dropping—as of June 2018, they’re down by 6 percent from the previous year. The way some struggling dairy farmers see it, the popularity of alternative dairy products (one of which is now the subject of a class action lawsuit in New York) has partly contributed to dairy farmers’ own travails. Many of them have been forced to shutter their operations due to a milk glut and its attendant low prices—as of this writing, $16.33 per hundredweight (in layperson’s terms, about 11.5 gallons), considerably less than the $22 it costs to produce. In New York State alone, 1,600 dairy farms went out of business from 2006 to 2016, with dozens more closing so far in 2018. Farmers will tell you that when they go, they take with them carbon-sequestering grazing lands best suited to that practice, critical habitat for wildlife species, rural communities dependent on the financial health of local agriculture, and the farmers themselves. In their place come development, gravel quarries, and massive commodity dairy operations that are, say the farmers, what should really alarm ecological- and health-minded consumers.The farmers know that the causes of the latest dairy crisis (which has been underway for four years and counting) are complicated, as are the solutions. Some legislators have attempted to improve the industry—New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced $30 million in funds for farmland protection grants, and signed into law the well-supported Working Farm Protection Act to help keep farmland in farmers’ hands.

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Civil Eats