During a legislative hearing held in the middle of the largest indoor agricultural expo in the nation, experts appropriately sounded alarms about troubling signs and trends within the dairy industry.

Meeting at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, state officials noted that two of the nation’s largest dairy processors — Borden Dairy and Dean Foods — have made moves toward bankruptcy.

“It’s a clear sign dairy is struggling across the nation and here in Pennsylvania,” said Brett Reinford, the owner of Reinford Farms near Mifflintown and chairman of the Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission, created as part of the state’s PA Farm Bill.

“We really need to figure some things out,” Reinford said, adding that he expects his 23-member commission to hand down “unique” and “bold” recommendations later this year about what should be done to help the dairy industry in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania ranks seventh nationally in total milk production, with nearly 520,000 cows producing more than 10.6 billion pounds of milk annually, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

However, the amount of milk that Americans drink each year has fallen 40 percent since 1975. In 1996, annual milk consumption was about 24 gallons per person. That amount dropped to 17 gallons per person by 2018, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, sales of goat milk increased by 636 percent between 2018 and 2019 while cow’s milk sales fell by 2.4 percent during the same 12 months.

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding told lawmakers that the implications of the Dean Food bankruptcy raise immediate concerns in Pennsylvania because the company processes about 50 percent of the milk produced across the commonwealth.

Reinford said the Dairy Future Commission will likely issue a minimum of 15 recommendations focusing on four general areas — farm, market, state and consumer. Discussions include ideas to reduce production costs, promote exports, amend tax policy and improve consumer marketing.

The commission’s report is due by Aug. 1. When it arrives on lawmakers’ desks, the recommendations it offers in support of this vital agricultural industry and its products should receive immediate attention and consideration.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editrials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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