By Jodi Helmer • Originally revealed on

Eric Ziehm grew up on a dairy farm in Hoosick, New York. Although the operation has not modified a lot since his childhood — the household nonetheless milks a herd of Holsteins, and a tanker nonetheless pulls up every week to haul off the milk — the dairy business has undergone a dramatic transformation in that point.

Milk costs dropped from practically $26 per hundredweight in 2014 to simply over $13 in May of 2020 — the bottom nationwide month-to-month worth in additional than a decade. Plummeting costs imply that it prices dairy farmers extra to produce a gallon of milk than they earn after they promote it.

Farmers are struggling to maintain their milking parlors working. The variety of dairy farms within the U.S. has declined greater than 50% since 2003, leaving simply 34,187 licensed dairy herds nationwide in 2019, in accordance to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, gross sales of plant milks have elevated in recent times. And a 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change discovered that embracing a plant-based weight-reduction plan may assist tackle the local weather disaster. Trading standard dairy for plant milks could possibly be a part of the answer.

Such considerations about the way forward for the dairy business and the environmental affect of standard agriculture led Ziehm to take a distinct path in 2017: He began his personal natural farm, High Meadows of Hoosick, milking 200 Holstein and Jersey cattle and rising 20 acres of oats for Hälsa Foods, makers of plant-based milk merchandise.

“There is a sector of the population looking for a clean, healthy product, and I want to fill that demand,” he says.

Making the Switch to Plant-Based Dairy

alternative types of vegan milks in glass bottles

Research exhibits that one 7-ounce glass of dairy milk produces practically 3 times extra greenhouse fuel emissions than a glass of rice milk, and no less than 3 times greater than soy, oat, or almond milk. It additionally requires 10 occasions as a lot land as oat milk. Even thirsty crops like almonds require about half the quantity of water it takes to produce the equal quantity of dairy milk.

Adapted from BBC Science Focus Magazine. Click for the unique article.

Miyoko Schinner, founder and CEO of Miyoko’s Creamery (an organization that produces vegan cheeses, butter, and different merchandise), spoke on the 2019 International Dairy Foods Association convention. She advised dairy farmers and meals producers that switching to plant agriculture offered a approach for dairy farmers to keep true to the land and “become part of the solution for a sustainable future.”

Concerns in regards to the setting and the way forward for the dairy business have led to a number of partnerships between dairy farmers and firms making plant milk. Hälsa, Miyoko’s Creamery, and the Swedish oat drink firm Oatly have all introduced packages to assist dairy farmers transition to crops like oats and cashews that can be utilized to make plant milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt.

Several dairy firms have added plant milks to their portfolios. Minnesota-based Live Real Farms launched blends that comprise 50% dairy milk and 50% almond or oat milk, and HP Hood LLC, one of many largest and oldest dairy firms within the nation, launched Planet Oat Oatmilk in 2019.

After 90 years within the dairy enterprise, Elmhurst Dairy rebranded as Elmhurst 1925 and transitioned to producing cashew, almond, oat, and hemp milks. Heba Mahmoud, vice chairman of promoting for Elmhurst 1925, attributes the pivot to declining demand for dairy milk and elevated curiosity amongst shoppers in plant-based diets.

Indeed, gross sales of plant milks within the U.S. elevated 14% in 2017–2019. “Consumers were going dairy-free for the purposes of improving their health and the health of the planet [and] taking notice of brands that were putting the environment first,” Mahmoud says.

Environmental Impacts to Consider

rice cultivation

Plant milks usually are not with out their very own environmental impacts. Pesticides utilized in almond manufacturing have been blamed for widespread bee deaths. Growing rice requires important water — although nonetheless lower than elevating dairy cattle — and produces the very best greenhouse fuel emissions of all plant milks. Coconut manufacturing poses threats to biodiversity (although how a lot is an ongoing debate). Therefore, wind-pollinated hazelnuts, area of interest crops like hemp and flax, and sustainably grown oats are sometimes hailed as the highest environmentally-friendly plant milk selections, although extra analysis would assist on this space.

Hälsa is one firm that has chosen to concentrate on oats. Co-founder Helena Lumme was sourcing oats from Finland, however thought the carbon footprint to ship them to the US was too excessive. In search of an answer, she seemed to companion with an natural dairy farmer who was nearer than Scandinavia and wished to transition to plant milks. Hälsa may cut back the environmental affect of its merchandise, she reasoned, whereas providing farmers a assured marketplace for the crop and entry into the fast-growing plant milk market.

Lumme says some farmers who have been initially upset that customers have been buying much less milk now see “a bigger picture… and have to decide, ‘Do I want to go with this trend and grow what people want?’” News of Hälsa’s farm conversion program triggered numerous calls from farmers keen to take part; Lumme hopes Hälsa shall be working with 100 dairy farmers throughout the U.S. to supply oats throughout the subsequent 5 years.

It Doesn’t Have to Be a Competition

young man standing with cow in field

In 2016, farmer Adam Arnesson took to Twitter to encourage struggling dairy farmers in his native Sweden to embrace alternatives to produce plant milk. His suggestion: Oatly ought to assist dairy farmers transition away from animal agriculture and into rising crops for plant milk.

The oat milk model appreciated the thought and contracted with Arnesson to diversify his 200-acre farm in Örebro, Sweden, to embody virtually 40 acres of oats for its oat beverage. The authentic three-year contract proved profitable for each events, and Arnesson has renewed for extra seasons.

Arnesson can be participating in a pilot venture to encourage different Swedish farmers to comply with go well with. Ten farmers, together with two dairy farmers, are collaborating in a one-year-old pilot venture that features a dedication from Oatly to buy oats for its oat drinks.

“If you’re a farmer and want to be a farmer for a long while, [these transition programs] should be of interest,” he says. “It doesn’t have to happen overnight; it’s possible to try it out and find complements to dairy production and decrease it over time.”

At High Meadows of Hoosick, Ziehm agrees. While persevering with to produce the important thing ingredient for oat milk, he has no plans to cease milking cows.

“It is not about cow milk versus oat milk; it doesn’t have to be a competition,” he says. “I love agriculture… and I think there’s always going to be dairy. But the plant-based [product] fills a nice niche, [and] it’s a valid option for producers that have the best interest of the environment in mind.”

Tell us within the feedback:

  • What’s your favourite kind of non-dairy milk?
  • Do you suppose this can be a good step towards making farming extra sustainable?
  • What crops would you want to see farmers rising extra of?

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