The dairy industry is on the decline. Across the country, more than 3,200 dairy farms closed in 2019. In 2018, nearly 3,000 farms shut down. With so many dairy farms struggling to survive, could a shift to plant-based milk be the saving grace for the dying dairy industry?
According to the USDA, milk consumption has dropped by 40 percent since 1975. The Dairy Farmers of America revealed milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion in 2018. Due to declining dairy sales, a number of major milk manufacturers closed down. In November 2019, Dean Foods—America’s largest milk producer—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company blamed its mounting debts on declining milk sales.
“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” Dean Foods’ CEO Eric Beringause said in a release.
Some dairy farmers have already begun transitioning away from animal-derived milk. In 2016, after more than 90 years of business, the New York City-based company Elmhurst Dairy announced it would stop producing cow’s milk in order to make plant-based beverages. “After 92 years in business, it was time to embrace a new model and look toward the future,” the company’s 82-year-old CEO Henry Schwartz said.
This is one success story. But many dairy farmers do not have the knowledge or resources to transition their dairy farms to plant-based crops. In order to help with this process, one vegan company is working to offer struggling dairy farmers a lifeline amidst the failing dairy industry.
Founded in 2014, Miyoko’s Creamery creates plant-based dairy products. The California-based company is launching a program to help dairy farmers shift away from animal agriculture to plant-based dairy production.
Converting Dairy Farms to Plant-Based Crops
Last year, Miyoko’s announced it partnered with Farm Sanctuary. The nonprofit organization works to end farm animal cruelty through veganism.
“Dairy farmers are struggling as animal dairy products dramatically lose market share. People are losing their farms, their homes, their livelihood. We are all part of the solution of creating a more compassionate food system–including the manufacturers of plant-based products and the farmers themselves,” Miyoko Schinner, founder and CEO of Miyoko’s, told LIVEKINDLY.
She continued: “We need to provide frictionless turnkey solutions for farmers that include ways to manage debt, convert the land, obtain the right equipment, learn a new way to manage and be true to the land, provide sanctuary for the animals and most importantly, have real markets for their products so they can be profitable. This is an economic opportunity for farmers to move into the new-food economy.”
Miyoko’s says it will work with a California dairy farmer to convert their farm to plant agriculture. The company will use the transitioned acreage as part of its research and development efforts. The acreage will also become part of Miyoko’s supply chain for existing products.
Schinner says the company was founded on the principle of compassion–which extends to everyone, including dairy farmers.
“We can’t wait for the government or not-for-profits to make this happen. It has to be driven by supply chain economics and we see it as our responsibility to create the change we want to see in this world by creating markets and an economic incentive for dairy farmers to move to plant agriculture,” the founder explained.
Plant-Based Dairy Industry Soars
Vegan milk is increasingly becoming more popular among consumers. Health- and climate-conscious consumers are increasingly opting to drink plant-based milk in lieu of its animal-derived counterpart. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says people are also simply drinking less cow’s milk in general.
“Long ago, the public figured out that diets do just fine without milk and no, we don’t have to drink three glasses a day,” Marion Nestle, a food studies professor at New York University, told the New York Times. “Maybe plant-based milks are the coup de grâce, but this industry just can’t seem to keep up with changing tastes.”
According to the Good Food Institute (GFI)—a nonprofit organization that promotes plant-based alternatives to animal-derived food products—vegan dairy products like cheese, spreads, and yogurt are steadily growing in popularity.
Last year, the dairy alternative market was worth $1.2 billion—vegan cheese alone accounted for $160 million of this figure. In 2019, the plant-based milk market was worth more than $1.8 billion on its own. Experts say the value for the dairy alternative market will grow to be more than $25 billion by 2026.
Across the country, 37 percent of households regularly buy vegan milk. The GFI says this number equates to more than 45 million U.S. households. The nonprofit says the surge in popularity for plant-based milk “has laid the groundwork for growth in other plant-based dairy categories.”
Dairy Crafted From Plants
Miyoko’s Creamery recently launched a game-changing new line of everyday vegan cheeses. Miyoko’s introduced its new, plant-based Cheddar and Pepper Jack cheese. The company says its vegan cheese is “the industry’s first-ever vegan cheeses made from cultured legumes.” They are also Miyoko’s first nut-free cheeses.
As the plant-based dairy market soars, there’s no better time than now to begin transitioning dairy farms to plant agriculture. Miyoko’s says the only way to get more people to shift towards plant-based eating is for more companies to create vegan “dairy and meat products that meet or beat their animal counterparts for taste, performance, and nutrition.”
More people are opting for plant-based foods for health reasons. However, Schinner says the current global pandemic has made it very apparent that a compassionate food supply is needed.
“We are currently in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a zoonotic disease because animals are a main source of food. This is not the first time this has happened and until we change our practices of slaughtering animals for food, it won’t be our last,” she explained.
She continued: “Add to that the fact that we are kinder to animals, dramatically more sustainable, healthier for people and healthier for the planet, you can’t get a more compelling argument for transitioning to a plant-based food economy.”
Schinner—whose passion stems from wanting to create a more compassionate food system without the use of animal agriculture—says the company has already begun its search for a dairy farm. She hopes to have a dairy farm selected by this summer and plans to convert more dairy farms in the future.
“The goal is for this to become an open-source blueprint to repeat over and over. We welcome everyone in our industry to join us in making this happen,” she said.
To learn more about Miyoko’s Creamery click here.
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