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Amid Tough Time For Dairy Farmers, Hopes Turn To Innovative Products

NY Animal Agriculture Coalition

At a difficult time for the dairy industry, farmers are coming up with new products to milk an increased demand for dairy products.

New York's dairy farmers say they are getting more innovative and creative, the market buoyed by new research that supports consuming whole-fat dairy products. 

New York Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager Steve Ammerman:   "Milk prices have been low going on four years now so there are a lot of farms that are struggling because production costs often exceed what they're getting for their monthly milk checks. Farmers don't control their own prices and it's been very challenging economic conditions for our farmers. We have seen some of our farms looking to diversify, to go to more value-added products, taking an existing product, changing it up or doing it in a different way to increase the value of that product."

Credit Gilligan's Restaurant
Gilligan's alcohol ice cream

Gilligan’s Restaurant in Sherburne has been making homemade hard ice cream for more than two decades. Co-owner Andy Lagoe says the Chenango County eatery married adult beverages to ice cream.   "One night when we were working with the ice cream, making the ice cream, we had some beer around and got a little curious. We wondered what beer and ice cream would taste like together. So we put some beer in the ice cream machine and made some beer ice cream, and the next day when we tried it, it wasn't too awful bad."

Lagoe says they tweaked the recipe, intending to work with local breweries and local dairy farms, and drew some inspiration from a Booneville dairy farm that triggered the 2008 "wine ice cream law," which eventually was amended to include the words "beer and hard cider" so the concoction could be made without having to have a liquor license. Less than 5 percent alcohol by volume, the adult ice creams will debut at the New York State Fair in Syracuse.   "We're working with a vendor there and we're going to have our own Gilligan's alcohol ice cream branded booth in the wine court at the State Fair this year."

Over at Spruce Haven Farm in Cayuga County, managing member Doug Young and his associates have worked years to develop a cold brew latte incorporating Conjugated Linoleic Acid with added milk protein concentrate. He says the drink has the potential to improve human health.  "By reducing cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and some other anomalies."

The FDA has signed off on the new product, which does not require refrigeration.  Doug points out that  "The consumer will know which dairy farm the milk came from and which coffee farm the coffee came from. So that's pretty extraordinary opportunity for connecting with consumers and to engage in a long-term relationship."

Spruce Haven plans to offer the latte through their website and at chains like Wegman's.  Ammerman says although there are challenges and barriers, dairy farmers are keen to diversify.  "It's not easy for farms to do this. There's a lot of planning, investment, new equipment, even marketing. If a farm is looking to bottle their own milk, they're now becoming their own marketers, which they never had to do before."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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