Check out our 2024 Corporate Sustainability Report!

History and Importance of National Dairy Month

Every June, for more than 80 years, we’ve celebrated dairy’s contributions to our health and our economy.

24 days ago
article-image

Every June, Americans across the country celebrate National Dairy Month, a time-honored tradition that highlights the indispensable contributions the dairy industry makes to our health, our economy and our history.

For the past 87 years, National Dairy Month has looked to spotlight the dedication of dairy farmers, their families and the critical role they play in delivering nutritious dairy products to our tables.

The Moo-La Behind Dairy

The farm value of milk production is second only to beef among livestock industries and is equal to the total production of corn in dollars. Milk is produced in all 50 states and a vast majority of dairy farms are family-owned and managed. In New Mexico, dairy is the top “cash crop,” surpassing even the beloved chili pepper, and each dollar from dairy farming circulates through local economies, supporting businesses and communities.

For every dollar generated from dairy farming, it turns over three to seven times in the local community, with dairy foods in the U.S. worth close to $200 billion in sales, annually. Dairy farming is a significant economic driver in the U.S. and is responsible for about 3 million total jobs, generating around $41.6 billion in direct wages, proving the versatile dairy industry is not only beneficial to our health but to our economy as well.

Health Benefits of Dairy

The nutrients in dairy products are vast, including protein, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K, playing a role in supporting strong bones, teeth health and reduce the risk of chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Dairy foods also support gut health, as milk, yogurt and cheese have a unique dairy matrix that contains nutrients, bioactive compounds and other biological components that work together to support digestion, absorption and immunity.

As National Dairy Month continues, the celebration of dairy farmers’ contributions is tempered by the ongoing challenges posed by the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak. The resilience of the dairy industry is evident in its response to these challenges, particularly in ensuring the safety of the milk supply through pasteurization and other measures.

Challenges Facing Dairy

The journey of dairy products from farm to fridge is fascinating. Cows are milked and the milk is quickly cooled and transported to processing plants. There, it is pasteurized, packaged and delivered, where along the way strict quality control protocols ensure what reaches your table is safe, nutritious and delicious.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service found that major trends in U.S. milk production include a fairly slow and steady increase in production as gains in per-cow milk output outweigh declines in the number of cows, consolidation of operations has led to a continual rise in the number of cows per operation.

The dangers in consolidation are apparent amid the current scare surrounding the dairy industry and HPAI. The scope of the current outbreak is part of a larger global trend of bird flu epidemics since 2020. The virus, at first initially only found in birds, has displayed an alarming ability for zoonotic transmission and has been found on every continent in everything from penguins, dolphins, skunks, squirrels, polar bears, horses, and now, humans and dairy cows.

The rise in raw milk consumption amid the current bird flu outbreak is concerning, but the commitment to public health and safety remains robust. Recent research on mice has shown the virus can be transmitted through unpasteurized milk so the dangers of transmission to humans remains uncertain. An army of agencies (FDA, USDA and CDC) have committed vast resources to providing accurate information on biosecurity, detection and containment to ensure the commercial milk supply remains safe, but as with all safety measures, everybody must be actively involved.

The dairy industry, backed by more than a century of scientific advancements in milk safety, will continue to adapt and respond to these types of emerging threats. National Dairy Month is the perfect time to refocus our collective attention and acknowledge the hard work and dedication of dairy farmers and the army of veterinarians, researchers, scientists and politicians protecting public health.

The Udderly Entertaining History of National Dairy Month

The first National Milk Month kicked off in 1937, the same year the first model of the legendary Chevrolet Suburban Carryall rolled off the showroom floor — with a sticker price of $685. Two years later, the campaign was changed to National Dairy Month and has continued as a month-long celebration of dairy foods and the community each June ever since.

Somarians produced and consumed milk, cheese and butter, in ancient times, as depicted in carvings from the temple of Ninhursag in Tell al-Ubaid, and dairy got its first official recognition in the Old Testament when Palestine was famously described as a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

The first cattle arrived in North America through Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1525 and spread throughout New Spain while about a century later, the first cows were brought to Plymouth Colony on the other side of the continent in New England.

The dairy industry got its start in America like most everything, by immigrants bringing cattle with them from Europe in the 1600s to supply their families with dairy products and meat. Although many different breeds of cattle were present on the continent, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that cattle breeds were developed specifically for dairy purposes.

Technology Leads the Way

Significant inventions such as commercial milk bottles, milking machines, tuberculin tests for cattle, pasteurization equipment, refrigerated train cars and automatic bottling machines were early technological advances that directly contributed to making milk a healthful and commercially viable product.

In rural America, milk and milk products were made primarily for home or local use but as the population moved from farms to cities at the turn of the century, it became necessary to mass produce and thus improve the quality of milk.

In appealing to customers, milk companies had to emphasize the safety of their product by promoting cleanliness, pasteurization and tuberculin testing. In the 18th century it was common-folk knowledge in Europe that milk maids (women who milked cows) were immune to the smallpox plagues when they swept through Europe. By 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner turned that folklore into a vaccine for smallpox, thanks to the wisdom of the dairy community.

Dairy farmers are now at the forefront of sustainable farming practices, reducing their environmental footprint while recognizing opportunity by cutting or in some cases capturing, greenhouse gas emissions, improving water use efficiency and adopting renewable energy sources.


Catalyst

Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.