Who would have ever dreamed that Greek yogurt would become the food fad it has become over the past few years, or that its manufacturers would take the shining to rural upstate New York they have? Obviously, not too many people saw this coming, but at least a couple of government officials are now trying to exploit the situation to its fullest. We wish them luck; it’s a worthy cause.
Friday’s Gazette had a story about several initiatives that would boost sales of New York-produced Greek yogurt and, by extension, the farmers who produce the milk from which it is made.
One, touted by state Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine, urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pursue a pilot program allowing Greek yogurt — which, because it is strained of its water content, has twice the protein of regular yogurt — to be served as a substitute for meat in school lunches. Doing so would boost sales, of course — benefiting upstate farmers, who have already increased milk production seven-fold over the past five years, in part to supply the Fage, Chobani and Alpina yogurt plants located here. But it would also save money, because a single 4-ounce serving of Greek yogurt is cheaper than the meat normally called upon to supply school lunch protein. Kids like Greek yogurt, and it’s good for them, so why not?
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who got Greek yogurt onto tables at January’s pre-Inaugural luncheon and has been pushing for the same school lunch change, is also trying to help dairy farmers with a pair of tax breaks: One would expand the number of cows eligible for generous depreciation allowances. The other would allow farmers to save money in special tax-leveraged accounts to help them expand or get through the periodic lean years all of them encounter.
If the government lets schools substitute high-protein Greek yogurt for meat, it will require an additional 15 percent increase in milk production. New York’s dairy farmers have been steadily increasing their herds and milk production to accommodate the Greek yogurt boom, but Schumer’s bills (jointly sponsored Idaho Republican Sen. Make Crapo) will make future expansion that much easier. Given the nutritional value of this yogurt, the dearth of economic development opportunities upstate, and the relative environmental advantages of dairy farming, this is something legislators everywhere should be willing to support.