The California Milk Advisory Board wasn’t taking the bait.
I turned to the group behind the “Happy Cows” TV ads for a response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s declaration last week that New York now is “America’s Yogurt Capital.” California has been the nation’s leading dairy state since 1993, according to the board, ranking No. 1 in the production of milk and related products such as butter and ice cream, and No. 2 in cheese.
But in yogurt, where California had been the leader, New York took the No. 1 spot last year with 692 million pounds produced versus the Golden State’s 587 million pounds, according to the announcement from Cuomo’s office.
Credit for that goes to New York’s dairy farms, which have increased milk output by nearly 1 billion pounds over the past five years. As a result, production by yogurt plants in the state has nearly tripled, boasted the governor, who you’ll recall staged a “Yogurt Summit” in Albany last summer.
One goal of the summit, which brought together farmers, producers and government officials, was to find ways to help smaller farms expand their herds in order to feed the demand cycle of the yogurt plants.
New York now is home to Chobani and Fage, two of the big names in Greek yogurt, a thick, creamy product that requires three times more milk than traditional yogurt.
Chobani Inc. set up shop in a former Kraft Foods plant in Otsego County in 2007, while Fage USA started production in 2008 in Johnstown Industrial Park in Fulton County, a plant that will be expanded by 2014 to double output.
According to the governor’s office, the number of yogurt-processing plants in New York has doubled since 2000 to 28, with the latest two additions coming in Batavia: the first U.S. plant for Alpina Foods Inc. of Colombia and the first U.S. plant for a privately held German company that is partnering with PepsiCo to form Müller Quaker Dairy.
Cuomo’s office put the combined economic impact of dairy farming and processing at $8.9 billion. For every new on-the-farm job, it said, 1.24 jobs are created in the local community. And for every job created in the dairy-processing industry, 5.72 other jobs result.
The governor’s office even estimated that for every 40 to 50 cows added, one new on-the-farm job is created. That’s why the office touted changes to state environmental regulations, which take effect next month, that will set a higher herd benchmark — 299 cows, up from 199 — before farmers have to install pollution controls for runoff.
Cuomo said the change will let dairy farmers increase milk production, “which will benefit New York’s growing yogurt industry, create jobs and grow local economies.”
Earlier this week, the California Milk Advisory Board’s website still had that state as No. 1 in yogurt production in the U.S. So I asked the group, which developed the promotional tagline “Great milk comes from Happy Cows, and Happy Cows come from California,” about the governor’s yogurt boast.
I also sent along a copy of the release from his office.
Stirring the pot like that is a standard ploy in journalism. But the board’s communications director, Jennifer Giambroni, was on to it.
Her emailed response? “We can’t dispute their numbers. More importantly, though, I think we can all agree that when dairy farmers in any state win, we all win.” Touché.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at email@example.com.