We are just different in the south...we have warm winters, drink sweet tea, eat great food like shrimp and grits, and cheer on top college football teams each Saturday during the fall (GO DAWGS). It's a unique culture and one that I am proud to be a part of.
Last week a dairy producer from another state (west of Georgia) told me that we have great things going on here. He stated that our youth programs are strong and milk production has stayed steady over the last decade. He also added that we needed to slow down on producing so much milk in order to help other states along, but that's a discussion to have on a different day.
His comments were nice to hear and I agree that dairy farming in Georgia is rewarding. Although the last five years have been challenging, Georgia's dairy industry does have many positives that we may tend to forget about when the going gets tough. We have long growing seasons, strong producer organizations, access to the Florida market (maybe not a strong as 10 years ago) and reasonable environmental regulations.
I believe that we are positioned for a strong decade ahead. If we can work with our partners to improve our processing capacity, change marketing order rules and strengthen our milk promotion activities; then Georgia's dairy farms should be able to sustain and become more profitable in the future.
Here are a few reasons why I believe Georgia will remain a top dairy state in the deep south for the next 10 years:
Georgia has a growing population. The recent U.S. Census estimates that Georgia has a population of 10.6 million. Georgia is the 8th most populated state and has the 10th fastest growth rate in the U.S. We have the market. Our industry needs to improve our processing facilities, seek new opportunities and change our milk marketing rules so that they allow our local producers to feed the growing population.
Georgia has a unique producer organization. Georgia Milk Producers was formed in the 1960s and is funded through a one-cent checkoff. No other southeastern state has an organization like ours. Georgia Milk Producers serves as an advocate for dairy farm families and educates producers and the public in order to build a stronger industry. Our organization is committed to using the farmer's assessment effectively and efficiently; and funds several workshops and seminars for dairy farmers so that they may attend at no cost (like the Georgia Dairy Conference).
Georgia's state checkoff organization is making strides in promoting fluid milk. Recently the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Milk (ACCM) released their annual report for the 2019 fiscal year (download here). It demonstrates how our state checkoff dollars are working to promote fluid milk through programs with The Dairy Alliance, Georgia's Mobile Dairy Classroom and the Milk on My Mind Campaign. Further collaboration among these groups will be important in the future to bring consumers back to milk.
Georgia invests heavily in their dairy youth programs. Through the Georgia Dairy Youth Foundation (GDYF), Georgia dairy farm families and industry partners invest in future leaders of our industry. GDYF continues to grow and is a remarkable success story ensuring that financial support for our 4-H, FFA and collegiate dairy youth programs will be available for many years to come.
While we still have a lot of work to do, Georgia dairy farmers should be proud of how far they have come. Let's continue the success and strengthen our partnerships across the Southeast. Organizations that collaborate well are likely to be more financially successful, which is the ultimate goal for anyone that owns a business.