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Greek Yogurt at Olympics Prompts Another Look at Dairy’s Impact

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
When the Olympics took place this summer, it was exciting to see all the athletes competing on a world stage.  You had 17-year-old Missy Franklin snag the gold medal in 200 meter swimming and Oscar Pistorious, the runner with the prosthetic legs from South Africa, inspiring the world with his story.  There were also the heartbreaking moments too with the fencing clock controversy for the South Korean fencer, Shin A. Lam.

Though the games were remarkable to watch, it was also exciting to see a New York manufacturer prominently advertised throughout the two-week period. Chobani Yogurt was a choice food for athletes at the Olympics, as Chobani decided to be an Olympic sponsor.

Greek yogurt is both low in sugar and high in protein, making it desirable for athletes.

The name and logo was marketed as synonymous with gold medal athletes with an effective television commercial.  The commercial showcases how this company transformed a small town in Chenango County and how proud they are to feed Olympians.

It shows workers riding from farms to the plant and the narrator says, “The Chobani story is a community story, a story of revival. Five years ago, none of us could have imagined how it could unfold…”  Today Chobani holds 50% of the Greek yogurt market in the U.S. The company plans to invest in a new dairy processing facility in Columbus, NY, which will help create 450 new jobs.

The Olympics shed new light, once again, on the importance of home grown produce, manufacturing, and the stake we all have in farming. The world stage attention prompted the Governor to host a “yogurt summit” in Albany following the Olympics.  Dairy farmers, industry leader and other stakeholders met to help ensure the yogurt industry continue in New York in August.

Since then, I attended a Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY) function where I heard the CFO speak about Chobani.  In an inspiring talk, he drew attention to the important relationship between dairy farming and manufacturing in New York.

Without milk, there would be no yogurt manufacturers.

Currently, New York is home to three large-scale Greek yogurt producers, which use three times more milk than traditional yogurt makers.

Fage, located in Johnstown, NY, in the southern tier, employs 240 people and expects to hire another 150 workers and double capacity in the next few years. Alpina, a Miami-based company with plants in South America, announced it plans to build a 28,000 square foot yogurt plant in Batavia, NY.

The state estimates that yogurt production in New York has increased total wages of those employed by dairy manufactures by 14% from 2005 to 2011.

There are a total of 8,070 employed in the industry.  Dairy farming and dairy processing combined presents a total impact of $8.9 billion to New York’s economy.

The Governor’s office also estimates that for every job created on a dairy farm, an additional 1.24 jobs are created in the local community.  This is a conservative estimate as I know other studies report even more jobs are created for every on-the-farm job.

Since 2000, the number of yogurt processing plants in New York has increased from 14 to 29 today.

Since the summer Olympics, state leaders have finally agreed to consider increasing the amount of cattle allowed on a small dairy farm from 200 to 300. This would allow small dairy farms to expand without being subject to costly regulations known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation requirements.

I recently attended both the Oswego County and Jefferson County Farm Bureaus’ annual dinner meetings and there is a renewed hope for farmers to have more of a market for their milk.

With more cows, New York could produce more milk, which would help keep value-added dairy manufacturing plants like Chobani in our state.  Relaxing these types of regulations would also help New York become more competitive.  I support relaxing these requirements.

The New York Farm Bureau has a 5-point plan to grow the dairy industry. State leaders should take more of these suggestions moving forward, which include reducing the number of state agencies involved with farms.

This would help streamline paperwork and other applications. Farmers have enough to deal with running their businesses, without being bogged down by state paperwork.

The Farm Bureau says that sometimes as many as 28 state agencies are involved with a family farm.

With this renewed market for milk, we should provide incentives to farmers to grow their farms by adding an investment tax credit, which would assist in growing milk production.

I also support state-authorized farm savings accounts to help reduce financial risks for farmers.  These accounts operate like tax-deferred retirement accounts but encourage savings when crop yields or production prices are high.

Farmers experience drastic fluctuations with both the markets and unsavory weather.

A farm savings account would enable taxes to be deferred until withdrawals are made.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

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