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July 6, 2020
Dairy farming is not only very physical and demanding work, but also a very stressing one. Not surprisingly, the number of dairy farms is decreasing according to the last Ag Census. But more sadly, the average age of farmers (57.5 years) keeps climbing. This shows us that there are less and less Americans interested in making a living as farmers. However, there are small communities that are still interested in working on dairies.
Latinos are the main source of labor in American dairy farms. Foreign born employees make up for 51% of the labor in dairy farms in the US (2015). The majority come from Mexico or Central America (mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador). Almost 80% of the milk in the US is produced in farms that have immigrant labor. Surveys conducted in New York State have found that Latinos are working on average 72h/week with an average starting wage of $9.34/h.
Alliance Staff Member, Mauricio Rosales, is pictured with his favorite cow when he worked directly with the cows on a dairy farm years ago.
If immigrant labor would be eliminated, it has been calculated that the retail milk prices would increase by an estimated 90.4% and would reduce the number of cows by 2.1 million. This shows us the importance of these communities for the dairy industry. Yet, nothing has been accomplished to help these communities to regularize their immigration status.
In Pennsylvania, we have very different demographics, due mainly to the Plain sect population that is big part of the dairy industry. These communities perhaps are largely the only ones that remain interested in dairy farming. Generally, the family can take care of the cows and all the work in the fields. It seems like the number of cows they can take care of depends on labor availability. Most of the families can take care of up to 50 to 60 cows. This is one of the reasons why PA’s average herd size is about 80 cows. This is a unique situation and it is only true in specific areas. But for the rest of the state and the country, Latinos are the force moving the dairy industry.
Although Latinos are the main source of labor for dairy farms, there are only 704 dairy farms in the U.S. where Latinos are the Principal Operator according to the last Ag Census (2017). Specifically in Pennsylvania, there are only 48 dairy farms operated by Latinos. This is a very low number in comparison to the 6,091 dairy farms where the Principal Operator is White.
Unfortunately, the number of dairy farms operated by diverse groups in the US is very limited. The table below describes the number of dairy farms by the race of their Principal Operator.
Even though there are only a few dairy farms operated by non-white people, these are important communities that are contributing to the development and success of the dairy industry, like this Black Dairy Farmer in Vermont.
June was dairy month and perhaps we need to reflect about the impact that diverse communities have on our food supply system. The dairy industry may look like it does not represent the diversity of America but conversely, it has many different faces that together are pushing to make this industry thrive. Let’s reflect on June by celebrating and recognizing the amazing work that all of these diverse communities do for the dairy industry and America.
Senior Agriculture Projects Manager
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