During National Dairy Month this June, take a moment to appreciate some of Virginia’s most delicious and nutritious commodities, and the farmers who provide them.
National Dairy Month commemorates the rich history of dairy farming in the U.S. and highlights the importance of producers who ensure store shelves are stocked with creamy foods like cheese, ice cream, milk and yogurt.
“Milk is a great value,” said Joanna Shipp, a Franklin County Farm Bureau member who runs Bowmont Dairy Farm with her father, Laird Bowman. “Cow’s milk offers thirteen essential nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, calcium, potassium, vitamins A, D, B12 and riboflavin and minerals.”
Dairies remain a vital part of Virginia’s economy. With 421 dairy farms and 73,000 dairy cows, milk and other dairy products are the state’s fifth-ranked farm commodity—accounting for more than $297 million in cash receipts in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The top five milk-producing counties are Rockingham, Pittsylvania, Augusta, Franklin and Washington.
“Dairy farming also employs 72,000 people and has a $5.7 billion direct impact,” Shipp added.
While dairy is a top commodity in the state, Virginia’s dairy farmers have struggled for years, with more than 100 farms closing since 2018, and nearly one dairy closing each week in 2019. Most of those are family-run, as about 97% of U.S. dairy farms are owned by families, according to the USDA.
Joel Stanley of Thomas E. Stanley & Sons Dairy owns the only Hanover County dairy still in operation. In the family for four generations, the farm produces nearly 1,628 gallons of milk per day from 185 cows. Stanley said dairies play an important role in their local communities and are key to helping meet the demand for dairy products.
“All our milk—all of Virginia’s milk—stays local to Virginia for the most part,” he said. “Milk is one of the most wholesome, unadulterated, natural products produced. Only vitamin D is added, and within two to three days from harvesting, milk is back to the consumer.”
Stanley noted that local connection makes dairy farming a “very rewarding occupation … I’m proud to still be in it.”
Shipp agreed, and said she hopes consumers use National Dairy Month as an opportunity to support local dairies and “learn where their food comes from.
“The farm families of the dairy community spend our lives caring for our cows and the land we live on,” she said. “Through that care, we also love making a product that people locally and around the world can enjoy—one that’s good for them as well.”