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Helping Dairy Farmers Overcome Challenges

President of American Dairy Association North East promotes milk’s goodness

By Stefan Yablonski

There are always a lot of challenges for farmers — and you’ll probably get a different answer from every farmer you talk to, according to Audrey Donahoe, board president of American Dairy Association North East.

The mother of six is a fifth-generation dairy farmer in the Oneida County village of Clayville. She is the first female elected to serve as board president of American Dairy Association North East (ADANE).

Some of the common challenges facing farmers, she said, are:

Weather: “We have a limited window to get out in the fields to plant crops to feed our cows.”

Increased costs: “It’s important to remember that first, almost all dairy farms are family-owned and operated — about 94% nationally — and care about providing the best products possible to families everywhere.”

The average U.S. dairy has around 300 cows.

Like other business owners, dairy farmers continually modernize and improve their facilities and methods to protect the environment.

“The look of the farm may have changed, but farmers’ values of providing high-quality care to their animals and the land have not,” she added.

The introduction of products such as almond milk may actually be a boon for dairy farmers, she said.

“Honestly, I don’t see it as a bad, bad thing. It’s going to help the consumer better understand what the nutritional differences are between the milk and the alternate beverage,” she said. “We have such a well established nutrient package in cow’s milk and maybe it will actual be good for consumers to actually see that when they are reading the label versus what is on the label of these alternative beverages. I think at the end of the day, depending on the wording and how it turns out, it might be a good thing for dairy farmers.”

ADANE represents around 9,000 dairy farmers in a six-state region.

“All of us run our farms a little differently. Bottom line, dairy farmers like me are committed to our cows, our employees and our communities,” she said. “Every glass of milk contributes jobs, income and vitality to the community.”

Dairies support the economic well-being of rural America, she explained, adding that every dollar spent locally by a dairy farmer creates a multiplier effect of more than 2.5 times the original dollar spent. Dairy farmers and dairy companies are local small business owners, parents, school supporters and active members of community organizations.

She wants to make consumers, who are typically far removed from agriculture and dairy farming, “aware of the amazing things we do on the farm to recycle, reuse and reduce our carbon footprint,” she said.

“My husband and I have a dairy farm. That’s our primary business. We sell milk; we do have some beef animals as well,” she said. “You have to diversify these days.”

The name of her farm, Atrass Farm, was created by using the first initial of her six children’s names. They are: Arnold, Thomas, Rich, Allison, Sam and Seth. That’s the first letter of each of her kids’ names in order of age, she explained.

The primary focus of ADANE is “what’s best for the farmers. Our key focus is what is going to sell more milk and what is going to move more of our product,” she said.

“We do a lot in schools, working with the kids — educating them on the health benefits of dairy and dairy products, the importance of having them in their diets and introducing them to all the delicious dairy products we have besides milk — like cheese and yogurt,” she said.

They also do a lot of work within retail grocery stores to help promote dairy products.

“We do a lot of other events like Fuel Up [with chocolate milk] after a workout and school programs with children; we promote healthy eating and exercising,” she said. “We want to promote the whole package for these children. It is important for them to eat right and it’s important to exercise.”

Currently, they are focusing on Gen-Z.

“How do we connect with them? They are our future consumers,” she said. “We have been using social media to connect with that generation.”

It’s a campaign she can relate to, as her two youngest are Gen-Z, she said with a laugh.

What’s her favorite way to enjoy milk?

“I love my milk — a thick, frosty chocolate milkshake. I’m just a diehard fan of chocolate milkshakes. Every day I could have one!” she said.

Top image: Audrey Donahoe is the board president of American Dairy Association North East. The mother of six is a fifth-generation dairy farmer in the Oneida County village of Clayville.