Third-generation farmer John Kuegel was responsible for one of the oldest dairy farms in the state until last week, when he had to make the tough decision to sell his milking herd.
A nationwide shift in milk prices over the past few years caused Kuegel to re-evaluate his future in the dairy industry. Farmers are being paid less than the cost of production, which makes it hard to earn a living.
“For us making the decision to liquidate our cows was hard,” Kuegel said. “A lot of lost sleep and tears to make the decision, but we believe it was right for today. I haven’t been blessed with milk checks. If you can’t make money, you can’t do it. We don’t have competition vying to buy our milk. It’s a complicated system that needs to be overhauled.”
According to Kuegel, the price of milk has trended downward in the last four years as demand has lessened by consumers.
“We can’t be told to produce more for prices to just get lower,” he said. “Not many people can weather that. It’s not what I wanted to do but business-wise it’s the best decision.”
A pending bill in the Kentucky senate addresses the decline of milk demand with the influx of products such as almond milk in stores. Senate Bill 81, sponsored by Sen. Matt Castlen, would establish a definition for what food products could be labeled and sold as milk, to be enforced by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
According to the bill, milk is the “the lacteal secretion” of a hooved mammal, more specifically, a cow, water buffalo, sheep, goat, yak, deer, reindeer, moose, horse or donkey.
If the bill passes, beverages made from food products such as coconuts, soybeans or almonds can no longer be labeled as milk.
“When they crush almonds and make it into a liquid, flavor it, look at the list of ingredients, it’s an almond beverage,” Kuegel said. “It’s not milk. Companies give the implication that it’s milk and it’s not.”
With Kentucky’s dairy industry struggling, this bill seeks to bring understanding to the consumer about the product they are buying.
As consumers continue to switch to plant-based alternatives like soy milk and almond milk, farmers like Kuegel could keep facing difficult decisions regarding the future of dairy farming.