BY JOE OLENICK
Medina Journal-Register — The dairy and Greek yogurt industries are getting a big boost from New York politicians.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw his support behind the U.S. Department of Agriculture using New York to implement the strained Greek yogurt pilot program in schools. State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel Aubertine also sent a letter to the USDA expressing the state’s interest in participating.
“As the nation’s leader in Greek yogurt production, New York is the natural fit to be selected to implement this pilot program,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Our state government is partnering with the private sector to bring down barriers to business growth and the results are showing in New York’s tremendous yogurt boom. New York state is eager to demonstrate that serving delicious Greek Yogurt in our cafeterias will both improve the health of our children while helping our schools save money – a real win-win.”
In January, the USDA announced that it would begin a pilot program to test the cost-effectiveness of including Greek yogurt in school meal programs. The program would also show the benefits of including strained Greek yogurt as a healthy, cost effective food entitlement for school meals.
In the last five years, New York’s yogurt plants have joined the Greek yogurt industry leaders, by more than doubling in number while production and milk production grew by nearly 850 million pounds.
The USDA is looking for potential yogurt vendors and producers and has asked New York school boards to participate in a federal pilot to use USDA entitlement dollars toward Greek yogurt.
“Today, we are one step closer to getting New York-made, healthy and protein-rich Greek Yogurt on school lunch menus across New York and even the country. It is a positive step that New York state plans to participate in this pioneer pilot program, which will boost nutrition for New York students, all while bolstering business for our dairy farmers and Greek Yogurt producers alike. I am pleased that Governor Cuomo has joined in this effort,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer.
Schumer was a major supporter of getting Greek yogurt into New York schools. Last week, the senator announced more assistance to dairy farmers so they can meet the growing demand for milk caused by numerous Greek yogurt plants in New York.
Schumer is asking for federal-tax-deferred savings accounts for dairy farmers so they can better weather the ups and downs of the milk-making economy. He is also proposing that capital investment tax benefits that already are allowed for farmers buying new milking cows be extended so they get the same benefits for buying cows that have been making milk for someone else.
In a release Schumer said the New York Farm Bureau estimates milk production must increase by 15 percent statewide. Over 400 million more pounds would have to be produced by western New York alone.
Schumer plans to introduce the legislation, dubbed the DAIRY (Dairy Augmentation for Increased Retail in Yogurt products) Act, with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho.)
“Upstate New York was recently dubbed the ‘Silicon Valley of Greek Yogurt’ and I want our dairy farmers to have the financial tools to keep pace with that exciting growth in a way that stabilizes risk for them during the up-an-downs of the market,” Schumer said.
“With high production costs, volatile milk prices and the recent weather extremes, dairy farms need risk management tools at their disposal now more than ever,” said New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.