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New England Milkshed Study

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Milk cows in fieldNew England's dairy farms are central to our region's identity and character. They are the anchor tenants of our farmland base, and the backbone of our agricultural economy. They are a source of inspiration and beauty, helping to attract millions of visitors to our region every year. And the milk they produce not only fills our glasses and cereal bowls here in New England every day, but is processed into dairy products shipped around the country and the world. As a region, we have a vested interest in seeing our dairy farms—and the farm farmilies that work them—thrive and flourish.

Yet our farms are vanishing. Selling into a wholesale market at a price over which they have little control, many dairy farmers have been unable to withstand prolonged periods when milk prices do not cover the costs of production. In just the past twenty years, we’ve lost nearly half of our dairy farms in New England. The continued, unrelenting decline of dairy farms around the region is a profound threat to our agricultural viability and future.        

Having worked in this region since the early 1980s, we here at American Farmland Trust understand the importance of dairy farms and farmers to our region—to the economy and to the land base. The loss of an average dairy farm puts at least 300 acres of cropland, pasture and woodland at higher risk of development. Since 1992, more than 525,000 acres of farmland—the equivalent of two Cape Cods—has gone out of dairy farming. While some of that land is still being farmed, much of it has been developed. In the past 25 years alone, three states in our region have developed more than 13% of their state’s farmland.

To raise awareness about the region’s dairy farms and their importance to the region, American Farmland Trust joined with faculty from the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy to undertake a New England Milkshed Assessment.  Our goals for the assessment: To help consumers understand where their milk comes from and how they can support our region’s dairy farms; and to identify market opportunities and policy changes that can improve profitability and increase consumption of New England dairy products.

The Milkshed Slideshow presents a wealth of information about the region’s dairy sector—from production to processing to consumption—and includes recommendations for both policymakers and consumers. A suite of policy memossix state-specific memos and a longer regional memo—provide additional information about each state’s dairy sector and recommendations for federal and state policymakers.   Finally, a Market Recommedations Summary offers findings from our regional market assessment and interviews with key informants around the region.

We are grateful to the Claneil Foundation, to Farm Credit East, Farm Credit of Maine and Yankee Farm Credit through the Northeast AgEnhancement Program, Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, and to the members of American Farmland Trust for their generous support of this project.  

American Farmland Trust