My email inbox this morning contained an article referencing GMO concerns, specifically dealing with production of golden rice.

Those concerns have limited production, and that is perpetuating nutrition deficits in some countries that have high levels of poverty and malnutrition.

Another article talked about how the labor shortage is the greatest limiting factor for American agriculture. According to the author, much of the labor shortage could be alleviated with changes to our immigration laws.

The labor shortage issue is certainly one that affects the commonwealth’s dairy industry, causing concerns in our highest-producing counties.

Rather than discussing the labor shortage or how changing the immigration laws could help, many focus on non-fact-based arguments about the evils of immigrants.

Granted, there are legitimate concerns with illegal immigration, and I want to remain apolitical on that for this column, but those of us in the dairy industry need to do what I have encouraged for many months — discuss, collaborate and work toward solutions.

Like the labor shortage and across all of the dairy industry’s largest debates, many of the contentious areas are not black and white, so to speak.

Take the over-order premium as an example. The individuals and organizations that want change have valid concerns and are certainly within their rights to bring those concerns to the board. They also have the right to publish opinion pieces and provide interviews.

What has been a problem is the belief that issues with the over-order premium are very black and white, resolved by simple dissolution of the premium, which would take it away from some farmers who need it. We have reached the point at which discussions have begun to search for alternatives.

Perhaps I am naive, but I believe that the current dialogue about the premium issues, and discussions around alternatives or supplements, will be productive and that the end product will provide a benefit for all our dairy farmers.

The conversations have been good ones, and I am hopeful they will continue. Parties still don’t agree on much other than the fact that something has to change, but at least we have gotten to that point.

I often hear that the over-order premium prevents processors from locating in Pennsylvania or that the premium is responsible for milk being bought outside of the commonwealth.

There is no way to factually substantiate either of these claims, and there is no way to prove the opposite.

We do know that our processors market a large majority of their milk outside of the commonwealth and that our nearly 5,500 dairy farms do sell their milk. What many don’t realize is that without those out-of-state markets, we would lose a lot of our smaller farms.

Rather than the current arguments using the premium and out-of-state milk, I would like to see some credible research conducted to investigate the actual reasons processors do not choose Pennsylvania for their plants (if that is occurring), not reasons based on suppositions.

Most choices made by businesses involve a large set of complex factors. Maybe the premium is the cause. We just don’t know.

Another issue in the dairy industry is the whole milk movement.

I, personally, am in favor of providing the choice of whole milk to school children. Whole milk is delicious, filled with nutrition and is the best thing in the world to have with a chocolate chip cookie.

Instead of being a standalone topic, whole milk should be promoted as a healthy choice, and marketing should not demean the value of other dairy choices for consumers. The arguments for whole milk should be part of a productive, ongoing discussion.

The market research is clearly telling us that consumers are drinking less fluid milk, but they are buying cheese, yogurt and butter at record numbers. The statistics call for a shift in marketing focus, concentrating our efforts and discussions.

Dairy is a choice for consumers, and we have to present them with reasons why it is the best choice for them. But we also have to be mindful that it may not be the best choice for every person.

I have a granddaughter who is so intolerant to lactose that drinking lactose-free milk makes her sick. If she wants to eat cereal, she must use a plant-based beverage. Even dairy cheeses, yogurt and ice cream cause problems for her.

Our arguments for purchase of dairy products must be made with an understanding of issues such as my granddaughter’s.

We have opportunities to raise our level of discussion about these important and sometimes contentious issues — labor shortages, the premium, lack of state processing capacity, and dairy promotion and marketing — to focus on what the real problems are and to engage in professional, collegial dialogue to dig deeper into finding solutions that will work.

Just learning about the facts would be a big step forward.

We also have to admit if there is no real problem with some area of concern. Sometimes change can lead to perceived problems that may just be a matter of adjustment to a new situation.

PMMB supports communications leading to effective solutions for existing problems. We are willing to help with these efforts.

We are also always available to respond to questions and concerns. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 or by email at [email protected].

Carol Hardbarger is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board.

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