Dairy farmers across Pennsylvania are facing financial challenges that are threatening their ability to stay in business. A massive oversupply of milk has substantially reduced the price farmers receive for the milk they produce.

While dairy farmers have faced tough times in the past, this downward spiral appears to be more severe, because milk prices have been depressed for the past three years. No one is anticipating any immediate relief in 2018.

Some milk buyers have cut off dairy farmers, telling them they need to find another company to market their milk. The problem is no one wants their milk. One farmer-owned milk co-op is even offering an incentive for farmers to get out of the dairy business now.

Some people living in areas where there are a lot of dairy farms have asked if there is anything they can do to help. The most helpful thing they can do right away is to buy more milk and other dairy products, and to encourage family and friends to do the same. It is even more helpful if consumers purchase dairy items that are known to be produced locally or regionally.

In many areas of the state, dairy farms are an important part of the fabric of the community. Besides providing fresh wholesome milk, they contribute $6 billion in revenue to the state and support more than 60,000 jobs essential to rural communities.

Milk has numerous health benefits, yet is rarely mentioned when people talk about plans to improve the health of children and other Americans.

Milk contains nine essential nutrients and vitamins that boost human health. You can reap those health benefits simply by drinking one glass of milk per day. For example, the Nation Dairy Council says that one, 8-ounce glass of milk provides the same amount of vitamin D a person would receive if they ate 3.5 ounces of cooked salmon, and as much calcium as if they consumed 2 ¼ cups of broccoli.

There are a variety of factors contributing to the oversupply of milk in the U.S., including an increase in the consumption of products that are labeled as milk, such as almond and cashew drinks. These dairy-free products are not “milk” and they do not provide milk’s health benefits. In addition, many of these nut drinks are sweetened, making them high in sugar.

In the months ahead, there may be more opportunities to help dairy farmers, such as supporting the return of low-fat chocolate milk to schools and backing policies that provide relief for milk producers during extended periods of low prices.

There is no silver bullet to resolve the dairy crisis in Pennsylvania, but for now, simply purchasing more dairy products can make a difference.