For decades, Tom Trantham has been immersed in the dairy industry, and describes milk as “the most near perfect food on earth”.
Trantham has owned Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, South Carolina for 51 years, and said he’s seen the dairy market shift over the decades, especially recently.
In 2018, the dairy industry lost $1.1 billion, according to Dairy Farmers of America. Trantham says a few factors explain this loss, including big box retailers decreasing the price they’re willing to pay farmers for milk.
“Walmart, Dean Foods, and those guys, they want to take everything as low as they can get it, like milk, and they benefit,” he said.
When retailers pay less for milk, it directly affects the farmer’s cut.
“The farmer is far down on the totem pole… we should be first, but instead we’re last,” Trantham said.
The rise in popularity of non-dairy milk substitutes is another reason the dairy market fell over a billion dollars last year. Almond, soy, coconut and oat milk are some examples of these substitues that have hit grocery store shelves recently. A report this year by BusinessWire projected dairy milk alternatives to hit $26 billion by 2023.
In 2018, Dairy Farmers of America reported only $13.6 billion of dairy milk sales.
Rosewood Market, a grocery store in Columbia, sells both milk from Happy Cow Creamery and dairy-free milk substitutes. The market’s community outreach coordinator, Mary Agnes Duncan, says she’s noticed a change in how customers shop for milk recently.
“Typically, the people that are coming in for milk do go the non-dairy route. That industry has boomed in the last two years,” Duncan said.
Duncan made the switch to non-dairy three years ago when she tried a “Whole30” diet. It’s people like her, who have stopped buying dairy products completely, Trantham and other dairy farmers in America, are worried about.
“If they’re not drinking milk, they got some problems with their bones and their calcium,” Trantham said.
Trantham said he hasn’t seen much of a drop in sales at Happy Cow Creamery due to lack of competition in the area and the unique way he farms. The creamery is the only one in Greeneville County, and uses no chemicals in its 100 acres of fields or hormones in its 90-plus cows.