With plummeting milk prices, local farms tap into the craft beer craze

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All it takes is one look at the increasingly diverse ‘milk’ section of your supermarket to know that Americans have lost some of their taste for traditional dairy. While there’s an argument to be made that the proliferation of soy, almond, and other milks makes for a more healthy populace, the situation certainly hasn’t been a boon for dairy farmers.

That’s why some of those who have struggled to cope with these changes have looked to another beverage that hasn’t gone out of style: beer. As a recent New York Times piece points out, a number of dairy farms have been forced to keep the lights on by getting into the trendy microbrewery game, opening up tap rooms and selling local craft beers at farmers’ markets.

Making beer is seen as a lucrative option because the assets these dairy farms already have at their disposal help to eliminate the startup costs that new brewers might face. Using existing barn space for both brewing space and taprooms, these farm-based beermakers can also leverage empty dairy tanks for fermentation and feed spent grain used for brewing back to dairy-producing livestock. Native grains, well water and even local yeast have found their way into beer offerings at places like Colorado Farms Brewery as well.

While many small-time breweries are the product of passion, consumer habits and market forces mean expanding into beer is the best way for dairy farms to keep the lights on. Milk prices have plummeted (as much as 40 percent in some instances, according to the Times). In the absence of a price floor or further subsidies, it’s become increasingly challenging for dairy farmers to sell their product at a price that nets a profit. Meanwhile, beer is America's favorite alcoholic beverage and (anecdotally at least) is the kind of beverage that consumers care more about seeking out locally than milk.

Brewing certainly is a move away from the kind of work dairy farmers know and love, but some are coming to see it as a new means to support their traditional end. As Sean Dubois, who manages Stone Cow on Carter & Stevens Farm in Barre, Massachusetts describes it, “We have people that come in and get a growler of beer and a gallon of milk,” he told the New York Times. “We take so much pride when people buy our milk. That’s our heritage.” If America’s dairy farmers can continue to thrive by offering the populace the liquid gluten and dairy they desire, then more power to them.