With the closure of the Borden Dairy plant in Dothan looming, schools are looking for alternatives in anticipation of a milk shortage, but the state's dwindling dairy industry isn't able to fill in the gap.
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"If you go back 25, 30 years ago we probably had over 200 dairies in the state. It's been a steady decline," said Mitt Walker with the Alabama Farmers Federation.
According to ALFA, there are only about 13 Class A dairy farms scattered across the state.
So far, the operations and profit of those farms are not directly impacted by the closure of Borden's facility.
"None of our members were selling to Borden. They were selling to different cooperatives," explained Walker.
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Although the closure of the Borden Plant doesn't hurt farmers directly, it does pack a punch to the state's dairy industry as a whole.
"We do hate to lose that infrastructure. Anytime you lose agribusiness in the state it's a concern," said Walker.
Many schools in the state got their milk from Borden. Now they are looking for alternatives, but Alabama's dairy infrastructure isn't big enough to fill in the gap.
"Borden, that's what they specialized in--that eight-ounce container for school programs," explained Walker. "With the limited numbers of dairies that we have here, in order to supply the number of schools relying on the product it takes quite a few dairies outside of the state to meet that demand."
Shelf-stable milk seems to be the answer for Tuscaloosa City Schools.
"It is actually in a container almost like a juice box so it will have a straw," said Van Nichols, the district's Child Nutrition Program Director.
He said the vendors they are speaking with have plenty of the product to meet the need.
"One vendor is sending a few cases to us next week. I'll probably let an elementary and middle school try them to see how they are," he said.
He emphasized the importance of keeping milk stocked in schools.
"If we don't offer it we don't get our reimbursements. but from a nutritional standpoint, it provides a lot of protein for these kids, and it's just healthy. It has vitamins and minerals. It rounds out the menu for a balanced diet in school," explained Nichols.
TCS will continue to get milk from Borden until the end of September. Nichols was hopeful some of the milk could last until October, depending on expiration dates.
If the students like the shelf-stable milk, he anticipated minimal impacts to having milk as an option.
Walker explained Alabama's dairy decline has been a combination of several factors, like environmental regulations and loss of infrastructure.
No matter the type of producers, Walker said with inflation, high gas prices, and other factors, they are suffering.
He encouraged communities to support local producers, whether that's at a farmer's market or roadside stand. Through ALFA's 'Sweet Grown Alabama' program consumers can easily find Alabama-grown products.
"You know what you are purchasing is going directly to that local producers. The cost may not always be cheaper but you know you are getting a locally produced product that is going to be very high quality," said Walker.