A dairy cow chews on grain in a barn at Keene Dairy Farm Belfast in 2017. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

The nation’s biggest dairy distributor, Dean Foods, declared bankruptcy this week, blaming a lack of interest in milk and dairy products.

Maine dairy leaders say that Vacationland is seeing a different trend, with milk sales increasing over the past year.

“In 2019, Maine Dairy Farmers produced more milk than they had the year before,” Maine Dairy Promotion Board Executive Director Sarah Littlefield said. “The consumption of whole milk grew 3.3 percent in the last quarter, and we’re seeing pockets of growth in lactose-free milk.”

The industry can be up and down, but that businesses are learning to adapt to a constantly changing market, dairy farmers said.

“I think the milk industry, like many, has changed over time. The pace of change has increased in the past five years pretty easily,” Brigeen Farms co-owner Betsy Bullard said. “People are consuming dairy in different ways than they did 10 years ago, and we have to learn how to match the demand.”

She says that Brigeen Farms is a 10th generation dairy farm dating back to 1777. She said this year, the farm opened up an ice cream shop on the property to help diversify their product.

“Whether [our product] goes to a glass of milk on someone’s table, or whether that goes to someone’s cheese board this holiday season, we’re happy to continue to produce high quality milk that people are enjoying in lots of different forms,” Bullard said.

Littlefield says that 94 percent of American households still have cow milk in their refrigerators but acknowledges that times are changing.

“The industry is constantly thinking of new ways to deliver local products,” Littlefield said. “Just recently, we got to try a seltzer water product that has milk protein in it. So as consumers start to look for things that are higher in protein, dairy farmers are able to provide that through their product.”

Bullard said Dean Foods declaring bankruptcy is concerning, but it doesn’t define a whole national industry.

“Dean’s bankruptcy certainly is of concern, because it changes the landscape a little bit,” Bullard said. “It will be interesting to see how it impacts local grocery stores or gas stations. … But does it mean the sky is falling? I don’t think so.”

She also says the national growth in coffee related products is helping the dairy industry.

“Coffee drinks have a lot of milk in them,” Bullard said.

Littlefield says anyone who isn’t a part of the dairy industry should visit a local farm and learn more about where their food comes from.

“It’s important to know what you are consuming,” Littlefield said. “Many of our farms have open farm days throughout the year, and people should stop by and talk to farmers about how this process works. We think it will change a lot of perspectives.”

Watch: Belfast teen learns to breed dairy cows