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Not Milk? Bill Aims To Tackle Virginia’s Declining Dairy Industry

Plant based milk aisle
"There is some thought out there that soy milk or almond milk, all this other kind of stuff may be a misrepresentation of the word milk," said Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach). (Photo: Yasmine Jumaa/VPM)

Dairy is one of the top five largest agricultural industries in Virginia, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — but it’s on the decline. A new bill that lawmakers will take up in January aims to change that. 

Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) is a lifelong farmer. He’s sponsoring legislation that would propose a ban on plant-based products labeled as “milk”.

“I just thought maybe it would add some clarity and I thought that maybe it would help our farmers in Virginia,” Knight said. 

The bill defines milk as the “lacteal secretion of a healthy hooved mammal.”

In the past year, close to 75 dairy farms have shut down across the state. Elaine Lidholm is a spokesperson with the Virginia Department of Agriculture. She attributed the decline mostly to low prices and high labor costs.

“Costs have gone up exponentially while prices have gone down — and that’s like the worst case scenario,” Lidholm said. “A lesser reason would be that the public is simply not drinking as much milk.”

Lidholm said dairy farms in Virginia are beginning to market and sell their products directly to consumers.

“We’re finding people saying ‘let’s add value to our product’ in other words ‘we will no longer just sell fluid milk wholesale but we will process it in some way and sell directly to consumers,” Lidholm said. 

She said it’s too soon to tell how successful they’ve been. Some examples of dairy farms who’ve done that include Homestead Creamery in Franklin County, and Richlands Dairy Farm in Dinwiddie County. 

“We were driving down there not long ago, at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in a sort of remote area,” Lidholm said. “The parking lot was crowded with people there to buy the ice cream, flavored milk, other things like that.”