RICHMOND—Virginia dairy farmers have long supported promotional programs for milk and dairy products, and the need for them is greater than ever now that dairy prices have dropped 35 percent in the past two years. “If we don’t promote our product, people forget us,” said Leigh Pemberton , a Hanover County dairy farmer and chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Dairy Advisory Committee. “With all the other advertising that goes on promoting soft drinks and sports drinks,” drinking milk is much less popular with consumers, he said. Promotional programs in some Virginia school districts have given milk sales a boost, according to the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association. The American Dairy Association provided smoothie machines to Clarke County public schools to allow the popular dairy drinks to be added to breakfast and lunch menus during the 2015-2016 school year. Yogurt usage at Johnson Williams Middle School and Clarke County High School increased by almost 15,000 pounds from the previous year, according to SUDIA. Milk usage increased by 7 percent. Milk consumption in six Danville city schools increased by 6 percent after the school district created a “Grab `N` Go” breakfast option at five schools and started a breakfast-in-the-classroom option in one school. More than 1,200 dairy farms went out of business in the U.S. in 2015, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Economists blame a continuing decline in milk consumption for the price crisis. “Milk consumption is down worldwide,” Pemberton said. “If we don’t promote milk and get more people to drink more milk, more dairies will go out of business.” The dairy industry is unique in that producers cannot quickly adapt to changing market demand, he explained. Dairy farmers produce the same amount of product whether their prices or expenses decline or increase. “You can decide not to grow a few acres of soybeans or corn if prices drop, but you can’t just turn a cow off” when dairy prices decline, he said. “I’m actually deciding my production a year or two in advance when I breed a cow.” Media: Contact Tony Banks, VFBF assistant director of commodity marketing, at 804-290-1114 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.