FROM THE BEAUTIFUL beaches of the Seacoast, to the snow-topped peaks of the White Mountains, and many beautiful lands and forests in-between, the Granite State has a long and proud history of protecting and having a close connection to our state’s natural beauty. Part of that history is a rich tradition of responsible agricultural stewardship by our state’s farmers, amongst them our dairy farms.

A few weeks ago, Gov. Sununu signed House Bill 476 into law. While the bill provides a method for consumers to support our dairy farms, its impact on New Hampshire and our economy is much greater. You might ask yourself why in a time of economic prosperity you should care about our state’s dairy farms. The answer is actually quite simple; they have not only played an important role in our state’s heritage, but also play a considerable role in our economy.

For years, we have seen a steady decline in the number of dairy farms in our state. Fifty years ago, our state had over eight times the number of dairy farms we have today, and in just the past 10 years alone, we have lost over a third of our dairy farms. Today in New Hampshire, we have 94 dairy farms that account for a roughly $1.8 billion impact on our economy.

Our dairy farms play an important role in the food supply for Granite Staters. On average, Granite Staters consume about 275 pounds of dairy products per year; our farms produce about two-thirds of that. While milk remains New Hampshire’s number-one agricultural product, production is decreasing; we need to halt that decline.

The success of our dairy farms is also closely linked to many other parts of our economy, and their continued success go hand-in-hand. Currently, our 94 dairy farms have roughly 12,000 milking cows, on average, for each of which there is one calf being raised. In order to keep those cows and calves fed, our farmers need to keep about 24,000 acres planted in corn or hay. That corn and hay requires tractors and machinery, which are purchased and maintained at local tractor dealerships. The total number of New Hampshire jobs connected to dairy farming is nearly 7,000.

Without our dairy farms, farming becomes much more expensive and more difficult for other commercial farms, as well for the thousands of our citizens who have small farming operations.

One of the main problems New Hampshire dairy farms face is competition from states that produce more milk than their population consumes. The milk market is set up on regional bases, which puts our New Hampshire farms at a disadvantage and unfortunately, too few of them have the ability to market their products directly. If you, like I, would like to support our New Hampshire dairy farmers and ensure that we can continue to enjoy New Hampshire produced dairy products, House Bill 476 will help you do so. It allows you, the consumer, to help New Hampshire dairy farmers by paying a premium of 50 cents a gallon, with 7 cents of that taken out to advertise the program and the remaining 43 cents going directly back to our dairy farmers.

Any brand of milk, which meets certain requirements, will be able to participate in the program. All they will need to do is to add a logo to their label and have a different bar code. Prior to having products on the shelves, we, at the Department of Agriculture, need your help to build support for the program by talking to your local store manager and encouraging them to allow the ad campaign to take place in their stores.

Let’s work together to save our farms!

Shawn N. Jasper is commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food.