Florida's dairy farmers face increasingly crowded milk marketplace

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Dairy farmer Dale McClellan has watched milk products evolve over the years. His company, M&B Products, sells cow's milk to hospitals and schools across Florida.

"We sell from Leon County all the way to Dade County. We sell from Pinellas County over to Osceola County," said McClellan.

But non-dairy competitors are increasingly popular.

"The industry is evolving and, in my opinion, some ways for the worst. We had 350 dairy farms in the state of Florida. We're down to 79 now," said McClellan.

According to Nielsen research, sales of traditional cow's milk declined 6% last year while sales of plant-based alternatives went up 9%. McClellan feels some of that is due to misinformation.   

"We have a lot of ads out there telling people that a lot of plant-based products are better than milk and there's nothing farther from the truth," said McClellan.

"They're trying to taste like milk and look like milk but they're not," added said Andrea McClellan, the general manager of M&B products.

Tampa General Hospital registered dietician Meghann Scholl says she thinks cow's milk products will never disappear. She believes both products have positives. 

"The plant-based milks will provide you lots of fiber, plant-based vitamins and minerals, plant-based protein, so it's a good addition to someone's diet for just general health and well-being. Your cow's milk gives you a lot more nutrition bang-for-your-buck when you're talking about the amount of nutrients and the quality of those nutrients," explained Scholl.

Dale McClellan hopes the dairy industry rallies to fight for its future before the next Florida dairy farm disappears for good.

"We need to represent ourselves. We have a good product. It's nature's most perfect food and it needs to be said," said McClellan.