Thank America?s dairy farmers for your next bowl of ice cream

What would a sweltering summer day be like without an occasional stop at the local ice cream parlor for a couple of scoops?

Can you imagine eating piping hot chocolate cookies without a frosty glass of milk?

Imagine sipping a buttery glass of chardonnay without a couple of pieces of aged cheddar.

Every day in this great country of ours we have the opportunity to partake of these wholesome, nutritious dairy products; but if there were no dairy farmers, dairy cows or dairy industry, there would be none of these tasty treats.

Dairy products remain a major source of nutrients in our daily diets. If they?re not, they should be.

For example, to find another source for the 300 milligrams of calcium found in either an eight-ounce glass of milk, a cup of yogurt or 11?2 ounces of natural cheese, the average person would have to graze on eight cups of spinach, six cups of pinto beans or 21?2 cups of broccoli, according to the Midwest Dairy Association.

The primary nutrients found in milk and other dairy products are calcium, vitamins A and D, carbohydrates, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin and high-quality proteins.

For most Americans, eating healthy, nutritious dairy products is simple. They just stop by their supermarket and purchase the foods they desire. But providing dairy products from this country?s 9 million dairy cows on 49,331 farms isn?t that easy.

U.S. dairy farmers provide an estimated $140 billion annually to this nation?s economy. Dairy farmers help sustain rural America. Even considering this nation?s continuing economic challenges, dairy farmers and companies are a lifeline to 900,000 jobs in this country.

Dairy is local. Dairy farm families are business owners. Every glass of milk and each dairy product produced by these family businesses brings vitality to local and state economies.

As in nearly every sector of the agricultural industry, the United States has more milk production than any other country in the world. This country has six major breeds of dairy cattle: Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn.

Dairy cows begin producing milk after they calf, when they are about 2 years old. Most cows are milked twice a day in modern milking facilities that incorporate gentle machines attached and removed by dairy farmers.

The average dairy cow weighs about 1,500 pounds and in Kansas produces about 8.3 gallons of milk per day. That?s more than 3,029 gallons of milk during a typical year.

Kansas has just fewer than 299 licensed dairy herds and this state?s dairy farms produce 317 million gallons of milk, according to the Midwest Dairy Asso?cia?tion. Kansas generates $519 million in milk sales annually.

Today, all milk sold in grocery stores is pasteurized during processing. During pasteurization, milk is briefly heated to a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria without affecting its flavor or food value.

Yes, since the first cow arrived in the Jamestown Colony back in 1611, America?s dairy farmers have been helping provide a healthy, nutritious food product.

So fill your glass with milk every day. Dip a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream on that piece of apple pie. Cut another slice of cheese for a summer snack. And give thanks to America?s dairy farmers.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.