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Yogurt boom, labor shortage puts New York dairy industry in middle of immigration debate

Thanks to a spike in yogurt consumption and production, the dairy industry in New York is booming. But with that comes an issue of its own: where to find workers.

New York is now the third largest state for U.S. dairy production, trailing only dairy kings Wisconsin and California, according to United States Department of Agriculture statistics. New York is also the yogurt capital of the U.S., as the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets noted in its 2013 annual report that New York had surpassed California in overall production in 2012.

All good news for New York dairy farmers, no doubt. But that is some serious production — 3.5 billion pounds of milk and 741 million pounds of yogurt in the state in 2013, according to the USDA. That kind of production requires hands on the farm, something that has proved increasingly difficult to find for farmers of late.

The boom in yogurt and, subsequently, dairy production, has exacerbated a labor shortage born of waning interest from local laborers and an immigration policy that both farm industry representatives and farm worker advocates agree needs updating.

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