By Anson Tebbetts, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets
Montpelier, VT | March 11, 2022 - It’s been a busy few months for Vermont dairy. While the price of milk paid to farmers is currently increasing, dairy farmers and the broader agricultural sector continue to face rising input costs and supply chain issues. Some organic dairy farmers in Vermont, New York, Maine, and New Hampshire are still looking for new buyers for their milk after Horizon Organic announced last year that they are pulling out of Vermont and parts of the Northeast.
Yet there are some bright spots in these turbulent times. Stimulated by Horizon’s announcement and under the direction of USDA Secretary Vilsack, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets and several Northeast partners led a farmer-focused Northeast Dairy Task Force to identify key issues facing the region’s dairy industry. The task force’s comprehensive report released in December 2021 outlines recommendations for bolstering processing capacity, transportation, farm infrastructure, and technical assistance and helped create opportunity for a new infusion of dollars.
Last week, the USDA announced additional funding of $20 million for the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC). The NE-DBIC, hosted by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, is one of four USDA-funded Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives. The NE-DBIC helps advance dairy in the Northeast through grants, research, and educational opportunities for farmers, processors, and service providers. NE-DBIC's current projects include technical assistance cohorts, grants for agritourism and marketing, and an upcoming educational trip to Missouri all about innovative grazing and alternative business models. The new funds will build on work already underway at the center and enable NE-DBIC to make catalytic investments in processing capacity expansion, on-farm improvements, and technical services for producers.
Another ray of hope came last week when Organic Valley announced that they are prepared to offer contracts to 80 farmers, a majority of those who ship their milk to Horizon. Bob Kirchoff, Organic Valley CEO, said, “We are the only national brand still fighting for small family farms because we know that the best quality food is ethically sourced from small family farms. With the help of consumers and customers across the country, we are helping solve the crisis of disappearing small family farms. We are creating the food system we all want—one that regenerates soil, cares for animals, nourishes people, and strengthens communities."
We are grateful for all those who have stepped forward to help the dairy community. Please feel free to be in touch with ideas to stimulate Vermont’s dairy economy into the future.
Anson B. Tebbetts | Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets