Blog

September 27, 2018

For Immediate Release:  September 27, 2018

                                          Advances Talks on Collaborative Solutions

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets earlier this month hosted a meeting with its counterparts from Pennsylvania and Vermont to discuss the challenges the dairy industry is facing across the nation and explore opportunities the States have in working cooperatively to help benefit dairy producers regionally.

This meeting took place on the heels of the annual National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) conference in Hartford, CT.  All commissioners of agriculture from across the nation, including the northeast’s 10 commissioners, gathered to discuss issues of critical importance to agriculture in the United States, including the ongoing concerns for the dairy industry.

"New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania all share common markets, challenges and opportunities in the dairy sector,” New York State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball said. “We have more to gain by working together than by trying to address our challenges alone. I’m pleased that we have come to an agreement in principle with our neighbors to collaboratively seek ways to ensure that our dairy producers and processors can continue to provide consumers with some of the best dairy products in the world while striving to increase competitiveness and profitability.”

Together, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont comprise one of the top three milk producing regions in the United States. Collectively, the three States produce over 28 billion pounds of milk annually, more than 13 percent of the nation’s total milk supply.

The tri-State meeting was held in Albany on September 14 with producers, processors, policy advisors and economic experts from all three States.

Attendees discussed the current dairy situation and dynamics, as well as opportunities for collaboration, such as increasing capacity and creating regional branding.

The agreement in principle provides for collaboration in the following focus areas:

  • Understanding and expanding our current marketing initiatives;
  • Identifying gaps in the industry workforce;
  • Identifying areas for economic investment;
  • Understanding current research and its impact on the industry; and
  • Investigating tools available to manage stress on farmers when milk prices are low.

New York is the nation’s third largest dairy-producing State, generating $2.7 billion a year, which is nearly half of the State’s total agricultural receipts. The average dairy farm in New York State is family-owned, consists of 139 cows and produces an average of 23,936 pounds of milk annually.

For every $1.00 spent by a dairy farming business, the local economy receives approximately $2.18 in wages and related business transactions. For every job created by a milk processing plant, at least two more jobs are supported in related industries or sectors.

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said, “Dairy is critical to Pennsylvania’s economy and the vitality of our communities, as it is for our Northeast neighbors. Collectively, we face tremendous challenges, but the industry is resilient. Our collaboration can only enhance our efforts to build markets, innovate, and support the industry’s viability.”

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said, “We need to help our dairy farmers in times of low milk prices. Working on a regional approach may get us there faster. We won’t let up on getting to a better place for our farmers.”

The voluntary agreement among the three States is the latest step in a series of actions New York State has taken to support the dairy industry. The State has actively encouraged the expansion of new markets and improved marketing of its dairy products through programs like Taste NY.  It is also promoting the New York dairy industry and encouraging increased consumer consumption of local dairy products through the New York Grown & Certified program, the State’s Farm-to-School program and is working with its sister agencies to increase the use of New York State products in schools through the State’s No Student Goes Hungry Program. 

The State also reconvened its Milk Marketing Advisory Council to ramp up conversations on assisting the dairy industry and is working with the NYS Dairy Promotion Order to research new and innovative uses for New York dairy products and increase consumption of New York produced milk.

The State has invested over $88 million to improve dairy processing facilities across the State and increase production capacity by roughly 24 percent since 2000. Funding has helped expand existing dairy processing facilities or attract new companies to New York that are committed to using milk from local farms for a variety of products, including yogurt, cheese and extended shelf-life beverages.

In addition, earlier this year, the State announced the availability of $30 million to support conservation easement projects on dairy farms to help diversify operations or transition farms to the next generation at a more affordable cost while maintaining agricultural uses for the land.

About New York’s Dairy Sector

The largest sector of the agricultural industry, New York's dairy industry accounts for approximately one-half of its on-farm production, support services and value-added products.  New York State is home to approximately 4,500 dairy farms with 620,000 cows, producing 14.9 billion pounds of milk.  New York ranks third in the production of milk, and is first in the nation in the production of other dairy products such as yogurt and cottage cheese. 

September 23, 2018

Big E Sets All-Time Attendance Record on Vermont Day

Over 170,000 Visit Saturday in West Springfield, MA

September 23, 2018 / West Springfield, MA - Vermont Day at the region’s biggest fair was one for the record books. The Eastern States Exposition, or Big E Fair, in West Springfield, MA, set an all-time attendance record with 172,659 people coming through the gates on Saturday September, 22.

This new record came as more than 30 Vermont businesses showcased their innovative products to out-of-state consumers in the Southern New England market on Vermont Day. “These products are a great representation of the authentic Vermont brand. They are helping to grow the Vermont economy,” said Vermont Governor Phil Scott who attended Vermont Day.

The Governor applauded the lineup of products including apple pie and crisp; wood fired pizza; craft beer; flannel, wool, and Vermont branded clothing; sweets and treats; many varieties of cheese; maple syrup, maple candy and maple crème cones; ice cream; artisan products, and Vermont became the first and only location at the Big E to feature CBD products. The Governor even carved his own bear with a chainsaw under the watchful eye of Bear’s Den Carving from Townshend.

“Thank you to all our vendors who put in tireless days to staff the building, represent their products, and showcase the integrity of Vermont! These are many of the people who make the Vermont building and our state so special,” said Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.

The success of the building would not be possible without partnership from Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, who staff the Vermont booth; Buildings and General Services, who are responsible for the beautiful improvements to the building; and Vermont State Police troopers, who are down recruiting more young people to work in the Green Mountain State.

There is still time to visit the Big E & the Vermont building. The fair runs until next Sunday, September 30th.

More pictures from the Big E and Vermont Day can be found here and on the VAAFM Facebook page.

September 20, 2018


$256,000 in Funds Available in 2019

September 20, 2018 / Montpelier, VT -  The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) will release the 2019 Vermont Farm to School Grant Program Request for Applications on Tuesday, October 2, 2018. This new round of grants will bring more than $250,000 in financial and support services investments to Vermont schools and early care providers.  Eligible applicants include Vermont schools, supervisory unions, school districts, and early care providers.

Championed in 2006, by the late Vermont Representative Rozo McLaughlin, the grant program aims to promote healthy eating, increase local food usage, work with partners to connect farm to school with educational goals, support the overall farm to institution supply chain, increase student participation in child nutrition programs, and enhance food programs in schools and early care providers. With the support of many partners in the Vermont Farm to School Network, the program has invested more than $1 million in nearly 200 schools and early care providers.

Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, Anson Tebbetts, recommends communities consider applying. “Farm to School delivers.  Schools and childcare centers should explore this program that helps Vermont farmers feed our children, families and communities.” Tebbetts said.

Last year was the first grant round including early care providers, granting 21 awards throughout Vermont. The program’s early care component was designed in partnership with Agency of Education Child Nutrition Programs, Department for Children and Families Child Development Division, and Shelburne Farms, helping make farm to early care programs accessible to our youngest Vermonters. This program has the potential to support new institutional markets for food producers, while providing children with fresh, nutritious local foods.

The VAAFM Farm to School team is seeking applications from eligible Vermont-based schools and early care providers to expand and improve food programs and/or to create or expand farm to school programs by integrating the classroom, cafeteria, and community (the 3 C’s of farm to school). Up to seven applications will be awarded at $15,000 each, to be spent during a 2-year grant period, with additional comprehensive technical assistance, professional development and coaching- offered at no charge to grantees. Additionally, up to $32,000 will be available in $1,000 infrastructure grants to help schools and early care providers improve local food use.

All schools and early care providers come to the Vermont Farm to School Program with a different level of experience and familiarity with farm to school. The goal of this grant opportunity is to meet schools and early care providers where they are and provide individualized coaching, technical assistance, professional development, and financial assistance to help them move forward in the development of their own, unique farm to school program. In many cases, schools or early care providers jumpstart their farm to school program by first expanding and improving their food programs.

VAAFM will host two webinars for potential applicants. Applicants are required to view the webinar, as it will cover details of this RFA and instructions for navigating our online grants management system. These interactive webinars will provide the opportunity to ask questions. The webinars will be recorded and posted on our website afterwards.

To learn more, visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/vermont_farm_to_school_program

For questions, please contact:

Ali Zipparo

Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
Senior Agriculture Market Development Specialist

Vermont Farm to School Grant Program Manager

802-505-1822

http://agriculture.vermont.gov/

 

September 14, 2018

By Dominique Giroux, Vt Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

Shelburne Orchards grows apples – and a lot of them! The family-owned, 100-acre orchard recently used Vermont Produce Safety Improvement (VPSIG) grant funds to upgrade one of their refrigerated storage rooms with an insulated, cleanable coating. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets (VAAFM) Produce Program launched the VPSIG grant program in 2017 to assist Vermont produce growers in making improvements that prevent or reduce produce safety risks on their farms. To date, seventeen Vermont produce farms have been awarded Produce Safety Improvement Grants. 

VAAFM Produce Program’s Multimedia Specialist Trevor Audet and Education and Outreach Coordinator Dominique Giroux visited Shelburne Orchards and met with owner Nick Cowles and daughter Moriah Cowles to see the outcome of their project.

Q: Tell us about your farm and what you grow here.
Nick: This is Shelburne Orchards. It’s been in my family – my dad passed it on to me – since the mid-’50s and I took it over in the mid-’70s. There’s about 100 acres, [and] we got about 6,000 apple trees. We have peach trees, pear trees, sour cherries, plums, grapes, [and] we make apple brandy. We grow a lot of stuff but it’s mostly apples. I am passing it down to the next generation, to my daughter. She’s working on the process of taking this farm over to keep it going. We plant a lot of new apple varieties every year. We have probably 60 different apple varieties. A lot of them are for the fresh market, pick your own, and a lot of the varieties are for making apple brandy.

Q: Do you have visitors on the farm?
Nick: In the last 20 years, it’s been a big push to get away from selling to the big-box stores and have more and more sales right off the farm. It’s been a huge success. We are close to Burlington, it’s a beautiful location right by the lake here. Having the internet and having social media is huge to be able to interact with the people who come here and have them really understand when is the best time to come and pick, particularly for our peaches. Having fresh picked peaches off the trees is such a phenomenal event here in Vermont. To be able to get people to come at exactly the right moment to pick them – if we had to do that through paper and newspaper it would be impossible, but [with] social media through our website and so forth, it’s great – all these new great tools we have.

Q: Tell us about your experience with our grant application process.
Moriah: We learned about it two weeks before this round of grants was due. The quickness of the response of all of you guys at the [Agency] of Agriculture was amazing. How quickly you got back to me, how readily available the information was, and I think in two days I had somebody out here [from UVM Extension] on the farm, looking at the farm and the projects we were thinking about and giving us advice about what would be a good project. It felt very supportive and made it really simple for me.

(Owner of Shelburne Orchards, Nick Cowles and daughter, Moriah Cowles share their experience with the Produce Safety Improvement Grant Program)

The walls and ceiling in Shelburne Orchards’ most frequently used refrigerated storage room are now coated with a one-inch layer of two-pound density polyurethane-based closed-cell foam, sealed with intumescent paint, creating a smooth, cleanable surface. The orchard finished their project during the spring of 2018, so they can utilize the space for storage during their busy harvest season in late summer and fall.

Nick and Moriah will also be replacing twenty of their large wooden storage bins with high-density polyethylene bins. While wooden bins are common in the apple industry, they pose difficulties for cleaning and sanitizing. It is also not uncommon for wooden bins to have exposed nails that can puncture the product inside the bins. Punctured fruit can become a habitable environment for microbes to grow. Wood rot is also common in wooden harvest bins, making it difficult to effectively clean the food contact surface. 

Shelburne Orchard’s new cold storage insulation layer coupled with the polyethylene bins will allow them to clean surfaces more effectively and efficiently and will reduce the risk of microbial contamination of their fruit.

As produce growers across the state, and country, work toward compliance with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule and buyer demands for produce safety practices, it’s clear that additional funding is needed to address produce safety risks on farms. The Produce Program team at VAAFM is currently seeking additional funding for the Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grant Program to support additional infrastructure and equipment improvements that address produce safety risk reduction on farms. To receive grant funding updates and access produce safety resources, enroll your farm in the Vermont Produce Portal at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/produceprogram.

If you would like to share your story with the Vermont Produce Program, please email AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov or call (802) 828-2433.

September 10, 2018

Op-Ed – Working To Find a Better Way To Pay Dairy Farmers

By Secretary Anson Tebbetts

Our country needs to find a better way to pay dairy farmers.

This is probably not news to many, but the devil is in the details.

Farmers nationwide work 24/7 to produce the fresh milk that becomes the cheese, butter and other dairy products that are always present, with an endless supply and many choices, in the grocery store.

However, farmers are not getting a fair price for their product. While “fair trade” is a familiar concept for international products like coffee, farmers right here at home are paid based upon an outdated, complex system that marginalizes their work and the sustainability of the working lands that we all enjoy. An oversupply of milk nationwide has resulted in suppressed milk prices for more than four years, and put many Vermont farmers into a state of economic insecurity that has forced them to make difficult choices about their future.

As part of our work toward a new, fair and predictable dairy pricing system, the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, along with many dairy farmers from our region, participated in a pricing forum in Albany, New York. Sponsored by Agri-Mark, the company’s board directed their leadership to explore new ways to pay farmers. Several proposals, which centered around an innovative milk supply and management system, arose during the day-long meeting, where farmers were heard and the critical nature of the situation was understood. We encourage you to review and comment on these proposals ( https://dairyproposals2018.com/ ).

In addition to working with producer partners like Agri-Mark, St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, and Dairy Farmers of America, the Agency has convened a working group comprised of farmers, lawmakers and dairy leaders to improve the system. We continue to meet and gather information and input from farmers as we define a solution. The fix is not quick, and will involve federal policy makers. Our proposals will likely need Congressional and USDA approval. The lift is heavy.

Farmers, dairy producers and policy makers are on the cusp of real change, addressing this complex and overwhelming issue with energy and vision. With laser-sharp focus and commitment, we are moving to a better place, on behalf of dairy farmers, and all those who love our working lands, our state and our country.

Anson Tebbetts was appointed Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets in January of 2017.

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