Vermont’s dairy economy is crucial to the future of the Green Mountain State. Dairy contributes two billion dollars each year. We need to build upon that economy that is so critical to Vermont’s rural regions.
One indicator, the price of milk paid to farmers, is increasing at this time (although higher milk prices are offset by more expensive fuel, fertilizer, and other inputs). While the price of milk is good news, the dairy sector will face challenges in the coming months until inflation and supply chain issues return to a point of stability.
Vermont received new dollars to help the dairy industry. The US Department of Agriculture committed $20 million to the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center located in Montpelier and managed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. A task force led by the Agency and several partners in the Northeast helped create opportunity for this new infusion of dollars. In early March, USDA Under Secretary Jenny Moffitt toured Vermont, visiting with farmers in connection with that announcement. We are grateful for Moffitt’s time, learning and listening from Vermont farmers. The Dairy Business Innovation Center will be an important catalyst in the coming months as we continue to address issues including processing, transportation, on farm infrastructure and marketing.
The same week, there was a positive development in the setback that some organic milk producers suffered six months ago when Horizon Organic announced they were going to pull out of Vermont and parts of the Northeast. Dozens of farmers in Vermont, New York, Maine, and New Hampshire were left scrambling to find a new buyer for their milk. A farmer-focused task force, under the direction of USDA Secretary Vilsack and his team, identified many key issues facing dairy. Stimulated by the Horizon issue, this comprehensive report addressed processing capacity, transportation, infrastructure needs on the farm and the need for more technical assistance.
As that work was underway Agency advocates continued to work with potential new milk buyers for farmers who sell their milk to Horizon. Those buyers, including Stonyfield and Organic Valley, visited, and talked with the farmers who were faced with losing their markets. A ray of hope came in mid-March when Organic Valley announced that they are prepared to offer contracts to 80 farmers, a majority of those who ship their milk to Horizon:
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. - Bob Kirchoff, Organic Valley CEO
Between milk prices and world crisis, continued funding for the Dairy Innovation Center, and good news from Organic Valley, it’s been a busy few weeks for Vermont dairy. We are grateful for all those who stepped forward to help. Please feel free to be in touch with ideas to stimulate Vermont’s dairy economy into the future.
Anson Tebbetts, Secretary Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets