By LISA RATHKE, Associated Press
Nearly 90 organic dairy farms in the Northeast, including 28 in Vermont, will lose their contracts with an organic dairy company when it stops buying milk in the area by the end of August next year, a the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture said Thursday.
Danone, parent company of Horizon Organic, briefed farmers last week, including a total of 61 in Maine, New Hampshire and New York state, according to Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts.
“We place great importance on our relationships with our agricultural partners and have not taken this decision lightly,” Danone North America said in an emailed statement Thursday evening. “Growing transportation and operational challenges in the dairy industry, especially in the northeast, led to this difficult decision. “
The company told Vermont officials it did not want to haul milk from the region to its New York plant and would focus its business on larger farms in the Midwest and West, Tebbetts said by email. “They will buy milk from big farms and drop the farms in our area,” he said. The company plans to stop buying milk in the Northeast by August 31, 2022.
It’s devastating for these farming families, but also has implications for the state economically and for Vermont’s organic dairy industry, said Maddie Kempner, director of policy for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. .
It will be a challenge for the 28 organic farms in Vermont to find another buyer because “the organic market is not currently able to take more milk or farmers,” Tebbetts said. Currently there are three other buyers who obtain organic milk from farms in Vermont.
“Not having a buyer for your milk is a really difficult position for these farmers,” Kempner said. “So we do our best to make sure that we are looking for solutions for alternative markets for their milk, but we also make sure that the farmers feel as individually supported as possible. “
NOFA-VT is part of a farm saving task force that the Vermont Agriculture Agency has formed that will include farmers, organic buyers and the congressional delegation, Tebbetts said.
Danone’s decision to end its contracts in the region is another blow to the entire Vermont dairy industry, which loses farms every year as conventional operations grapple with low milk prices which are paid to them and the farms expand. Kempner said he was highlighting a loophole in organic regulations that allow large-scale organic farms to produce milk cheaply.
“Over the years, some farms have used a lack of specificity in the rule to continually move conventional animals in and out of organic production. This undermines dairy farmers who operate with integrity, ”according to the National Organic Coalition.
Organic Valley, a cooperative of family farms across the country, is not yet sure if there is a way to help farmers in the Northeast, CEO Bob Kirchoff said in a written statement.
“Organic farming is facing the same crisis we have experienced in conventional farming – consolidation, industrialization, ‘get big or get out’,” he said. “It will take a lot of people to work together to solve it, but we all have to be bold enough to believe that we can. “
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