Vermont Looks to Save 28 Organic Dairy Farms

VERMONT - Horizon Organic, an organization that works with organic dairy farmers, will be cutting ties with the northeast in a year, leaving 28 Vermont farms without a processor. Horizon has given farmers in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and New York until August 2022 to find new buyers for their milk, but Agriculture, Food & Markets Secretary Anson Tebbetts says "we have to move much quicker than that."

 

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has formed a task force to come up with potential solutions for Vermont's farms. The task force is made up of members from the Vermont Farm Bureau, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, processors, lenders, grain sellers, and farmers themselves. They are expected to meet every few weeks, according to Tebbetts. 

"Some of [the 28 farmers] have the option of going back to the conventional market because they did retain their membership with Agri-Mark, and also [Dairy Farmers of America] of St. Albans," Tebbetts said. "But there are seven that strictly have contracts with Horizon, so they need to find some new options." The task force hopes to come up with options for these struggling farmers by mid-winter. 

Horizon Organic says the company is leaving the area to cut back on shipping costs. Its processing plants are located in the mid-west of the United States, making it costly to transport milk from the northeast region.

But while Horizon is looking to save money, the trickling effect of losing business in the northeast may affect other industries negatively. If the state can't help Horizon's farmers find another way to sell their milk, Tebbetts says "It may impact grain companies; it may impact people that sell products to these farms. It has a dramatic impact on the community, as in many cases, these are some of our smaller and medium-sized dairy farmers, and many of them are the heart and soul of their communities."

Vermont has been losing dairy farms every year. In the entire dairy industry, Vermont has lost over 30% of its farms since 2010. The state's website currently lists "over 700 dairy farms" milking cows, sheep, and/or goats. According to AP News, Vermont lost nearly 50 dairy farms in 2019 alone, and the number has only been declining since.

While the circumstances are not ideal, Tebbetts said that a lot of good can come from the conversations being had at the state level. "This is happening in one sector of the organic market, but it could happen to the conventional, as well," he admitted. Should a similar situation arise in the future, Vermont is hoping to be more prepared to step in and help its agricultural businesses.