Big organic milk processor to cut ties with farms in the Northeast

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - More than two dozen organic dairy farmers in Vermont will need to find a new place to sell their milk.

In yet another blow to the struggling dairy industry, a major milk processor says it doesn’t need any more Vermont milk.

Horizon Organics, a company that buys organic product from farms in Vermont, is moving on. State officials say the move could be damaging to farms and the market in Vermont.

“Obviously, they’re very scared. Their livelihoods are threatened by this,” Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said.

Tebbetts says Horizon Organic will no longer buy milk from 28 organic farms in Vermont beginning in September 2022. He says these farms received a letter from the company, along with dozens of other farms in New Hampshire, Maine and New York.

“This is certainly a threat to the organic market in Vermont,” Tebbetts said. “There are only three buyers of organic milk in Vermont right now. With one exiting the region, the other two don’t have a lot of capacity to take on those farmers at this time.”

After talking with the farms impacted, an official from the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance says Danone, the parent company of Horizon Organics, believes it has adequate supply in the Midwest and Western parts of the U.S. and can get the milk at a lower cost from larger operations.

The company believes the move will make trucking logistics cheaper and easier.

Nicole Dehne, the certification director for Vermont Organic Farmers, says given the announcement from Horizon, farmers are devastated.

“I spoke to one farmer who said their grandchildren love being on the farm and she was feeling extremely devastated about the fact that her grandkids, that they might lose their farm, that their grandkids might not be able to enjoy the farm as a place to grow up,” Dehne said.

Tebbetts says the Agency of Agriculture will work to find other ways to help these farms succeed.

“The Agency of Agriculture will assemble a task force, a working group. We’re going to spend the next few weeks and months looking at alternatives. Our goal is to make sure that we save these 28 businesses,” he said.

Farms in this region were afraid of retribution from the company and chose not to go on camera.

WCAX News reached out to Horizon and Danone for a statement on the decision but had not yet heard back when this story was published.

The overall number of dairy farms in Vermont, both organic and conventional, has dropped steadily through the years.

In 1970, there were about 4,000 farms.

By the turn of the century, it was down to around 1,600.

Ten years later, it was just over 1,000.

In 2020, there were just 636 farms left.

Today, the total is down to 581. About one-third of them are organic.

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