The future of organic dairy farming in Vermont
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Some organic dairy farms in Vermont have a new home after getting dropped by milk producer Horizon.
Of the 28 farms in Vermont dropped by Horizon, 11 are selling to Organic Valley, Stonyfield picked up seven, eight decided to stop operating and one is switching to conventional nonorganic farming and one is still determining its course of action.
Many farms got new equipment thanks to federal and state funding or technical assistance. However, more will need to be done to ensure long-term success.
Agency of Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts says he’s looking at regional consumers too.
“Now we just have to step forward and continue to support them, consumers out there if they can continue to support dairy, purchase as much dairy as they can, that all helps,” said Tebbetts.
Selina Rooney’s family was one of the dairy farmers dropped by Horizon Organic. She says with the termination of her contract came fear and questions.
“We were pretty depressed when we found out, we were in shock and in disbelief, nothing like that has ever happened around here,” Rooney said.
She was involved in the dairy task force strategizing on how to save impacted organic dairy farms. Her efforts on the task force came to a head on Wednesday
Travis Forgues with Organic Valley called it a big day for family farmers. They will be taking 5,000 lbs. of dairy from the Rooneys alone, every other day.
“It’s been a long time since Organic Valley has been in a position to help families, join the truck,” said Forgues
Milk is once again flowing out of the Rooney farm but state officials say there is still an uphill battle ahead, even with this celebration.
“Farmers have generally made the decision to either cease operations or go with Organic Valley or Stonyfield,” said Laura Ginsburg with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
Ginsburg said for the farm that has yet to decide its course of action since Horizon Organic cut ties, it has until February 2023 before its contract with Horizon ends.
“We are offering a number of grants for these farms to continue in that transition process to meet the needs and goals of Organic Valley,” said Ginsburg.
Those grants include, in part, new equipment, such as bulk tank recorders for temperature regulation, hot water heaters or technical assistance.
Despite the immediate help, long-term success means farm viability, even in the face of high grain prices, fuel prices or environmental sustainability changes.
That means investment in on-farm infrastructure, more equipment upgrades and sustainable dairy packaging.
The Rooney farm has evidence of upgrades, from new stalls to more movement space built in for calves. They are hoping consumers step up and buy products. But for now, they are just relieved the trucks will keep rolling.
“It’s not just a job for us, it’s our way of life and to think about that ending was really hard but when Organic Valley stepped up and said we will take you on it was just this sense of how we can keep going,” said Rooney.
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