Is Vermont dairy industry in economic free fall?

Published: Mar. 28, 2018 at 4:30 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Is the dairy industry in Vermont in economic free fall? In 2010, there were 1,015 dairy farms in the state. Today, that number is only 750. The drop in numbers has many dairy farmers worried whether they will be the next farm to close.

Farmers from Franklin County gathered Wednesday to have an open discussion with Congressmen Peter Welch on the state of dairy farms in Vermont.

"When there is no money in agriculture, the state doesn't seem to have any money," said Bill Rowell, who hosted the meeting at Green Mountain Dairy Farm in Sheldon.

With 900 cows, Sheldon runs one of the largest farms in the state. Going big has helped insulate some farms from the volatility of the milk market, but in the midst of a prolonged price slump, Rowell says even he is feeling the pain.

"Just because the duck looks comfortable sitting on the water doesn't mean there is something going on below the water-- it's difficult for us, too," he said.

"We better do everything we can for our larger dairy farms 'cause the only alternative is to lose the industry," said Clark Hinsdale III with Nordic Farm in Charlotte.

Hinsdale's dairy barn was once filled with hundreds of milking cows, which have since been auctioned off. He says that could be the reality of many other dairy farms throughout the state in the near future.

"There will be a lot of auctions, and I don't know if there is enough money in the farm community to absorb the assets that are being sold," Hinsdale said.

Hinsdale says it was a tough decision to shut down his farm, but he says it was one he wanted to make before it was too late.

"From a macro trend point of view, it's over for the farms under 500 cows," he said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: As a farmer, do you think the state was doing anything to help you?

Clark Hinsdale: Not really.

But what can be done? The state and federal governments have tried for decades to prop up an industry burdened by an oversupply problem. A statement from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture reads in part: "This is one of the most difficult periods our farmers have faced. It's frustrating because our hard-working farmers are trapped in a federal pricing system that's outdated and crippling our farmers."

While brainstorming ideas to help each other, Rowell says farmers everywhere are looking for help from Washington and wondering if it will come in time.

"The rural community is in strife. They need economics to keep the rural community intact," he said.

Hinsdale says one way people are beating the economic burden is by banding together as extended families. He also says he plans to repurpose his farm, but won't yet say how.