Scott stimulus proposal includes cash for struggling dairy farmers

Published: May. 20, 2020 at 4:53 PM EDT
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Dairy farmers are set to benefit from a big chunk of Gov. Phil Scott's proposed $400 million economic relief package. Our Adam Sullivan has the details.

There are currently about 760 dairy farms across the state of Vermont. It's a number that has been declining for decades and the current pandemic is making matters much worse.

"Sometimes a little bit scary to wonder what is going to be coming next," said Paul Doton of the Doton Farm.

Doton's grandparents worked this land in Barnard in the 1920s. Now, his son is driving the tractor planting sweet corn, 70 milking cows are in the barn and uncertainty abounds.

When the food services industry came to a screeching halt at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, demand for milk plummeted and so did the price farmers get paid.

"Sour cream is a real important ingredient for restaurants, as is butter, which is something I wasn't aware of until this all happened," Doton said.

The Doton Farm is losing money on every milk shipment.

Large operations are in the same boat. The Newmont Farm on the Fairlee-Bradford town line milks more than 1,500 cows.

"COVID showed up and we lost roughly 30% as an industry based on food service and school and such," said Walt Gladstone of the Newmont Farm.

But relief is coming. Forty-million dollars will be distributed to Vermont farmers to help make ends meet so they can keep their farms part of the region's well-known working landscape.

"We can't afford to lose farms from some of our towns. We are down to one or two farms and some towns don't have any farms left," Vt. Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said.

It's a shot in the arm that both small- and large-scale producers are grateful for.

"We are all looking at operating lines of credit to pay bills. And not only for the farms but for the ripple effect," Gladstone said.

"Equipment dealerships and veterinary clinic and all those others, the guy who brings us our soap, the IBA man," Doton said.

An additional $10 million will target dairy processors who make artisan cheeses and butter.

"It's a huge part of our market," said Brandon Little of the Woodstock Farmers' Market.

But the shelves at the farmers market are not as stocked as usual.

"Certain products that we used to sell a lot of we can't get anymore," Little said.

It's just another reason why industry experts say it is even more important than ever to support local farmers, support that can come in many different forms.

"Maybe it's the time where today's the day you bring a casserole over to the farmer to get him through the next day," Tebbetts said.

Ag officials say right now, it is all about survival and the statistics speak for themselves. In the month of May, five more dairy farms in Vermont went out of business.

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