Vermont farmers encouraged to create value-added products

RANDOLPH, Vt. (WCAX) We told you earlier this year the Vermont Creamery is expanding. Now, they are encouraging more farmers to transition into the business of making value-added products.

Recently, the company known for its goat cheese products announced it will need 7-10 million pounds more goat's milk over the next five years. Officials there say that means they need more goat milk producers in Vermont-- about 10 farms milking more than 500 goats.

Our Christina Guessferd takes you inside one of the biggest goat barns in the state to learn more about this growing industry.

"There is tremendous amount of security in the fact that if you have a contract with Vermont Creamery, you're going to get paid for your milk," said Miles Hooper of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy.

About three to four times more money per gallon of goat's milk than per gallon of cow's milk.

"You don't have the price fluctuations in the goat dairy realm like you do with cow's milk," Hooper said.

Goat farmers like Hooper say that's just one of the many advantages of goat farming in Vermont.

Goat farming also requires less and cheaper infrastructure, has a significantly lower impact on the environment, and goats reproduce about two times faster than cows.

And as many of Vermont's nearly 700 cow farms struggle in the face of the country's milk surplus while Vermont's 40 goat farms continue to grow, making the transition to goats more enticing than ever.

"In Vermont, because of our short growing season and somewhat inefficient landscape, we cannot compete in the commodity market with the Midwest and California and Wisconsin, where their cost of production is much less," Hooper said.

A landscape of rolling hills with few large, flat tracks of land-- hardly conducive to growing enough feed for and housing an expanding cow dairy farm. But those smaller spaces in rural Vermont are perfect places to tuck a medium- to large-sized goat farm.

"So we have to look to these specialty markets to keep our land productive," Hooper said.

Specialty products like goat's cheese, caramels and even meat have become increasingly popular over the last couple years, and the Vermont Creamery is at the industry's helm.

"Almost anything that you can make from cow milk, you can make from goat milk. So, the possibilities are really endless," said Laura Ginsburg of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. "Whenever we create additional value-added products, particularly the high-end value-added products that Vermont Creamery makes, it's great for the industry because those products retain value better than fluid milk. They have longer shelf life, they can travel farther."

And farmers like Miles Hooper say getting into this quickly growing business is simple.

"Goat dairy is a really viable option for new farmers and young people that don't have a lot of financial backing," Hooper said.

If you're interested in learning more about how to get involved in the goat dairy industry, state officials suggest you reach out to companies like the Vermont Creamery and Fat Toad Farm.