Some of the organic dairy farmers who found out last summer that they were losing their contract with an international company may have a new way to stay in business.
Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Wisconsin, announced Tuesday that it was reaching out to up to 80 farms in the Northeast that were dropped by the company, Horizon Organic, in August.
When Horizon announced they’d stop taking organic milk supply from dairies in the Northeast, which included almost 30 farms in Vermont, analysts said it would have been a devastating blow to the state’s dairy industry, which had already been reeling and losing farms every year.
Organic Valley CEO Bob Kirchoff said the company has been working since the announcement was made this summer to find a solution for the farm.
“We are the only national brand still fighting for small family farms because we know that the best quality food is ethically sourced from small family farms,” Kirchoff said in a press release. “With the help of consumers and customers across the country, we are helping solve the crisis of disappearing small family farms. We are creating the food system we all want—one that regenerates soil, cares for animals, nourishes people, and strengthens communities.”
Organic Valley currently picks up milk from 99 Vermont farms.
Horizon Organic, which is owned by the international food company, Danone, said it would be ending its contracts with the organic family farms due to “growing transportation and operational challenges in the dairy industry, particularly in the Northeast.”
More from VPR: Vermont Organic Dairy Farms Fight To Survive As Industry Consolidates
Danone said the contracts would end during the summer of 2022, and then extended that deadline until the end of the year.
But the announcement Tuesday by Organic Valley means the farms now have an option to sell their milk to a new dairy company.
Organic Valley said it already signed new contracts with 10 farms in New England.
“My family began farming this land over 65 years ago. I’m glad to partner with Organic Valley to continue our family farm,” said George Osgood of Corinth, Vermont, who joined Organic Valley earlier this month. “A cooperative owned by small family farms is the perfect fit for us. It gives us the chance to keep doing what we love.”
When Horizon made the surprise announcement last year the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets formed a task force with to help the 28 organic farms that would have no place to send their milk when their contracts with Horizon ended.
In December, the task force made a series of recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which included providing grants to incentivize more organic dairy sales, starting a pilot program to encourage schools purchase more organic milk, and setting up a new federal grant program to support existing and new dairy processors.
Last week, the USDA announced an additional $20 million investment into the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center.
“Today’s action by Organic Valley is the outcome that we hoped for when we created the task force,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts. “Now we must build upon this development and make sure we continue to secure a long-term market for farmers.”
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman @hweisstisman.
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