New England Dairy Farmers Face Uncertainty

An Uncertain Future 

Wolfe’s Neck Center is disappointed to learn of Danone North America’s decision to end the contracts of 89 organic milk producers in New England, including 14 family farms in Maine. Danone, which operates the Horizon Organic brand, recently announced they would move away from New England in late 2022 as part of a cost-cutting consolidation. This decision could have lasting effects on these families, the communities where they live, Maine’s organic dairy sector, as well as other economic implications across the region.  

The dairy sector relies upon strength in numbers and scale; this is especially true of the organic dairy sector in Maine. Our state does not have the types of sprawling dairy farms that exist in other regions of the country. Maine has a rich dairy history but the recent trend towards fewer, larger farms is not conducive to the state. Unfortunately, Danone is one of multiple producers who have moved away from the region, primarily because it likely costs them less to purchase their milk from one larger farm (500+ cows) than it does from several smaller farms (<150 cows). These 89 Northeast producers may have very few viable options come August 2022. Organic Valley and Stonyfield have both stated that they are committed to doing everything possible to keep these dairy farms in the northeast from going out of business, but it is unclear how many of these farms these two companies will be able to take on. Some farms may choose to switch to corn or hay production or be forced to retire and sell off their assets. The ripple effect will be felt across the region as it impacts other industries and producers.  

An Ally in Stonyfield 

In 2014, Stonyfield Organic led the founding of Wolfe’s Neck Center’s Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program. The training program, a two-year residential apprenticeship, was the first of its kind in the nation, and was formed to increase the number of organic dairy farmers entering the industry. With the aging population of organic dairy farmers, Stonyfield knew it was important for them to play a leading role in sustaining and rebuilding organic dairy in the United States. Since then, Stonyfield has continued their commitment to Wolfe’s Neck Center and the future of dairy in this region. In 2019, Stonyfield helped WNC to launch OpenTEAM, a first of its kind technology platform that will provide farmers around the world with the best possible knowledge to help them improve soil health. In 2020, as part of WNC’s OpenTEAM project, Stonyfield launched a pilot program with five farms aimed at using regenerative practices and incorporating the outcome measurement and data collection tools developed by OpenTEAM partners. Since then, they have expanded to include 10 dairy producers in the Northeast, encompassing 5,000 acres.

Taking Action 

Wolfe’s Neck Center’s executive director Dave Herring is currently taking part in a working group organized by the state of Maine to identify ways that the community and government can support the farms who are affected by Danone’s announcement, and to identify action items to strengthen the resiliency of the future of Maine’s dairy sector.  

This past Thursday, Wolfe’s Neck Center hosted the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance’s 21st Annual Field Day. Maine Governor Janet Mills, who was in attendance, pledged“As the granddaughter of Aroostook County potato farmers, I know firsthand that our farmers are pragmatic, tough, resilient, and driven people. Rising before dawn to tend the fields or mind the livestock, they keep their heads down and their hands in the dirt. They work hard every day, every year, with a little grit and a whole lot of faith. My administration will do everything we can to fight for this important industry, especially our 14 farms impacted directly by Danone’s decision. We’re going to give it all we’ve got, because every dairy farm in Maine is important to our state, organic or otherwise, and is vital to our culture, our health, our environment, and to our economy as a whole.” 

As a consumer, figuring out how to support local dairy farms can be challenging, primarily because most sell to a company or cooperative, who then combines that milk with others from Maine and beyond before selling it under a label. Examples include Oakhurst, Hood, Cabot, Organic Valley, Garelick and, of course, Stonyfield. Consumers who want to support Maine dairy farms are then left to figure out which milk, cheese, and butter brands contain local dairy. Except for these 14 farms who are losing their Horizon contracts, and the exceedingly rare organic dairy farm in Maine who sells directly to their consumers (ex. Tide Mill Organic), almost all organic milk gets purchased by Organic Valley/CROPP or Stonyfield.  

For consumers who want to support local Maine organic dairy farms, their best option is to purchase Stonyfield and Organic Valley products. MOFGA also provides a great resource for sourcing certified organic foods and products in Maine. 

 

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