Milk market dries up for four local organic dairies
REGION – Four Franklin County organic dairy farmers are among those who will lose their milk market next year.
Some 178 organic producers who sell their milk to Horizon / Danone recently received letters informing them that it was too expensive to collect milk in the North East and that there would be no market left by August 31, 2022.
14 farms in Maine are directly affected by the decision, but all organic dairy farms in Maine could be affected.
Farmington’s organic milkman Henry Hardy ships his milk to Organic Valley, another organic milk company. The milk produced is stored in a refrigerated tank and collected every two days.
“It’s the infrastructure that surrounds it,” he said on Saturday (August 28th). “On days off, our milk truck driver picks up Horizon.”
In Jay, Mark Turner and his family have been shipping their milk to Horizon for about 13 years, he said on Friday. Three generations work on the farm which processes an average of 40 to 50 cows.
âSwitching to conventional is the only option at the moment,â he said. âWe are still owned by AgriMark (a conventional dairy company). Only three farms are eligible in Maine.
âThe conventional price is still a bit lower,â Turner continued. âI’m lucky we have a deal. It would be at a much lower price.
Turner said there are no plans to consider other ways to sell milk at this time.
“Horizon has just done a big audit of its dairy farms in this region,” he said on Monday before starting to milk his cows. âThe following week we received the letter. Some producers only had 30 days.
New organic dairies near a Horizon processing plant are part of the problem, Turner said. Conventional processors haven’t hired new farmers for years, they’re on a quota, he added.
Another farmer affected by Horizon’s decision is Leslie Smith in East Dixfield. Two generations are currently working on the farm which typically processes around 30 cows and has a total of 50 to 60 head.
âI knew it a little earlier than the others,â he said. Smith said a short while ago that he called the company about his son’s takeover and was told he would probably have to wait, that a letter was coming out.
âSince (Horizon) sold the company, the situation has deteriorated,â he said. âBefore, it was a good company.
Smith also has the option of reverting to conventional production.
âThe last I heard you could go back to AgriMark,â he said, adding that the contract says âif you pay your membership fee they will provide you with a marketâ. Someone threatened to sue for it, he noted.
Smith said he had no problem reverting to conventional.
âThe grain is much cheaper,â he added.
Family members are working on other options but nothing has been decided yet, Smith said.
In Chesterville, Sam Webber milks around 50 cows on the former David Archer farm. He has around 120-130 total heads and is a first generation producer.
Currently, Webber has no other option to sell his milk. He is a member of the National Farmers Organization.
âI hope to hear something from Stoneyfield or Organic Valley,â he said. “We’ll see.”
The Davis family in New Sharon has operated the Silver Valley Farm along Highway 2 since 1947. Four generations are currently working on the farm. “Little Jim” and “Little Rick” recently took over the management of their fathers, brothers James and Richard Davis, respectively.
The farm processes an average of 60 cows and has 130 head. Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is their transporter, Rick Davis said Monday.
Like Webber, the Davis cousins ââhave no other option to sell their milk just yet.
âI don’t see how they can face us,â Davis said. âThere is already a surplus of milk.
In June, Silver Valley Farm was commended for making Horizon’s Top 10 for milk quality among Northeastern farms and received a bonus, Davis said.
âIt was all the small farms in the Northeast that started organic dairy farms,â he said. âOnce you get past Pennsylvania, Maryland, the west, it’s all 4,000 to 5,000 cow dairies. They never come off the concrete.
“In about a year, Horizon will not be organic, not up to the standard set here in the Northeast,” noted Rick Davis. “They don’t care about us, the tendency is to chase the little ones.”
If an animal pandemic passes through some of these large herds, it could create severe hiccups, he said.
For decades, Silver Valley Farm has been known for its breeders. He has exhibited and sold his purebred Holsteins in the United States and abroad.
âWe’re kind of stuck in the wait,â Jim Davis said. âI hope the quality of our milk speaks volumes about any of the other organic dairy companies. Otherwise, the dairy farm may no longer exist.
âWithout a milk market, there is no way to keep the cows,â Rick Davis said earlier. “We’ll probably have to sell, there’s no way.”
Like many other farms, the Davis cousins ââsell the excess hay to other farmers to earn a little extra money.
âIf we don’t have cows, we could provide a whole additional farm,â said Rick Davis. âThere is not that much demand.
The potential loss of these dairy farms could impact grain, equipment, and other businesses that provide needed supplies to other farmers, businesses, and home gardeners. With fewer sales, businesses may have to increase their prices, sell, or close their doors.
âI spoke with the folks at United Ag and Turf in Fairfield (an equipment dealer),â said Davis. âThey said it was going to hurt them.
In a phone conversation Thursday, the Maine Dairy Promotion Board and Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council executive director Sarah Littlefield said the news had just fallen.
âI hope these farmers can find homes for their milk,â she said. âFortunately, Horizon has given our growers a whole year. ”
The number of dairy farms in Maine and the country has been declining for years with each loss felt by the dairy farming community, Littlefield said in an email Friday.
âNow we are facing 14 dairy farms losing all their dairy market at the same time, it really hurts,â her email continued. âHowever, it’s not just Maine dairy farm families that are affected. Dairy farms in Maine contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to state and federal taxes, provide thousands of jobs, and protect hundreds of thousands of acres of open farmland, pastures and small forests, the loss of farms thus affecting the whole community. Hopefully a solution can be found so that these farms can stay in business. ”
On Monday, Turner shared a letter he received from Annie Watson with Maine Organic Milk Producers. The 14 affected farms collectively maintain about 4,500 acres of cropland and pasture, he noted.
In a meeting with government agencies, industry representatives and others on Tuesday, August 24, a three-tier approach was developed.
Over the next few months, information will be exchanged with those directly concerned to get an idea of ââhow farmers make their decisions and what support the state can offer. The committee will attempt to determine the financial impact that the loss of these dairy farms would mean for the state and the infrastructure supporting agriculture.
âAs we all know, the financial impact of each of these farms on the surrounding communities is significant, and we hope to find a number to better support our future requests for federal funding, especially some of the Better Rebuild funding that is going down. pike, âWatson’s letter noted.
Medium-term actions over the next year will identify the needs of the 14 affected farms and explore needs such as financial transfer, generational transfer, land conservation and / or alternative market opportunities. Financial resources would focus on technical assistance.
Long-term over the next five years or so, actions will include exploring the expansion of existing dairy processing to increase existing options and the allocation of financial resources to research and technical assistance to ensure the realization of projects.
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has volunteered to lead future meetings and research. Anyone interested in helping should email Jacki Perkins, [email protected]
âWe will continue until we can no longer,â said Jim Davis.
A Facebook post on the matter suggested that since it is too expensive to collect the milk, it is too expensive to send it back to the northeast to sell. The post further suggested boycotting Horizon / Danone, as the company would not support local dairy farmers.