Organic Valley offers contracts to dairies that are losing markets

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Mark Turner of MT Farm in Jay is one of two local organic milk producers who will soon be selling to Organic Valley. He is one of four Franklin County farms that were told Horizon/Danone would end their contracts in August. File Photo/Livermore Falls Announcer

REGION — Three local producers are among more than a dozen organic milk producers in the state who now have access to a market for their milk.

Last week, Organic Valley, the Wisconsin-based farmer-owned cooperative, offered nearly 80 farmers in northern New England and New York a market for their milk through a letter of intent. .

Some 178 organic producers who sell their milk to Horizon/Danone received letters last summer informing them that it was too expensive to fetch milk from the North East and that there would be no more market. on August 31, 2022.

More Acres Farm in East Dixfield, MT Farms in Jay, Silver Valley Farm in New Sharon and Webber Farm in Chesterville were all shipped to Horizon/Danone.

In December, Danone/Horizon offered an option to extend its dairy contracts until the end of February 2023 as part of a transition plan that also offered additional financial support to affected farmers. The offer came too late for More Acres Farm because their cows had already been sold.

Mark Turner in Jay said on Monday March 14 that he had signed the letter of intent with Organic Valley.

“Organic Valley is figuring it all out, finding out how many are considering it,” he said. The switch could happen anytime between June and February, when his contract with Horizon expires, Turner said.

There has been no change in herd size at MT Farms, although some crossbreeding has been done just in case, he noted. “We bred all the heifers to a beef bull, that’s the only thing different,” Turner added. The resulting offspring would be better suited to beef.

Sam Webber isn’t planning on moving to Organic Valley, milking his cows for a few more months.

“With the price of milk, I’ve been losing money for the past two years,” he said on Monday. “I could go in May and then change jobs. I’ve sacrificed enough, I’m done.

Webber plans to harvest his fields this summer for forage.

“There is no firm date yet, in June or when the contracts expire,” Jim Davis, one of the owners of Silver Valley Farm, said Tuesday. “Some people signed the six-month extension with Horizon, we didn’t.”

New Sharon Farm has made no changes to its herd size.

“We need to work with Organic Valley, work out the details of the contract,” Davis said. “The amount of milk we can produce is based on last year’s numbers.”

With the farm’s contract with Horizon expiring in August, Davis hopes to be able to ship to Organic Valley by August at the latest.

Organic Valley spokesman Joshua Fairfield said farms contacted by the co-op had contracts that ended at different times.

“Not all are out of current contracts,” Fairfield said. “What we’re doing is giving them security, and they can come to Organic Valley.”

Fairfield said several farmers have already signed up and will become members of the cooperative, which plans to release initial numbers later this week.

While Organic Valley is headquartered in Wisconsin, its members are located in 34 states.

Dairy farmers in northern New England and upstate New York were early adopters of organic practices, and companies like Horizon Organic interested in their milk were compelled to come to the source and pay to transport the milk to their processing facilities.

However, as more farmers adopted organic practices closer to processing plants, milk from Maine and its neighbors became a less attractive option.

Governor Janet Mills’ administration had requested in September that Danone North America commit to paying bonuses to farmers in the final year of their contracts and for more recent contracts where bonuses may not have been paid. been paid; donate money to the Northeast Dairy Innovation Center to support business transition, planning and investment; and make a substantial contribution to the Maine company that will raise funds to establish organic dairy processing in the state.

In October, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and eight other organizations representing organic farmers and consumers in the Northeast applied for concessions on behalf of affected organic dairy farmers.

They asked for extensions to contract termination dates, severance pay or contract retirement bonuses to compensate farmers for the investments they made that helped build the Horizon Organic brand.

They also wanted Danone North America to recognize its obligations as a Certified B Company, a designation that requires companies to meet social sustainability and environmental performance standards.

In December, Horizon Organic offered concessions including the option to extend current contracts by six months, concluding at the end of February 2023; a “bridging payment” to affected farmers for their milk during the last six months of their agreement; and access to agricultural financial advisors at no cost to farmers.

He also offered to work with stakeholders, including state and federal government agencies, to explore investment solutions such as a cooperative to address transportation and transportation challenges or low-interest loans. or zero.

The Organic Valley contract offer, however, is not the end of the conversation for Maine’s organic dairy farms. Following Horizon Organic’s announcement, a task force of industry stakeholders was formed to consider short- and long-term strategies to help preserve the state’s dairy farms. Among them, the search for investments in regional processing capacities and the development of market opportunities.

Jim Britt, director of communications for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the task force has not met since Organic Valley’s announcement.

“I can echo Governor and Commissioner Beal’s statement that while this is good news, we look forward to working with our task force partners at the state and federal levels to meet the needs of our dairy farmers. “Britt said.

Katy Green, director of communications and outreach for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said discussions will continue.

“We will continue to push for infrastructure that will enable processing in our region, reducing the miles fluid milk has to travel,” Green said.

At the same time, it is also important to stimulate consumer demand. She said the Northeast Organic Family Farm Project was recently created for this purpose.

“We will continue to push for strong consumer support across the region and at all levels,” Green said.

“It’s better financially for us,” Davis said. “We’re pretty excited.”

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