Organic farms closing – industry seeks $9 mil from state

by Abby Carroll, Community News Service

Eleven organic dairy farms in Vermont closed in 2021. The next year, 18 more followed. And this year the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont expects to lose another 28 farms. 

That data — compiled by a state dairy task force and described to legislators recently — is why the association wants to see $9.2 million sent to organic dairy farmers in this year’s budget.

Association leaders asked legislators for the one-time payment during a joint meeting of the House and Senate agriculture committees last Thursday. That total would compensate organic farmers for losses they have experienced because of fluctuating dairy prices — which, the association says, have grown only more chaotic in recent years.

The $9.2 million sum would be the equivalent of $5 per hundredweight payment for all organic producers’ production in 2022. Hundredweight is a measurement used in dairy markets that equals 100 pounds of milk. 

Those testifying in support of the request did not specify at the hearing how the money would be distributed. 

Over the past few years, many of Vermont’s organic dairy farms have been forced to close. Farmers have been receiving $8 to 10 per hundredweight below the cost of production, according to the organic farmers association. 

Jen Miller, the group’s farm services director, described in an interview how that trend — coupled with rising feed, fuel and labor costs since 2021 — has left many farmers unable to pay their bills or make payments on their loans.

Organic dairy farms started seeing lower payments in 2017, said Miller when speaking to lawmakers. That year farmers saw a decrease of $2 to $3 per hundredweight, Miller said in committee, and prices continued to drop into 2020. 

Last year, farmers’ situation was exacerbated by drought, inflation, rising production costs and supply chain issues.

“We’re getting to the point where the best managers are not able to squeeze more income or cut their expenses any more than they already have over the past five years,” Miller said in an interview. 

Farm managers have tried decreasing herd sizes and increasing how much milk they milk from each cow to lessen the burden of the economic challenges, but they are running out of ways to stay afloat, Miller added. 

“The loss of these farms to the state represents an economic loss, but it also represents a loss in terms of a culture, a way of life, and also a huge loss in terms of climate resilience,” said Maddie Kempner, the organic farming association’s policy director, in an interview.

The Vermont Dairy Task Force found that in 2021, when 11 farms closed, the state saw an economic loss of more than $41.5 million. In 2022, another $67.9 million was lost when 18 farms closed. 

Along with the $9.2 million requested this session from the state, organic farm advocates want to see federal officials create a version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program for organic dairy farms. 

The program allows farmers to sign up for risk management insurance through the government. The government pays farms when the difference between the national price of milk and the average cost of feed falls below a certain level. 

The program doesn’t account for organic feed costs and organic milk prices, so when only organic farms are struggling, the program doesn’t provide any support.

Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said in an interview that the situation isn’t an easy one to figure out. 

Starr said one idea his committee could look at would be creating a program that would kick in when milk prices dropped below a certain level. When that happens, it would cause processors — companies that buy raw milk to make other products — to pay the difference between the cost of production and the commercial price. 

Starr also floated the idea of starting a board made up of farmers, consumers and milk processors to help determine who can pay what during price fluctuations. It would be similar to the Northeast Dairy Compact Commission, which ran from 1997 to 2001. The commission, formed by Congress, allowed New England states to set the price of fluid dairy products such as drinking milk. 

“I hear more from farmers about the low price they’re being paid,” Starr said, “than from consumers about the high price they’re paying.”

Categories: Agriculture, Legislation

15 replies »

  1. The best thing that can happen for all farners and consumers is the elimination of government intervention in the growing of food.

    • So agree Stu, get the government out and let the free market system work. If you want milk be prepared to pay the real price!

    My mother was a farm girl from Nebraska and remembers how furious her father was when all of the hogs were being killed and then buried. People were hungry all over the country and yet the farmers were talked into throwing away their livestock and crops.
    We need food in this country and yet Vermont farmers are shutting down because of the systems in place that make it impossible to sell there goods.
    I don’t know what the answer is but I know full well the government is not the savior.

    • It can be done. It is called a parallel economy. A segment of society formulates their own system through trade/bartering/new business that operates outside the beast system. Some entrepreneurs are investing in businesses who are operating under cooperative models. Digital currency is an example of operating outside “the system.” The “pillow guy” Mike Lindel has grown his business outside of normal channels and has other businesses selling their goods through his business. As the current system is choking on it’s own greed and gross mismanagement, there are businesses and workers ready to fill the void once the cratering and implosions commence in haste.

  3. Sounds like animal cruelty trying to get more out of fewer animals. Just plain wrong 😑 Why not succeed from this madness with a 2VR and leave the NY/DC politicians in the lurch. There were local farms selling to the local community when I was a child in the 60s and when my great great grandparents were born here during the 1st Republic in Pomfret. What’s wrong with that? Global nonsense.

  4. The government bailout flies in the face of a free market system. Why reward organic farms for producing a product that based on sales the consumer has voted against with their pocketbooks.

  5. if we want free enterprise the government should not be subsidizing any business from farming to child care. let the consumer decide what they want and let them pay for it if they want it.

  6. How much money does zuckyman expect to make off this for his trust fund hippie farm? Will he get a travel voucher filed for his expenses pushing this latest nonsense the liberal progressives are forcing on is?

  7. I don’t buy organic because there is no standard for what organic is. BUT, with the coming war with China we are going to need these farms.

    • And when the Chinese show up in Vermont, will our nanny state let us have standard capacity magazines for our rifles. After all, they were welcomed to the capitol with open arms once and Vermont is listed as a friendly state to them.

  8. Did the committee receive an independently audited cost of production from ANY organic farm?

  9. There are no credible peer-reviewed studies demonstrating any extra health benefits of “organic” foods (including dairy products) compared with foodstuffs farmed conventionally. Even in VT, consumers appear to be telling these farmers that they are unwilling to pay more for their produce because they can see no extra value worth the increased cost. No to any subsidies, they just increase costs to consumers.