On Monday March 7, representatives from organic dairy farms, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and Organic Valley Cooperative met, and 11 farms were offered letters of intent from Organic Valley to supply the cooperative with organic milk. This is an encouraging step in the journey of these farms, and 69 others throughout the region, who learned in August 2021 that their current buyer, Horizon Organic, would be terminating their contracts, along with the contracts of a total of 89 farms throughout the Northeast. Since then, the farms have received modest concessions from Horizon, but no long-term contract, and some of Maine’s 14 farms who did not receive contracts ceased dairy operations or are determining the next steps in their businesses.
The termination of contracts came as a major blow to the region and the economy and character of rural towns. “We know that dairies are the backbone of many of our rural communities and are encouraged that the farms represented at this meeting have an option to continue as organic dairies,” said MOFGA’s executive director, Sarah Alexander.
Jim and Rick Davis of Silver Valley Farm in New Sharon attended the meeting. “This is a weight off our shoulders. We really didn’t have any other viable options,” said Jim. Rick added, “This is definitely appreciated. We’re just starting to take over the farm and we were wondering is it even worth it if we have to be done in August anyways? It was nerve wracking.”
Other farms in attendance shared that they were grateful for the market opportunity and were looking forward to sorting out the next steps in this transition process.
“While we’re encouraged by this commitment from Organic Valley, we also recognize there’s still much work to be done to ensure the long-term viability of dairy farming in the region and we’re committed to continuing to work for a sustainable future for these farms,” noted Jacki Martinez Perkins, MOFGA’s organic dairy and livestock specialist.
MOFGA, as part of a coalition of groups in the Northeast, is seeking significant investment in infrastructure, specifically processing infrastructure, in the region to reduce the miles fluid milk travels for processing and packaging.
“Ensuring these farms continue as organic dairies in the short term is a step in the right direction, but we’re going to keep working toward and advocating for a bright future for organic dairy in the Northeast. At the root of this work is consumer recognition of the value of organic dairies in our region and active demand and support for organic milk from the Northeast. Consumer demand is what will offer a strong foundation for these farms,” said Alexander.