October 27, 2021 — This week Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) joined with eight other organic organizations representing organic farmers and consumers to deliver two petitions with 15,234 signatures asking Danone North America, owner of Horizon Organic, to reverse the company’s decision to leave 89 organic dairy farms in the Northeast without a market for the milk they produce.
In recent years Danone has transitioned their milk procurement to farms in the West and Midwest, favoring very large farms. In August 2021, Danone North America notified 89 organic dairy farm families, including 14 farms in Maine, that they would be ending their contracts and pulling out of the northeastern U.S. market. Many of the affected farm families have been providing organic milk to Horizon Organic for decades and have been instrumental in building that successful brand with high-quality organic milk produced on small- and mid-sized farms.
MOFGA’s executive director, Sarah Alexander, sent the petition directly to Greg Wolf, director producer relation management, and Shane Grant, executive vice president and CEO at Danone North America. Alexander said, “Dairy farming is the backbone of many rural communities, sustaining local veterinarians, feed and farm suppliers, schools, hospitals, the tax base and downtown businesses. This mass termination of organic dairy contracts in the Northeast will have a profound and negative impact on local economies, community resilience and the environment.”
MOFGA, along with Maine’s congressional delegation, Governor Mills, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and other groups have requested that Danone reconsider this decision.
“Visiting the Maine farms this fall and seeing dozens of beautiful cows on pasture, the bright-eyed calves nuzzling in for a scratch on the head, and the thousands of acres of land, from hilltop to hilltop, that are sequestering carbon through organic land management, I can’t help but think we’re the best region for producing organic dairy on small locally owned farms. This is what people think of when they think of organic dairy,” said Alexander. “I hope that Danone, which is valued at over $10 billion, recognizes that this decision will have huge ramifications for the farms that have made the brand what it is. The over 15,000 individuals who have signed the petition, including over 2,000 people who signed a Maine-specific petition, are sending a clear message to Danone to not turn their backs on these farm families.”
MOFGA will continue to work on this multifaceted issue, which will take many months and collaboration with several partners. A primary barrier that MOFGA is working to address at this time is the lack of alternative markets and milk processing capacity in Maine and the Northeast. Currently there are no commercial organic milk processing facilities in the state. Maine milk is shipped to New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York. This is another reason Horizon decided to drop Maine farms: These farms are the last on the trucking line. Several Maine farms are coming together to assess the viability of creating commercial-scale organic milk processing in the state, and MOFGA is advocating for investments from the state and federal levels to support this effort. Maine milk should stay in Maine. We know from previous studies around organic dairy feasibility that Maine consumers want to support Maine organic dairy farms, and want the option to purchase Maine organic milk from retailers.