Maine Legislature’s Appropriations Committee Slashes Governor Mills’ Support for Maine’s Dairy Farms

April 5, 2024

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is shocked by a vote from the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) Committee to slash desperately needed funding for dairy farmers. In a party-line vote late Wednesday afternoon, AFA reduced what Gov. Mills had pledged for Maine’s 20-year-old Dairy Stabilization Program by 60%. 

Maine’s dairy sector is struggling with dramatically escalating costs of production from grain and electricity costs to fuel and labor costs. After a study carried out by the Maine Milk Commission found that dairy farms were going out of business due to these increasing pressures, there has been widespread support for Maine’s Dairy Stabilization Program (often referred to as the Milk Tier Program) to help Maine’s dairy farmers when their pay price drops below the cost of production. 

The Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee advocated unanimously for increasing support for dairy farmers to at least 25% of the newly identified costs of production, and Mills echoed this support in the budget change package that she presented to the Legislature. MOFGA joined the Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Organic Milk Producers, Maine Farmland Trust and Maine Farm Bureau in support of the 25% level of funding. Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry also supported the compromise. Despite this broad support, the AFA authorized funding at only 10% of the new cost of production levels.

“After years of stagnant prices and rampant inflation, all of Maine’s organic dairies are at a tipping point,” says Andy Smith, organic dairy farmer from The Milkhouse Farm & Creamery. “We have seen farms have to sell their herds, and without support, many more farms will be forced out of business. This will send ripple effects through the whole agricultural community.” 

There are only 147 dairy farms left in Maine, with 58 of them certified organic by MOFGA. Maine has lost a third of its dairy farms since the onset of the pandemic. Geography is a huge factor in the cost of production as Maine dairy farms are at the end of the trucking and distribution lines for animal feed and inputs coming in and milk being shipped out. 

“My partner and I purchased our farm in Monmouth in 2015 where our family and seven employees farm 250 acres organically, milking 40 cows, and raising beef and hogs,” says Smith. “The Milk Tier Program is vital to keeping our farm solvent. The reality is that our costs are enormous, and as first-generation farmers, our prices often do not cover the cost of production. This is especially true in Maine where input costs like grain and electricity are sky high.”

“Maine’s dairy farms not only create a local supply for dairy products in times of crisis when supply chains and climate change put increasing pressure on food shipped in from out of state, but they also are core to the open spaces Maine is known for,” says Sarah Alexander, executive director of MOFGA. “Strong agricultural conservation techniques practiced by Maine’s farmers are central to the state’s efforts to address climate change through Governor Mills’ ‘Maine Won’t Wait’ climate action plan. Losing our dairy farms impacts all Mainers in our effort to address climate change and enjoy our natural areas.”

MOFGA calls on the Appropriations Committee to reconsider its funding for Maine’s Dairy Stabilization Program and follow the recommendations of Mills and the ACF Committee to provide the increase that dairy farmers need to keep our farmland in production and undeveloped. Now is not the time to turn our back on local farms and food. In the face of an increasingly turbulent world, we must protect our cornerstone industries. 

“It is vital that Appropriations restore to the budget the increased funding to the Milk Tier payments that were approved in a bipartisan manner by both chambers of the Legislature and the governor,” says Smith. 

Read more about MOFGA’s advocacy work.

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