Coalition forms to help save region’s organic dairy farms

  • Stonyfield co-founder Gary Hirshberg announced a new Northeast Organic Family Farm partnership. Businesswire

  • Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Organic’s Co-Founder and longtime former CEO and an organic activist since 1977, is announcing a new partnership that is a first for the agriculture, retail, and food industries: the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership. —Courtesy

  • Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Organic’s Co-Founder and longtime former CEO and an organic activist since 1977, is announcing a new partnership that is a first for the agriculture, retail, and food industries: the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership. —Courtesy

  • A new partnership was recently announced between agriculture, retail, and food industries: the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership. Courtesy

  • Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield Organic’s Co-Founder and longtime former CEO and an organic activist since 1977, is announcing a new partnership that is a first for the agriculture, retail, and food industries: the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/13/2022 4:01:07 PM
Modified: 1/13/2022 4:00:15 PM

A new group is hoping that a mix of pledges and action by shoppers, stores and companies will help the region’s organic dairy farms survive what could be a crippling loss of business.

The Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership, announced this week, has been formed in response to the news that milk-buying contracts with Danone North America and Maple Hill Creamery will end for 135 Northeast farms next year. The multi-national companies are switching to cheaper production from large dairy farms further west.

Organizers, including Stonyfield Yogurt co-founder Gary Hirshberg, describe the partnership as a “first of its kind a collaboration of farmers, processors, activists, government agencies and consumers.”

It asks consumers to sign a pledge to buy at least one-quarter of their weekly dairy products from 35 brands that have committed to buying more from the affected farms in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and New York state.

It also establishes a system where restaurants, cafeterias, and other outlets that sell dairy products can be licensed if they commit to carry some of these brands and increase their 2022 organic dairy purchases vs their 2021 sales. The idea is that displaying this license will attract customers.

Dairy prices are controlled by a number of mechanisms, including federal minimum prices, but dairies in the Northeast have struggled for decades against competition from the Midwest and West, where farming conditions are much more favorable. Dairy farms in the Northeast are relatively small and usually are independent and family-owned, so they may miss out on economies of scale. The climate and soil here is less conducive to growing feed or hay and land prices are more expensive, which raises their costs.

For four years, regional farms were helped by the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, which paid farmers more than the federally mandated minimum, and more recently there are payments if the national price falls below a certain point.

Despite that, however, the number of farms in New England continues to fall.

New Hampshire, for example, had 829 commercial dairy farms in 1970. That dropped to 182 in 2000 and just 95 in 2020, according to Granite State Dairy Promotion. Being licensed as an organic farm, a difficult and time-consuming process, can help keep them in business because they can charge higher prices.

For more information on the partnership, see www.saveorganicfamilyfarms.org/.


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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