by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Last week, Horizon Organics notified its Northeast organic milk suppliers that it would be dropping all of its eastern suppliers, including 27 dairies in Vermont. (NOFA-VT estimates they sell about 3 million gallons of milk per year to Horizon.)
Horizon, based in Broomfield, Colorado, is the largest organic dairy company in the US. It, in turn, is a subsidiary of Paris, France-based Danone. We know them best as Dannon yogurt. They also produce Silk and several other brands of yogurt (Danimals, Too Good, Activia).
Horizon is a B Corp that wants to become carbon neutral by 2025.
This will be a difficult task considering that cows produce a lot of methane during their complicated digestive process, create a lot of manure and require a lot of energy along the entire production and transportation stream.
It is the shipping that led Horizon to cut its eastern suppliers, 79 dairies in all.
Horizon said they can get cheaper milk closer to home. California and Texas are by far the largest organic milk producers.
California is also the largest overall milk producer with 41.3 billion pounds produced in 2020, according to the USDA. Wisconsin was second at 30.7 billion pounds. There is then another big drop off to the next three: Idaho at 15.6 billion, New York at 15.1 billion and Texas at 13.8 billion.
Vermont produced 2.6 billion pounds of milk last year. This output ranks the state 18th largest in the nation.
The US in 2020 produced 223.2 billion pounds of milk.
Organic dairies follow a similar pattern to overall production, but is weighted more heavily toward the big western states and also toward larger individual farms.
According to Hoard’s Dairyman, the average organic dairy produces nearly twice as much milk as the average conventional dairy.
Indeed, nine organic farms in Texas produce about a third (821.9 million pounds) of what all 581 dairies in Vermont produce in a year.
Organic Milk Production by State
- California: 150 farms produced 889 million pounds of milk
- Texas: Nine farms produced 821.9 million pounds of milk
- Wisconsin: 525 farms shipped 440.9 million pounds of milk
- New York: 607 farms collected 386.7 million pounds
- Idaho: 29 farm gathered 364.5 million pounds
Horizon is also giving the Vermont organic dairies a one-year heads up before it ends its supply contracts on August 31, 2022.
Plus, there are other options, but which could have limited capacity.
The Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc (a very small co-op), Organic Valley and of course New Hampshire-based Stonyfield also process Vermont organic milk.
Several of the Vermont farms themselves process their own organic dairy into milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, etc. Cellars at Jasper Hill also uses Vermont organic milk for some of its high-end cheeses.
According to NOFA-VT, Farmers who process their own dairy products include:
- Butterworks Farm - milk, buttermilk, cottage cheese, cream, kefir, and yogurt
- Does’ Leap Farm - goat milk, goat cheese, and kefir
- Engelbert Farms - milk and cheese
- Kiss the Cow - raw & pasteurized milk
- Larson Farm & Creamery - milk, gelato, butter, skyr, and yogurt
- Neighborly Farms - cheese
- Rogers Farmstead - milk, yogurt, egg nog, and cheese
- Scholten Family Farm - milk and cheese
- Strafford Organic Creamery - bottled milk, egg nog, half & half, heavy cream, and ice cream
- Thistle Hill Farm - milk and cheese
- Von Trapp Farmstead - milk and cheese
In addition, the following businesses process organic milk from Vermont farms:
- Cellars at Jasper Hill - cheese
- Champlain Valley Creamery, LTD - cheese and cream cheese
Meanwhile in an effort to help local farmers survive and thrive, the state of Vermont and its partners, including the federal government, are putting a lot of money and effort into offsetting farming costs, including those associated with phosphorus and carbon mitigation.
Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts and Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore laid out those efforts during a visit to Vermont by USDA secretary Tom Vilsack on August 19 at a roundtable at the Echo Center in Burlington hosted by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.
Two of the main themes at the discussion were Vermont's diversification of its agriculture industry and environmental impacts of farming on the state's waterways. Vermont is in the middle of vigorous and expensive mitigation efforts to reduce pollution and restore the land and water.
The two administration officials, and others at the roundtable, presented much data to support the steps Vermont has made and is continuing to make, on phosphorus and carbon sequestration -- basically letting the land hold these environmental impacts instead of letting them run off into the states waterways or lift into the atmosphere.
USDA Secretary Vilsack visits Vermont, hears much about mitigation
Though produce and livestock farmers are making economic gains in Vermont, dairy continues to suffer beyond the recent Horizon Organic news.
In the year 2000 there were about 2,600 dairy farms in Vermont. By 2010, there were about 1,000 dairies here.
Production, however, didn’t suffer as the farms themselves got bigger to take advantage of economies of scale and each cow itself was producing more milk. This was achieved by milking them more. Self-milking robots helped increase production while reducing manpower.
Now in Vermont, there are 581 total dairy farms in Vermont and 169 of them are certified organic (in 2012 there were 205). Vermont still produces by far the most milk in New England.
The number of dairy cows peaked in 2002 at 154,000. The hundredweight price of milk now is now $17.42. Over the last 20 years it’s fluctuated widely, from a high of $23.63 in 2014 to a low of $15.25 in 2016.
Franklin county has the most dairies, followed by Orleans and Addison counties.
Vermont Dairy Data – August 10, 2021
|Category||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||2021 Q 1||2021 Q2||2021 Q3|
|Ave. Milk Price||$17.98||$19.60||$23.63||$16.49||$15.25||$16.78||$15.44||$17.46||$16.45||$15.42||$17.42||n/a|
|Class III price||$17.44||$17.99||$22.34||$15.80||$14.87||$15.92||$14.61||$16.96||$18.16||$15.89||$17.95||$16.49|
|MILC Payment – USDA||$0.728||$0.258||$0.00||MPP/MCP Margin level||$8.01||$9.68||$7.53||$9.60||$9.65||$6.68||$6.69||n/a|
|# of VT Cow Dairy Farms||972||939||880||853||838||796||725||677||636||597||584||581|
|Milk Production USDA||2.56 b lbs.||2.615 b lbs.||2.672 b lbs.||2.666 b lbs.||2.724 billion||2.728 Billion||2.680 Billion||2.695 Billion||2.602 billion||214 mil/mo.||218 mil/mo||n/a|
|Ave. # of cows in VT USDA||133,000||133,000||132,000||132,000||130,000||128,667||126,833||125,583||122,167||119,667||119,000||n/a|
|Ave. # of cows/ farm||138||142||150||155||155||162||175||185||192||200||204||n/a|
|Certified Organic Cow Dairy Farms||205||198||184||184||203||199||190||187||169||169||169||169|
|Off-Farm Dairy Processors||29||36||58||64||78||79||83||88||87||87||88||88|
|On-Farm Dairy Processors||54||59||62||71||67||68||63||66||67||67||70||70|
|Total Dairy Processors||83||95||120||135||145||147||146||154||154||154||158||158|
Greatest Cow numbers 154,000 in 2002. Total Dairy Processors in 2002= 58
Vermont Dairy Cow Operations by County – 2021
|cows||% change||% change|
|County||Jan.||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec||prior month||since Jan.||Ave.#|
Ave. # dairy farms- 2013 -939, 2014 -880, 2015 – 853, 2016 -838, 2017 – 796, 2018 – 725, 2019 – 677, & 2020 - 636
Dairy Cow Farms By Size – Milking cows
|LFO – over 700||MFO – 200 – 699||SFO –under 200||Total|
|2017||32||117||250 CSFO -647||796|
|2018||34||104||273 CSFO - 587||725|
|2019||33||105||268 CSFO - 539||677|
|2020||35||100||198 CSFO – 501||636|
CSFO as of January 31, 2018. Certified Small Farms have 50 - milking cows to 199 cows.
From left, Echo Center Executive Director Phelan Fretz, Richmond dairy farmer David Conant, ANR Secretary Julie Moore, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts, State Climatologist Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, and Vermont Land Trust President Nick Richardson. VBM photo.