Organic Valley launches effort to save organic family farms in Northeast

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Organic Valley launches effort to save organic family farms in Northeast

Tue, 03/08/2022 - 2:54pm -- tim

The Osgood Family in their Corinth pasture with their cows. Courtesy photo.

Offering Hope for the Future of 90 Small Dairies

by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Organic Valley announced today the single largest effort to save small organic family farms in the Northeast following news last year that Horizon and Maple Hill Creamery would be terminating contracts with more than 130 family farms. Wisconsin-based Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative since its founding in 1988, is offering 80 small, Northeast organic family farms a market for their dairy through a letter of intent.

While those 80 families decide, 10 Northeast organic family farms have already been offered membership. One of the 10 families who joined the cooperative this month is the Osgoods of Osgood Family Farm in Corinth, Vermont.

"My family began farming this land over 65 years ago. I'm glad to partner with Organic Valley to continue our family farm," said George Osgood of Corinth, Vermont. "A cooperative owned by small family farms is the perfect fit for us. It gives us the chance to keep doing what we love."

Over the last decade, states like Vermont have lost hundreds of individual dairy farms. As a cooperative borne out of the farm crisis of the 1980s, the issue of saving small family farms is core to Organic Valley. And with 100,000 small family farms being lost over the last decade due to consolidation and industrialization, the fight is not over.

"We are the only national brand still fighting for small family farms because we know that the best quality food is ethically sourced from small family farms," said Bob Kirchoff, Organic Valley CEO. "With the help of consumers and customers across the country, we are helping solve the crisis of disappearing small family farms. We are creating the food system we all want—one that regenerates soil, cares for animals, nourishes people, and strengthens communities."

The farmer-owned cooperative plans to release more information on efforts to provide hope to small family farms in the Northeast and across the United States in the coming weeks and months.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) issued this statement: “I greatly appreciate the decision by Organic Valley to offer contracts to most of the organic dairy farms that recently lost their markets as Horizon and Maple Hill creamery announced their exits from the region. While this is terrific news for these farm families, challenges still remain for the organic dairy industry, and I will continue to work, along with others who support organic dairy to help find, or create, new markets for organic milk.” 

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) said in a statement that it "is delighted" that Organic Valley has stepped up to help nearly 80 family farms in Vermont and the Northeast, who, until today, were to lose their market for their milk this summer.

When the news that Horizon intended to leave the Northeast market in summer 2022 reached Vermont, many farmers in the Northeast were facing the reality they would have nowhere to ship their milk. Now, Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative, has announced through a letter of intent that it is offering 80 Northeast organic family farms a market for their milk.

Among the 80 farms are dozens of small Vermont family-run farms.

“This is a significant development, and we are grateful to Organic Valley for stepping up to offer this option to family farms in Vermont,” said Anson Tebbetts, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture.

Upon the unexpected announcement by Horizon last year, VAAFM swiftly formed a task force working with farmers, processors, and partners to find a solution to the loss of Horizon’s market. “Today’s action by Organic Valley is the outcome that we hoped for when we created the task force. Now we must build upon this development and make sure we continue to secure a long-term market for farmers,” said Tebbetts.

This action by Organic Valley follows last week’s news that the United States Department of Agriculture was providing $20 million to the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, facilitated by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center will begin working with farmers and those who work in dairy on a plan to invest these dollars back into the dairy industry.

Last July, 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

  1. California: 150 farms produced 889 million pounds of milk
  2. Texas: Nine farms produced 821.9 million pounds of milk
  3. Wisconsin: 525 farms shipped 440.9 million pounds of milk
  4. New York: 607 farms collected 386.7 million pounds
  5. Idaho: 29 farm gathered 364.5 million pounds

Horizon gave the Vermont organic dairies a one-year heads up before it ends its supply contracts on August 31, 2022.

About Organic Valley  
Organic Valley is passionate about doing what's right for people, animals, and earth and is committed to bringing ethically made organic food to families everywhere. Organic Valley is the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the U.S. and one of the world's largest organic consumer brands. Founded in 1988 to sustain family farms through organic farming, the cooperative represents approximately 1,700 farmers in 34 U.S. states, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit ov.coop/impact.

LA FARGE, Wis., March 8, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Organic Valley