Vermont farmer says dairy industry needs more than federal aid to survive

Local News

In a visit to Vermont last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said help is on the way for dairy farmers who got a lower price for their products because of the pandemic.

The department will provide about $350 million in assistance payments to eligible farmers.

Karie Atherton is the owner of Aires Hill Farm. She said the industry has faced many challenges since the start of the pandemic, and 17 months later, the stress is still there.

“But it’s scary,” Atherton said. “It seems like you always have one foot out the door.”

Atherton said the farm is having a hard time getting supplies in. And when she does place orders, prices are constantly changing.

“You know I ordered a mixer wagon in April and I actually held off a year to order that,” Atherton said. “It cost me an extra $6,000.”

At Shelburne Farms last week, Vilsack said the assistance payments is an effort “to try and compensate a bit those farmers who suffered the loss of value because of the distortion of market during the pandemic.”

The majority of the resources will go to smaller farms.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but when you divide it up between all of the farmers the root of the problem is how we are getting paid,” Atherton said. “Giving these lump sums of money doesn’t fix anything. The root of the problem is our milking system. And our pricing system was developed in 1937, and we are in 2021 and nothing has been changed.”

During the crisis, Aires Hill Farm decided to bottle milk.

“White and chocolate,” Atherton said. “We got a few local stores around, but that is not going to save the farm.”

It has also been difficult to find employees. Atherton believes it’s because the farming industry can’t provide stability.

“Farming now is probably not high on the list,” Atherton said. “You could go to a lot of other industries right now and get paid pretty well.”

Atherton said it’s vital for people to support local farmers.

“It’s hard to say what could turn the industry around,” Atherton said. “It isn’t going to be the government, it isn’t going to be the farmers and it isn’t going to be the consumers. It’s going to be everything that works together that is going to let us survive.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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