Vermont Dairy task force looks at ways to boost the bottom line for farmers

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MONTPELIER – A task force aimed at revitalizing Vermont Dairy met Monday afternoon as the industry looks to rebound from the pandemic and the years of struggles that preceded it.

The task force will eventually take the recommendations listed in a January report by the Department of Financial Regulation and turn them into draft legislation for Vermont lawmakers to consider.

Some of the possible solutions listed in the report like a national supply management program to stabilize prices would require action from Congress, as would any regional pricing agreement with nearby states.

In the short-term, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts said making farms more efficient can help boost their bottom line, and the recently-launched Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center is helping with that.

“This center is already returning dollars to dairy farmers and processors, making it more affordable to do business here and also growing their dairy businesses,” Tebbetts said.

Leon Berthiaume, a senior advisor with Dairy Farmers of America, said there’s some tactics that don’t need to be brainstormed, because Vermont has already used them in the past. He said bringing back a workforce investment board that got cut due to low funding, for example, could be a useful recruiting tool right about now in an industry where the average age of an employee is roughly 55 years old.

“It was effective, and I think those are the things we need to look at again,” Berthiaume said. “Part of that person’s responsibility was really connecting young people, and people with all ages, with the open opportunities. A lot of the time it was just about finding a place for those people to land.”

Sticking with that theme of strategies that may already be out there, State Senator Randy Brock said making progress doesn’t have to be about reinventing the wheel, or hoping that Congress will take action on a national level.

“I suspect that there have been thousands and thousands of studies about how to make dairy work, and also about what’s wrong with the way we’re doing it now,” Sen. Brock said. “It would be great if we could get somebody to gather together these studies and at least do a brief extract because who knows, maybe there’s solutions that have already been invented that we just haven’t looked at yet.”

By December 15th, these task force discussions will turn into legislation for Vermont lawmakers to consider next session.

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