This article has been updated to include a statement from Danone.
Nearly 30 dairy farms in Vermont won’t have a place to sell their organic milk after Danone, the owner of Horizon Organic, cuts ties with New England dairy farms over what the company says are transportation costs.
Horizon plans to eliminate the farms farthest away from the company’s plants. Anson Tebbetts, Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets, says farmers received a letter announcing a September 2022 deadline to find another buyer.
“Their livelihoods are at stake here because there are not a lot of options left for them for people to buy their milk or companies to buy their milk,” he said.
The state, however, is stepping in by creating a task force to save the farms. Vermont’s Horizon farmers were told in late August that they have one year to find another buyer for their milk.
Tebbetts says the task force is in the early stages. The challenge, he said, will be finding companies that can take on another producer of organic milk, which is more expensive than conventional milk.
Most Horizon farmers weren’t be able to comment because of confidentiality agreements. But Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director for the Vermont Farm Bureau and a former dairy farmer was willing to speak on their behalf.
“We’re already losing farms at a horribly rapid rate in New England and in Vermont in particular so to have 28 just be told by next year you got to come up with some other plan or you’re gone is pretty devastating,” said Folsom, a member of the state’s dairy task force.
Danone North America, owner of Horizon Organic, said in a statement Wednesday:
“We greatly value our relationships with our farming partners and did not make this decision lightly. Growing transportation and operational challenges in the dairy industry, particularly in the northeast, led to this difficult decision.”
The company said 89 producers across the northeast received a non-renewal notice. The company is offering each producer to enter a new agreement for Horizon to purchase their milk for one more year.
“We will be supporting new partners that better align with our manufacturing footprint. We are committed to continuing to support organic dairy in the east, and in the last 12 months alone, we have onboarded more than 50 producers new to Horizon Organic that better fit our manufacturing footprint. This decision will help us continue providing our consumers with the products they love,” said Danone North America.
The new task force plans to meet for the first time this Friday. Members of Vermont’s dairy industry plan to meet again September 13 in the State House to further advocate for the farmers.
“The fact that an organization that controls a group of farmers can just cut them immediately puts terror in every dairy person’suu heart, Folsom said. “It’s a livelihood and it’s a passion and it’s what they want to do.”