In August 2021, Horizon Organic, a Danone brand, announced its decision to terminate 89 contracts with small organic dairy producers across the Northeast, including 46 in New York. Horizon Organic offered an optional one-year contract which was eventually extended to 18 months, expiring in February 2023. Between July and November 2021, Maple Hill Creamery also announced it would be terminating 46 contracts with producers throughout the state. In total, Horizon Organic and Maple Hill Creamery dropped 130 farms in the Northeast in 2021.
The loss of 92 contracts in New York was significant. According to USDA, There are about 750 dairy operations in New York (400 certified by NOFA-NY), and it is the smaller dairies in remote locations who have been most affected.
In response, the Northeast Dairy Task Force was formed in the fall of 2021. The task force represents 27 organizations including state departments of agriculture, university extension, organic processors, organic associations (including NOFA-NY, NOFA-VT, MOFGA, NODPA, OFA, and NOFA-NH), farm technical assistance providers, and other experts. The task force met several times over eight weeks and, in December, produced a set of comprehensive recommendations to USDA to support the region’s organic dairy sector. The task force neither sought nor aimed for consensus-based decision when making recommendations, allowing for a variety of ideas.
One specific result of the task force recommendations was that, in the spring of 2022, USDA committed funds to the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE DBIC) for non-competitive grants to assist farms’ facilities upgrades and milk quality improvements in order to obtain another contract to ship milk. These funds have been administered through sub-grants in each state by NOFA-VT, MOFGA, and NOFA-NY.
During the later half of 2022, Maple Hill actually began bringing back most of their terminated producers due to a significant increase in demand for grass-fed milk. Other processors, notably Organic Valley and Stonyfield also stepped up to the plate; Organic Valley sent letters of intent to 80 farms and offered membership to another ten.
In June, NOFA-NY began its two-pronged organic dairy project to address some of the issues for New York organic dairies. With funding from the NE DBIC, NOFA-NY is sub-awarding funds of $5,000 to any New York dairy farm that lost its contract in 2021 so they are able to stay in business, and make required upgrades to obtain another contract. These grants were open until the end of 2022.
In addition, the New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI) has funded NOFA-NY to provide organic technical assistance for participating farms. As a result, NOFA-NY’s new Organic Dairy Educator – former Agri-Mark inspector Linda Young – is able to meet with operators on their farm to assess their eligibility for our grant program, as well as review their systems. The program works to identify barriers and connect farms with additional resources for on-farm improvements. This is especially important because, unlike in the other states, NOFA-NY was denied requests to obtain a list of those producers who lost their contracts. Several partners have done mailings announcing NOFA-NY’s grant program, but given the number of affected Amish and Mennonite producers, direct contact is often the only way that information is obtained. Linda has been traveling the roads of central and upstate New York, stopping in at farms, as well as contacting Amish and Mennonite leaders to get the word out of the availability of these funds.
As of mid-October, NOFA-NY has been in contact with nearly 80 farms, including on-site visits to over 50. Most of these are in central and northern New York where the contract terminations occurred, and represent farms milking ten cows to several hundred.
However, we are well aware that all of our dairy farmers are facing significant obstacles. We encourage farmers to look at our resources page at www.nofany.org/resources/dairy-resources for support, as well as other funding opportunities including direct-to-farmer grants through the NE DBIC, and The John May Farm Safety Fund.
Are You An Organic Dairy Producer In New York Who Lost Your Hauling/Processing Contract In 2021? Even if you now have a contract, you may be eligible for funds and technical assistance services.
NOFA-NY’s grant and organic education services are available to all NY organic dairy farms, regardless of affiliation, religion, or certifier. Please contact us! Liana Hoodes: email@example.com / 914.443.5759 or Linda Young: firstname.lastname@example.org / 315.529.3426
The Improved Pasture Management Project is made possible through the generous support of the New York Farm Viability Institute.