NOFA-NY awards over $100,000 to help organic dairy farms transition to new milk buyers

Since spring 2022, NOFA-NY has assisted 33 NY organic dairy farms in making over $100,000 worth of upgrades. The farms, ranging from 10 to over 200 cows, required facility upgrades and new equipment to meet the requirements of a new milk-buying contract after their previous contracts were terminated in 2021.  

With funding from the  Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE DBIC) and the New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI), NOFA-NY provided $5,000 grants or directly purchased equipment for each farm. The program was carried out by Liana Hoodes and Linda Young who initially connected with over 100 farms, and over 80 were visited by Linda to assess their eligibility, review their systems, identify barriers, and connect farms with additional resources for on-farm improvements.

In 2021, 92 NY organic dairies were informed that they no longer had a milk buyer when their contracts were terminated by Horizon Organic or  Maple Hill Creamery. According to USDA, there were then about 750 dairy operations in New York (~400 certified by NOFA-NY), so the terminated contracts threatened the viability of a significant percentage of NY farms with smaller dairies in remote locations most affected. 

The news of contract terminations came amidst rising costs of feed, transportation, and other costs of production. While organic dairies experience increased costs of production, the price they are paid for their milk has not changed, making it increasingly difficult to stay in business. Because of these pressures, dairies across the region are selling their cows or closing their doors completely, causing increasing concentration in the industry and removing the numerous benefits that small-scale farms provide their communities. According to the USDA Organic Survey, there were 94 fewer organic dairy farms in NY in 2021 compared to 2019. That’s a decline of about 15% of organic dairy farms while the number of cows stayed relatively steady over the same period (2% decline). 

As a result of the wave of terminations, NOFA-NY participated in the Northeast Dairy Task Force which called on the USDA to urgently provide support for organic dairy in the Northeast. One outcome was a new program administered by the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE DBIC), which provided funds for non-competitive grants to assist farms that lost their contracts and needed facilities upgrades and milk quality improvements in order to obtain a contract with a new buyer. This program was administered locally through sub-grants in each state by NOFA-VT, MOFGA, and NOFA-NY.  In NY, the New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI) also provided funds for NOFA-NY to support program staffing, transportation, and farm assessment. 

NOFA-NY is grateful for the opportunity to support the viability of 33 small farms and looks forward to continued efforts to alleviate the organic dairy crisis and help build a fair and competitive market for local and regional organic dairy.

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