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Growing Organic Dairy Close To Home

August 9, 2013 | stonyfield Britt

Organic dairy production in the Northeast

Stonyfield is launching a project to investigate what opportunities there are for growing organic dairy production in the Northeast.

Stonyfield began as a small organic dairy in Wilton, NH in 1983 and today our Yogurt Works is still headquartered in Londonderry, NH. For three decades we have emphasized purchasing as much of our milk locally as possible. As we have grown, we have become an important customer for Northeast dairy farmers. Protecting and promoting the viability of agriculture, particularly dairy, in New England and the Northeast is at the core of our mission and values. For decades, organic dairy has been a demonstrably better way to support dairy farm viability and profitability in our region because it provides a higher and more stable price to farmers for their milk.

We are excited by the progress we have made in helping to support many organic dairy farms in the region. For instance, in 1996 there was one certified organic dairy farm in Maine. Today, there are 68, comprising 22% of Maine’s 307 commercial dairy farms thanks in large part to our purchases. But the sad part of that statistic is that the overall number of viable dairy farms is in steep decline. When we started Stonyfield, there were over 400 working dairy farms in New Hampshire, and now that number is close to 100. So as proud as we are to have helped grow the number of viable farms and organically managed acres, we feel a great deal of urgency to do more to reverse the overall decline in dairy production in the Northeast.

Stonyfield has decided to explore what can be done to more aggressively grow organic dairy in our region. As a first step, during the summer of 2013, we are meeting with farmers and technical assistance providers to gather input on what people see as the main obstacles and opportunities for growing organic dairy in this region.

We also want to gain a better understanding of what can be done to overcome the economic disadvantages that Northeastern organic dairy farms face in terms of the cost of feed and other inputs. We believe this will help us to meet the dual goals of enhancing farmer profitability while also keeping the organic price premium at a level that allows consumer demand for organic dairy to continue to grow. Additionally, we are interested in exploring opportunities to leverage philanthropic involvement and private investment to help grow the overall base of organic dairy farms in the Northeast.

As a part of this project, Stonyfield is investigating whether sourcing a small portion of our milk needs directly from farms would help us achieve our goals. Since we became entirely organic in 2007, Stonyfield has sourced all of its milk from the CROPP cooperative. CROPP has played an indispensable role in driving the growth of organic dairy production across the US, including here in the Northeast. With Stonyfield’s recent expansion to bring our Greek Yogurt production in-house, we would like to see if we can find a way to bring in more milk from closer to home. We value our strong relationship with CROPP and their farmer members. Stonyfield is taking the lead on this project, but we are doing it with cooperation and guidance from CROPP.

Stonyfield is looking for farmers willing to work with us as we explore how to grow organic milk production in the Northeast, build farmer profitability, and create continued growth for organic dairy in the marketplace. If you are a new farmer looking to get started in organic dairy, a conventional farmer considering the transition to organic, or an existing organic dairy farmer interested in working with us on this project, we welcome you to contact us at milk@stonyfield.com.

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