Farmers launch dairy company

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(Host) A group of dairy farmers has launched a new company with the goal of paying producers more for their milk.

The company has bought a processing plant in Hardwick, and it’s starting out by making dairy products for other companies.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The business philosophy behind the Vermont Milk Company is simple: farmers should capitalize on the Vermont brand – and the profits should go back to the farm.

Anthony Pollina is the company’s executive vice president.

(Pollina) “It was our theory that the Vermont name adds value to everything from maple syrup to teddy bears and there didn’t seem to be any good reason why there was not more effort to add value to Vermont milk.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Milk Company is controlled by farmers, although there are several non-farmer investors. It promises to pay $15 dollars for 100 pounds of milk. That’s $2 or $3 more than what farmers get now.

The company had its roots in a farm organizing effort that began three years ago. A group of about 300 farmers tried to negotiate with existing processors, but were not successful in getting a higher price for their products.

Dexter Randall is a dairy farmer from Troy and secretary of the new corporation.

(Randall) “I’m in hopes that this is going to be a business model that will show other farmers and other groups that would like to do such a thing that we can get away from the commodity market system which we know has had its problems and it does not deliver a fair price back to farmers.”

(Dillon) The company is starting small. It’s bought a processing plant in Hardwick for $650,000, and will initially handle milk from about five farms in the Northeast Kingdom.

At first, the company will sell produce, a range of products such as ice cream, cheese and yogurt for other companies. Pollina says the demand is there, because potential customers, which he would not name, want to advertise their products as being made with Vermont milk.

(Pollina) “We also have low overhead, no big high-paid executives, the existing contracts, and the fact that right now people want access to 100% Vermont milk. And we’re going to give them those things.”

(Dillon) Eventually, the Vermont Milk Company hopes to bottle milk and sell under its own brand.

Its milk will not be from organic farms. But the company says all its products will come from cows that are not treated with synthetic growth hormone.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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