Organic dairy industry predicts growth in Vermont

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(Host) Despite the hard times in the dairy industry, some farmers at a forum in Burlington Monday found reasons to be hopeful. Organic dairy farmers are paid almost twice as much as their conventional counterparts. And while converting to organic agriculture isn’t the answer for everyone, farmers say the market for organic milk is growing fast.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) With milk prices at a 25-year low, dairy farmers are desperate. The experts warn that Vermont could lose 200 of its 1,400 dairy farms this year.

One bright spot is the growth in the organic side of the dairy business. There are now 60 organic dairy farms in Vermont, up from 20 just a few years ago. These operations don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and must adhere to strict federal standards.

Travis Forgues operates a certified organic dairy in Alburg and is a member of the Organic Valley cooperative. Forgues told a farm forum in Burlington that demand for organic products has grown 20% a year across the country. He says the growth is even higher in New England:

(Forgues) “It is an opportunity that’s growing rapidly. Vermont could double its milk supply in the next year. We are looking actively for people that are looking to go organic.”

(Dillon) Organic farmers get paid about $21 per hundred pounds of milk. That’s about twice as much as what conventional farmers get in today’s market. But it may cost more to farm organically. Organic feed, for example, is considerably more expensive than regular grain. Forgues says the organic farming method isn’t the answer for everyone.

(Forgues) “Organics cannot save every farm in the state of Vermont, that’s true. The way conventional agriculture is right now, it’s saving no farms.”

(Dillon) Organic farming advocates say the state needs a bottling plant for their milk, as well as more research and technical assistance for organic farmers.

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

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