Organizers question future of farmers’ milk processing plant

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(Host) Supporters of a plan to locate a new milk processing plant in Springfield say their proposal faces an uncertain future because lawmakers failed to appropriate half a million dollars for the project. If the plan does go forward, it’s likely that a different location will be chosen for the project.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The goal of the organization, Dairy Farmers of Vermont, was to purchase and renovate an old milk processing plant in Springfield that would market its milk with a Vermont label.

The cost of the project is estimated to be roughly $5 million. The group had about 85 percent of the financing in place when it asked the state to take an equity position in the project by investing $500,000 in the proposal.

The Senate supported this idea but the House and the governor opposed it and the proposal was ultimately dropped from the capital construction bill.

Anthony Pollina, who’s one of the project organizers, is still bitter about a decision by lawmakers to appropriate several hundred thousand dollars to help Vermont Ski Areas buy ads this winter to boost attendance, and their refusal to make funds available for the milk processing plant:

(Pollina) “It just seems like the farmers made a mistake. They should have taken their ski boots out and their ski poles out when they came down to Montpelier because the ski areas got their money and the farmers didn’t, and that’s the bottom line.”

(Kinzel) Pollina says the Legislature’s decision not to invest in this facility has caused one of the leading investors of the plan, a group known as Our Family Farms, to consider building their own plant in western Massachusetts.

Pollina says his group will have to rethink both the size and the location of its proposed facility if this investor pulls out of the project:

(Pollina) “We’re going back to the drawing board, which means that if the project does happen it’s certainly going to be delayed. And every month it’s delayed means farmers lose more money and we lose more farmers.”

(Kinzel) Deputy Agriculture Secretary Louise Calderwood defended the administration’s opposition to the equity plan. Calderwood says the state supports additional private investment in this project and she says the group could always seek additional loan money from the Vermont Economic Development Authority:

(Calderwood) “The way that I characterize the decision is that we have a number of individuals in the state who are investing private funds in milk processing. So I think that, as a state, we need to be very sensitive to what private individuals are doing and how the use of state resources impacts their ability to move forward with their own funding, their own risk.”

(Kinzel) Pollina says backers of this project hope to finalize a new proposal in the next few weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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