(Host) For the first time in many decades, there are fewer than one-thousand active dairy farms in Vermont.
But as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, the amount of milk they produce is as high as ever.
(Sneyd) Dairy farms have been disappearing in Vermont since the 1940s when more than 11,000 small, family operations dotted the landscape.
In May, for the first time since sheep farming was dominant in the first half of the 19th century, the number dropped into the hundreds.
(Bothfeld) "It’s a personal marker for myself, as well, of 1,000 dairy farms. I’ve been working in the dairy industry for getting to be almost 20 years now. So, yeah, that’s a personal marker for me of 1,000 farms."
(Sneyd) Diane Bothfeld is deputy agriculture secretary for dairy policy.
Although the number is symbolically important, she’s quick to point out that she believes the industry is thriving.
Just last year, 18 farms and companies applied to the Agriculture Agency for licenses to process cheese, yogurt and other dairy products.
And Bothfeld says there’s plenty of milk for those operations to process.
(Bothfeld) "The remaining farms are either more productive or larger than in the past. So we are still maintaining our milk production, but the number of farms that that milk is coming from has changed."
(Sneyd) There are fewer cows, but they produce just as much as when there were more animals and more farms.
(Parsons) "Dairy’s still going to be king here for awhile."
(Sneyd) Bob Parsons is an economist with the University of Vermont Extension Service.
He concedes that there might be something symbolic about cows on a hillside and farmers tending their fields. But he says that’s an outdated vision of rural America.
(Parsons) "The image of the American Gothic couple there with their pitchfork in his hand. Pitchforks are not even used around a lot of farms. They don’t know what to do with them."
(Sneyd) Parsons is bullish on the future of dairy farming in Vermont. He points out that 200 of the 992 farms that remain are organic operations.
That, Parsons says, allows smaller farms to stay in business, earn a little more for what they produce and help Vermont maintain its nostalgic view of itself.
For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd