The Vermont Agency of Agriculture is coordinating a “Northern Tier Dairy Summit.” The intent is to find new initiatives that can help manage dairy farms outside of federal constraints.
According to the state Agency of Agriculture, the goal of the summit is to develop actionable, timely and responsive solutions to the current dairy economy. Sessions will assess what can be done to stabilize the industry and how to redefine one of the largest industries in the Northeast.
Vermont Farm Bureau Legislative Director Jackie Folsom says the summit builds upon a similar meeting held last summer in Albany. “There were a lot of great ideas that came out of that and some of them are still being discussed at cooperatives’ levels. But I think Secretary Tebbetts from the Agency of Agriculture here in Vermont thought he wanted to get more of a farmer perspective. There were a lot of industry and government people at the meeting in Albany and I think he wanted to try and get it a little closer to the ground and talk about what was happening and how the farmers are looking to find solutions.”
Vermont Agency of Agriculture Section Chief for Agricultural Development Laura Ginsburg is coordinating the upcoming summit. “After four years of very low milk prices the state of Vermont has lost about 10 percent of its dairy farms this year. So we’ve gone from just under 800 to now just under 700 dairy farms. And the agency realized that we can’t just sit back and hope that things will change. We need to start to take a more proactive stance and look at the other options that are out there instead of just assuming the status quo will be good enough going into the future. We want a better future for dairy.”
With the goal to burrow down to the farm level to find alternatives, Folsom says the summit will provide opportunities to also discuss what is working. “One of the things I’m excited about is once the government gets back up and running the programs that are available through the new Farm Bill. I’m hoping that the farmers who are there will be able to network a lot and talk about what is working as far as those new programs and what isn’t working and maybe give me a little insight as to how they could be tweaked if they need to be. Except for the fact farmers get together when their coop meets you don’t often have an across the board meeting of farmers of all sizes of all types of dairy farming. I mean anytime you get farmers together and they start talking you can always learn something from each other. I’m hoping that is a big component of this meeting.”
Funding from the Northern Borders Regional Commission will sponsor the registration, meals and one night of lodging for 100 farmers from New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, to be chosen by lottery. Applications close Friday. “We’re hopeful that voices from other states will attend and will speak up because, while Vermont is the largest producer of milk in New England, New York has a very large dairy population that’s being impacted just the same as we are. And so we want to encourage cross-state cross-regional dialogue and make sure that really that all farmers are coming up together.”
The summit, scheduled for April 1st and 2nd at Jay Peak Resort, will not discuss larger national issues such as ways to change dairy prices through the creation of a supply management system because, according to the agency, such issues are out of the direct control of individual farmers.