This commentary is by Harold Howrigan, of Fairfield, who is a dairy farmer and the chair of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery board of directors.
Recently, I have seen some headlines that surely have drawn the attention of the entire Vermont dairy community, too.
As we approach the midpoint of the 2018 legislative session, there are once again plenty of external forces putting pressure on dairy farmers. Milk prices are not expected to rise much in the coming year and feed costs continue to rise due to factors well beyond our control. In Montpelier, bills are being introduced in the Vermont Legislature that are pointedly anti-dairy farming. There also seems to be a new barrage of inaccurate media accounts relative to our sector and recent legislative hearings. The totality of these circumstances is not helpful – and in fact, very damaging – to the dairy industry.
In today’s world, we are inundated with information. Whether it is breaking news, social media posts or a tweet, we are never more than a device away from up-to-the minute information. We have become far too accustomed to decisions being made on the basis of “breaking news.” Too often, we later learn, that the information was incomplete or inaccurate. People needlessly are affected, and news quickly spreads – and in some cases simply reprinted by other outlets which ultimately perpetuates erroneous information. Unfortunately, we have seen this too often in the recent past.
As the Vermont Legislature gears up to tackle the second half of the biennium, we ask that our elected representatives make decisions based on informed testimony, science-based facts and knowledge from experts in the relevant field. We urge anyone who is writing an article or blog post on a bill, issue or recent event to double check for facts and accuracy. The St. Albans Cooperative is always ready to provide facts or clarity to anyone seeking it.
Dairy farming has its challenges, but also incredible rewards. Each dairy farm is a business. Each cow generates about $12,500 in economic activity annually and the average Vermont farm produces enough milk to make about 250,000 pounds of cheese, or more than a million servings of Greek yogurt, or between 50,000 and 60,000 pounds of butter.
Obviously, there is more happening at these farms than you see when you drive past one. The dairy industry of the Northeast supports some major global brands with this much-needed raw ingredient that is required to make various products. You know the brands – Ben & Jerry’s, Franklin Foods, Chobani and Fage, for example. These brands have evolved and are sustained by a resilient dairy industry that is made up of hardworking families, strong infrastructure, productive cows, fertile fields and a climate that makes it possible to produce quality milk.
As dairy farmers contend with low milk prices, high production costs and the need to make other decisions that will affect our dairy farming businesses and families, we don’t need legislators and regulators jeering and cheering as our numbers shrink. We expect respect.
Together, we can make sure that our brand, environment and livelihoods aren’t tarnished. Let’s work to make sure that the best decisions and information is available to accomplish that.
By: Harold Howrigan