There was swift backlash against Danone after 14 farms suddenly received non-renewal notices back in August.
Danone, which owns Horizon Organic, says the decision came down to distance. It’s hard to find drivers, transportation costs are high and milk coming from Maine has a shorter shelf life.
“We are trying to focus on farms closer to our Northeast processing, which is in Western New York,” Chris Adamo of Danone North America said.
This week, the company notified Maine officials it was offering a four-part solution.
Contracts would be extended another six months, farmers would get a transition payment for some of their milk, consultants would be provided at no cost and Danone could work with other stakeholders to address system challenges to organic dairy infrastructure.
“We determined that we needed to put together a stronger support system, a stronger package of support for the transition for these farms,” Danone said.
For Leslie Smith, the announcement is too little, too late.
“After my son left, we just couldn’t wait,” Smith said. “We had to sell out.”
Smith got into organic dairy about 15 years ago.
His son considered taking over the family business in Dixfield, but after Danone’s August announcement, they sold off their cows in October.
“They decided if there’s no market for your milk, you can’t farm,” Smith said.
That’s part of the reason why the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association says this is only a small step forward.
“It falls short of what we’ve asked Danone to do, and we still feel they’re leaving the region in a way that isn’t helpful,” Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Executive Director Sarah Alexander said.
She says there are two other processors that pick up organic milk in Maine: Stoneyfield and Organic Valley.
Some farms may decide to go direct to consumer.
“It really may be a business by business decision for each of these families,” Alexander said.
The organization and state officials say they will keep working with farmers to figure out a way forward.