Governor Janet Mills today attended the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance’s (NODPA) 21st Annual Field Day in Freeport where she pledged to continue to fight for Maine’s organic dairy farmers in the wake of a recent notice from Danone of North America that it will discontinue its Horizon contracts with organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and elsewhere.
In her remarks, the Governor paid tribute to Maine’s farmers and said she would continue to fight for their industry.
“As the granddaughter of Aroostook County potato farmers, I know firsthand that our farmers are pragmatic, tough, resilient, and driven people. Rising before the dawn to tend the fields or mind the livestock, they keep their heads down and their hands in the dirt. They work hard every day, every year, with a little grit and a whole lot of faith,” said Governor Mills. “My Administration will do everything we can to fight for this important industry, especially our 14 farms impacted directly by Danone’s decision. We’re going to give it all we’ve got, because every dairy farm in Maine is important to our state, organic or otherwise, and is vital to our culture, our health, our environment, and to our economy as a whole.”
Amanda Beal, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF), who is leading the Administration’s efforts to assist Maine farmers, also delivered remarks.
“We have made it a priority to work on finding solutions with our partners, including other organizations like those here today,”said Commissioner Beal. “We are looking for in-state solutions and working with our neighboring states in the Northeast and with processors committed to the region to identify additional processing and value-added production opportunities that can benefit our farmers.”
Upon being notified by Danone about Horizon’s intent not to renew contracts with 89 organic dairy farms in the Northeast, including 14 in Maine, the Mills Administration immediately pledged its support for impacted farms and organized a meeting with Maine’s Congressional offices and statewide agricultural service providers to discuss how Maine can best support farms that are slated to lose their contracts. A broad-based working group continues to respond to this challenging situation in a way that meets the needs of each individual farm.
The Governor wrote to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging his Department to help the Maine organic dairy farms impacted by Danone’s decision. In her letter, she noted the serious impact that the termination of the contracts will have on the organic dairy farmers, on the dairy industry generally, and on Maine’s economy. She emphasized that, in addition to state and regional efforts, Federal leadership is necessary to mitigate the impact of Danone’s actions on Maine’s dairy industry.
She requested a three month grace period for repayment of USDA loans and specific federal financial relief for impacted farms as they transition to new opportunities. Governor Mills reiterated her calls for the USDA to finalize its proposed Origin of Livestock Rule and to vigorously enforce the rule. Organic dairy farmers in the Northeast have long been at a disadvantage because certifiers in other regions are not enforcing the rule as intended. Governor Mills also urged USDA to address the labor shortage in milk hauling and requested that the agency support both state and regional responses to the problem.
The Mills Administration has requested Danone: 1) make a substantial monetary donation to the Northeast Dairy Innovation Center to support farm transition, business planning, and investment; 2) make a substantial monetary donation to the new farmer-led company in Maine that plans to stand up in-state organic dairy processing; and 3) commit to paying our producers their premium payments in this final year contract and fulfilling their most recent contracts where premiums have been withheld.
Maine’s Congressional Delegation joined the Governor’s call in a separate letter to Secretary Vilsack.