A Wisconsin-based organic milk cooperative has offered membership to 80 small farms in the northeastern U.S., including ones in Maine, that face losing their market base because of a recent contract termination.
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FILE PHOTO Organic dairy farms in the Northeast have been grappling with the expected loss of a market for their milk.

Organic Valley, based in LaFarge, Wisc., said 10 organic family farms have already accepted the membership offer, but the company did not identify them.

The proposal comes after Danone North America in August notified 89 dairy farms, including 14 in Maine, that their contracts with subsidiary Horizon Organic would end next year as the company pulls out of the region. That would leave many farms no outlet for their milk.

In recent years, France’s Danone S.A., the owner of Danone North America, has transitioned milk procurement to large farms in the West and Midwest.

Organic Valley is the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the U.S. and one of the world’s largest organic consumer brands. Founded in 1988 to sustain family farms through organic farming, the cooperative represents about 1,700 farmers in 34 U.S. states, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“We are the only national brand still fighting for small family farms because we know that the best quality food is ethically sourced from small family farms,” Bob Kirchoff, Organic Valley CEO, said in a statement.

“With the help of consumers and customers across the country, we are helping solve the crisis of disappearing small family farms. We are creating the food system we all want — one that regenerates soil, cares for animals, nourishes people, and strengthens communities,” Kirchoff said.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills applauded the company’s offer.

“This is outstanding and welcome news for Maine’s organic dairy farmers, many of whom have been worried sick about what comes next after Horizon pulled the rug out from underneath them last year,” Mills said. “Our dairy farmers work hard every single day, and I know that Organic Valley will benefit from this new partnership.”

Mills said her administration will continue working with our agricultural community, the Legislature and Maine’s congressional delegation to support dairy farmers and build up in-state dairy processing capacity.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has also been participating in discussions with other state and federal agencies and private industry to encourage more local and regional processing and market opportunities.

In addition, yogurt maker Stonyfield Organic said it would expand its supplier network in the Northeast. and formed a partnership of farmers, processors, activists and government agencies in an effort to help the organic dairy farmers.

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