Yogurt-maker Stonyfield says it will work to start buying milk from organic dairy farmers in Maine and around New England who lost out on a key supply deal in August.
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Dairy cows on an organic farm in Skowhegan. (Photo courtesy Maine Farmland Trust)

The New Hampshire-based company said it’s the first time in at least three years that it’s taken on new direct dairy suppliers. The decision comes after Danone subsidiary Horizon said in August that it would end its contracts with 89 dairy farmers around the Northeast, including 14 in Maine.

Stonyfield co-founder Gary Hirshberg said in a press release that the “potential loss” of these farms would lead to more consolidation in an already shrinking and oversupplied industry, which he said would be “devastating” for the region, its environment and rural communities.

“It’s a challenging time for the organic dairy market to absorb more farms, but we can’t just stand by and watch these farms in our own backyard go out of business,” Hirshberg said.

Stonyfield said it will add an unspecified number of the affected farms to its direct supply program immediately. The company’s supply programs currently support more than 200 “small, organic family farms,” according to the release.

Company leaders are also forming a task force with government officials, the dairy industry and nonprofits to devise ways to keep the other farms in business.

In recent weeks, Maine Gov. Janet Mills has urged federal officials and Danone to do more for the affected dairy farmers and has pledged to find other solutions at the state level.

Dairy was historically a major commodity in Maine, especially in and around Kennebec County. But a 2020 report by the Maine Farmland Trust found the state has lost around 94% of its dairy farms since the 1950s as farmers age, farmlands shrink and profit margins narrow.

Federal data shows there were about 27,000 dairy cows in Maine in 2020, sending 589,000 pounds of milk to market at a value of $115 million. The 2017 federal farm census ranks milk as Maine’s top livestock-related commodity, accounting for more than half of sales in that category.

Aurora Dairies, one of the largest milk producers in the country, has added Gray Wigg Gault’s Clydebank Aggregation in Victoria’s Gippsland region to its expanding portfolio for around $20 million.

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