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Danone’s offer is a ‘small step,’ say Northeast organic dairy farmers

Groups representing organic dairy farmers in the Northeast said Danone North America, owner of Horizon Organic, needs to do more to cushion farmers against its decision to pull out of the region. Danone said it would extend contracts with 89 dairy farmers for an additional six months, provide a transition payment to the producers, and explore “co-investment solutions” with state and federal officials.

“We’re glad we got a response to our requests, which is one small step in the right direction,” said Sarah Alexander, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “There are still many details to figure out for our producers and lots of work to be done to improve infrastructure and ensure a future for organic dairy in the region.”

Early this week, Danone said it would extend contracts with the 89 organic dairies through Feb. 28, 2023, six months beyond the original termination date, and pay an additional amount on milk produced in the final six months as a transitional payment. It also said would explore co-investments to resolve systemic challenges to milk production in the region.

Organic farm groups had hoped to persuade Danone to continue doing business in the region or, alternatively, to provide $15 million in severance money to the dairy farmers and $25 million toward a new milk processing plant in New England.

“If they are determined to leave, we are glad they are working towards meeting some of our requests to leave the region in a stronger position,” said Grace Oedel, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

Vermont state agriculture director Anson Tebbetts said the six-month extension of contracts would provide “a little more breathing room” to set up new processing facilities or to connect farmers with new processors, reported VTDigger. Tebbetts said recommendations would be sent to the USDA this week as part of the effort to find or create markets for the dairy farmers.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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