Governor Mills Urges USDA to Support Maine Organic Dairy Farms In Wake Of Danone Decision to Not Renew Horizon Brand Milk Contracts
Augusta, ME (STL.News) Governor Janet Mills urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide support to the Maine organic dairy farms who were notified recently that their contracts will not be renewed by the global company Danone’s subsidiary, Horizon Organics. In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Governor Mills noted the serious impact that the termination of the contracts will have on Maine’s organic dairy farmers, the dairy industry statewide, and Maine’s economy, and said that, in addition to state and regional efforts, Federal leadership is necessary to help mitigate the impact on Maine’s dairy industry.
“Dairy farms are at the heart of Maine’s agricultural industry, providing numerous benefits to our rural communities and to our economy. Danone’s intent to discontinue Horizon contracts poses a significant threat, not only to 14 dairy farms in Maine and 89 across the Northeast which will be directly impacted by this decision, but to family businesses, supply chains and the overall dairy community in our region,” wrote Governor Mills.
“My administration will continue to do everything that we can at the state and regional level to mitigate these challenges. But support and leadership are also needed at the national level,” Governor Mills added.
In her letter to Secretary Vilsack, Governor Mills requested a three month grace period for repayment of USDA loans and targeted federal financial relief for impacted farms as they transition to new opportunities. Governor Mills also reiterated her calls for the USDA to finalize its proposed Origin of Livestock rule, which would help maintain important markets for Maine organic dairy farmers, and to adequately 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 Governor also noted in her letter that her Administration has requested Danone undertake the following actions: 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 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 for their most recent contracts where premiums may not have not been paid.
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. The meeting resulted in a multi-organizational working group to create a tailored response to this challenging situation that meets the individual needs of each farm.