Governor Janet Mills issued the following statement today on Danone North America’s “four part Northeast organic dairy transition plan.” The new plan comes in response to pressure from Governor Mills and officials who urged the company to provide financial support and other resources to organic dairy farms hurt by its sudden August 2021 decision not to renew milk contracts.
“This is a modest but welcome development in a still very difficult situation for the families of our impacted dairy farms who are worried about their future,” said Governor Janet Mills. “While I appreciate the company’s extended support of our hardworking dairy farmers, I know there are still many challenges ahead as a result of Danone’s decision not to renew its contracts. We will continue to work closely with Maine dairy farmers and our other partners to develop long-term solutions to our infrastructure issues that will help us stabilize this industry and secure its future in Maine.”
“We thank our Maine partners and those located across the Northeast and in Washington, DC for joining us in urging Danone and Horizon Organics to do more for these farms,” said Amanda Beal, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “We have been clear about what these farmers need and how we should be working collaboratively to develop the intrastate response needed to get this market on track in Maine and New England. This is progress, but more work is left to be done.”
After Danone, the owner of Horizon Organic, notified 14 Maine organic dairy farms in August 2021 that the global brand intends not to renew contracts for milk with them and other farms across New England, Governor Mills and Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal pledged to assist the impacted Maine farms.
The Mills Administration specifically requested that Danone: 1) commit to paying milk producers their premium payments in the final year contract and for their most recent contracts where premiums may not have not been paid; 2) make a substantial monetary donation to the Northeast Dairy Innovation Center (NDIC) to support farm transition, business planning, and investment; and 3) make a substantial monetary donation to the company in Maine that will be fundraising to stand up in-state organic dairy processing.
In response, Danone announced in a December 13 letter that the company would provide additional support to the affected farms, including:
- extending their current contract an additional six months, for a total of 18-months, ending on February 28, 2023;
- providing a transition payment of an additional amount per hundredweight on the milk purchased from these producers (during the last six months of the agreement);
- providing access (at no cost to the farmer) to farm financial consultants that specialize in providing support for the agriculture community, and;
- exploring co-investment solutions to address some of the systemic challenges related to Northeast organic dairy infrastructure.
“I appreciate Danone's decision to offer additional assistance to Maine's farm families after the Mills Administration took swift action,” said Henry Beck, Maine State Treasure, who also recently wrote a letter to Danone in support of Maine’s organic dairy farmers. “Further, I am grateful to the Treasurer of Vermont for joining our effort to stand up for the dairy industry in all of New England. My office stands ready to engage with Danone and any willing partner to invest in Maine's agricultural economy."
After learning of Danone's decision, the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) immediately started reaching out to the impacted farms. DACF also began working with Maine's Congressional Delegation and other agriculture industry stakeholders — including the Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Organic Milk Producers, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Farmland Trust, Coastal Enterprises, Inc, Land for Good and other agriculture service providers — to form a working group that will discuss both short- and long-term strategies to help the affected farms and support the ongoing viability of Maine's dairy industry, a process that remains ongoing. Commissioner Beal, along with Secretaries and Commissioners of Agriculture in other impacted states in the Northeast, have also met with USDA Secretary Vilsack about this issue, resulting in the USDA’s ongoing support of regional strategies for strengthening dairy processing opportunities.
Governor Mills continues to invest in Maine’s farmers and food processors, most recently dedicating $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds under her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan to create the Agricultural Infrastructure Investment Program. The Agricultural Infrastructure Investment Program, which will allow farmers and food processors to upgrade their outdated infrastructure, builds on the Mills Administration’s commitment to Maine’s agricultural community. In 2020, the Administration also awarded $18 million in CARES Act relief grants to more than 600 farms, food processors, food producers, and food banks and pantries across Maine.