Last month, 14 of our dairy farms in Maine, as well as dozens of dairy farms across northern New England, got an unexpected and disappointing notice from Danone of North America saying that they were discontinuing their contracts with our organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere.
I took action immediately to address this situation.
Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.
Look I know that dairy farms are at the heart of Maine’s agricultural industry, that they provide numerous benefits to our rural communities and to our economy as a whole.
Danone’s intent to discontinue the Horizon contracts poses a great threat, not just to the 14 dairy farms in Maine and about 89 across the Northeast that’ll be directly impacted, but to family businesses, to supply chains and to the overall dairy community in our region.
The ripple effect of this corporate decision could not be more devastating.
So upon being notified about this intent not to renew the contracts, we immediately pledged our support for the impacted farms and we organized a meeting with the congressional offices and statewide agricultural providers to discuss how Maine can best support these farms, the farms that are slated to lose their contracts next year. We have a multi-organizational work group that started immediately to create a tailored response to the challenging situation and to meet the individual needs of every one of these farms.
This administration will continue to do everything we can at the state and regional level, working with other states, to mitigate these challenges. But support and leadership are also needed at the national level so, I wrote to Secretary Vilsack and I asked him to grant a three month grace period for repayment of USDA loans and targeted financial relief from the federal government for all the impacted farms.
I reiterated my calls for the federal government to finalize their proposed Origin of Livestock rule. That would help maintain important markets for Maine organic dairy farmers, and they need to adequately enforce this rule. Our dairy farmers in the Northeast have long been at a disadvantage because the certifiers in other regions are not enforcing the rule as intended. And farms in the Midwest are getting away with not really being organic, but pretending to be organic. We need an equal playing field here, a level playing field.
I also urged the USDA to address the labor shortage in milk hauling and I requested that that agency support both state and regional responses to the problem.
I also contacted Danone and asked them to make substantial monetary donations to the Northeast Dairy Innovation Center to help our farms transition, help them with business planning, and investment. And I asked them to make a substantial monetary gift to the company in Maine that will be fundraising to stand up an in-state organic dairy processing facility and to make sure that they pay our producers their premium payments in this final year of their contract.
Every dairy farm in Maine is important to our state, organic or otherwise, and to our economy as a whole. My administration will continue working with the USDA and with every farm in Maine to support Maine’s dairy farms and to support our agricultural community through this difficult time.
This is Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening.