Tuesday, January 16, 2007

David Van Deusen: "Crisis And Hope On Vermont's Farms"

Vermont Commons offers a transcript of an interview by David Van Deusen conducted with Peter Sterling, Vermont dairy farm organizer.

I've got a big snip here, but visit Vermont Commons for the entire piece which is definitely worth reading, whether you're a farmer, a dairy consumer, someone passionate about the state you call home, or a mix of two or three of these:
In 2002 a group of Vermont dairy farmers approached organizers Anthony Polina and Peter Sterling and asked them to help form a democratic organization that could effectively fight for farmers’ rights. What grew out of this is the Dairy Farmers of Vermont (DFV). Today this grassroots organization consists of over 300 farms representing a staggering eight hundred and fifty million pounds of annual raw milk, or one third of the total produced in the state. They expect to open a farmer owned milk processing plant sometime shortly after the year’s first significant snow fall. What follows is an interview with DFV organizer Peter Sterling about the organization, their future plans, as well as the general state of agriculture in Vermont and beyond.

Interviewer: Peter, what is the situation with Vermont’s dairy farms?

Peter Sterling: Under Clinton and the Bush administration there has been enormous consolidation in the processing industry. Where [Vermont] farmers, twenty years ago had 15-20 places they could sell their milk, now they basically have two Agrimark and Dairy Farmers of America, [the latter of which] gobbled up the St. Albans Coop.

Because farmers don’t have enough places to sell their milk these two big corporations, which control 85% of the fluid milk in New England, can dictate the price. And they often dictate horrible measures. Farmers have to pay the transportation cost. When gas prices go up, they tag farmers with a surcharge for hauling milk. They charge farmers a fee for those ‘Got Milk?’ ads. Dairy farmers pay for those with a surcharge that is taken out of their milk check. It has basically created a slave system for farmers.

For example, farmers, when they get their milk check every week, have no idea for how much it’s going to be for. Imagine anybody else being asked to go to work and run a business and not having any idea how much their product is going to sell for. You would never ask a teacher or a politician to do that. They know what their pay stub is. But farmers are slaves to this system, when the milk prices plummet there is nothing they can do. These big milk guys, if they had their way they would have just one big farm with 10,000 cows. Because for them it is inefficient to make all these stops.

So what you’ll notice is the big politicians like [former Vermont Governor, Democrat] Howard Dean or [current governor, Republican] Jim Douglas or their AG secretaries pay lip service to farms going out of business, but they always say ‘don’t worry, the amount of milk Vermont is producing is not falling.’ Like that’s the measure of how good things are going.
[Ed. note: In the spirit of disclosure - although all I'm doing here is pointing you to the article, my partner, John, happens to work for AgriMark at the Cabot Creamery. Our dog loves the idea that John works for cows. ::chuckle::]


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