The Commonwealth Dairy building at the Omega Optical campus in Brattleboro. (Reformer file photo)
The Commonwealth Dairy building at the Omega Optical campus in Brattleboro. (Reformer file photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- When Commonwealth Dairy set up shop in Brattleboro and started producing yogurt, one of the promises it made was to return 5 percent of its net profits to its dairy farm partners.

Since it began operating in March of 2011, Commonwealth Dairy has returned a little more than $400,000 to dairy farmers. Late last week, a round of grants totaling more than $380,000 was announced, the majority of that coming from Commonwealth Dairy.

"About $362,000," said Thomas Moffitt, president and CEO. "The balance came from grants."

On July 17, the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board announced $384,000 in grants for infrastructure improvements on Vermont dairy farms.

"We have done a couple of things recently," said Moffitt. "We donated some money to Vision Vermont to bring in consultants to help improve farms operationally."

But VHCB received most of Commonwealth's donation, because it already had a preexisting program to provide grants to dairy farmers.

"We thought that might be a good vehicle to return some of these funds back to the farms," said Moffitt.

Commonwealth Dairy participated in the grant review process, he said.

Under the Farm & Forest Viability Program, 17 dairy operations received grants ranging between $4,300 and $40,000.

"These Dairy Improvement Grants are aimed at improving both milk production and financial viability on Vermont dairy farms," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, during a press conference announcing the release of the funds.


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"With support from Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy and the assistance and cooperation of the funding entities in securing tax credit equity, this public/private partnership is providing assistance that our farmers can use to improve the bottom line in the very competitive world of dairy farming."

In total, 57 Vermont dairy farms submitted project proposals, which included repairing barn floors, upgrading existing milking parlors, adding robotic milking parlors or second milking parlors, replacing bulk cooling tanks, replacing stall mats for cow comfort, addressing energy inefficiency, and general facility repairs.

Commonwealth Dairy's three years in Brattleboro have been marked by one notable success after another. In its first six months following its opening, Commonwealth Dairy hired 30 people and was producing 622,000 pounds of Greek yogurt. It now employs more than 145 people in Vermont.

In June 2013, it completed a $12-million expansion of its $28.5 million plant to support a new product line. And in October 2013, it opened a new facility in Arizona to supply its products to its West Coast clients.

Moffitt founded Commonwealth Dairy with Ben Johnson, partnering with Ehrmann AG, a German yogurt company. It has specialized in co-packaging its Vermont-sourced yogurt for clients around the country and has created its own product line, Green Mountain Creamery, and recently released a line of kid-friendly yogurt squeeze pouches called YoYummy. According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, the private labels include Wegmans and Costco, among others.

In 2013, Greek yogurt accounted for 70 percent of Commonwealth Dairy's $70 million in estimated revenues. Paul Cohen, writing for Forbes, noted Commonwealth's estimated revenues are on track to hit $140 million in 2014.

According to the Forbes article, Commonwealth Dairy buys its milk from a co-op that represents 1,000 farms, each of which have about 50 cows.

A second round of Dairy Improvement Grants will be held this fall, with applications available in September and due in December. Later this summer, specific information for the second round of grants will be posted at www.vhcb.org/viability.

Recipients of the first round of grants included: Aires Hill Farm Inc., Enosburg Falls; Hall and Breen Farm, Orwell; James and Kristie Callan, Fairfield; Randy Callan, Fairfield; Corey Acres Farm, Fairfield; Dodd Farms, Franklin; Windfall Acres, Highgate Center; Rusty John Farm, Addison; M & C Family Farm, Charlotte; Longway Farms, Swanton; Northwind Farm, Walden; Magnan Bros. Dairy, Inc., Fairfield; Sheldon Farm Inc., Fair Haven; Sizen Dairy Farm, Georgia Center; Green Dream Farm, Franklin; Green Wind Farm, Fairfield; and Franklin Yates, Fairfield.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.