Brattleboro forum focuses on challenges to dairy industry

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BRATTLEBORO >> Every day, dairy brings approximately $3 million in circulating cash to the state of Vermont. But the industry is changing and on Friday afternoon several interested and key figures from around the state were asked to discuss the change.

This dairy forum was made possible by Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, LLC, which produces dairy products and Greek Yogurt; DairyVisionVT, a non-profit organization that provides workshops, advocacy and business consultants that educate about the dairy industry in Vermont; and the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a private, non-profit economic development organization.

Vermont State Representative Carolyn Partridge facilitated the discussion for a panel of dairy industry professionals. Other special remarks were given by special attendees, including U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.

"When you're a farmer, no matter how efficient you are, no matter how frugal you are, no matter how much you fix own equipment or no matter how much you depend on your family to help get out there at basically no pay to get the harvest in, you don't control things," said Welch.

Welch further stated sanctions placed on Russia or changes in the weather that affect the "day-to-day lives of farmers," are out of the control of farmers. Therefore, Welch insisted there is a need for a federal policy that helps farmers through the "cyclical" times.

Partridge moderated the conversation for the panel, which included Adam Grinold from BDCC, Ross Gibson from Commonwealth Dairy, Peter Cole, Executive Director of Holstein Association USA and Rob Wheeler, a dairy farmer from Wilmington. A series of questions were asked by Partridge to each member of the panel, including questions around how do you find qualified employees for the workspace, how their farm or work fits into the local community and what positions are most challenging to fill around the dairy industry.

Among many of the speakers, several said they make efforts to hire from within, but when it comes to dairy food science positions, or those that call for more in depth qualifications, there is a shortage.

"As a member of the southern Vermont dairy community, we want to highlight the contributions dairy makes not only to the economic vibrancy of the area, but to the myriad opportunities dairy employment provides in the region," said Thomas Moffitt, CEO of Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, LLC.

Another topic of interest discussed by the panel and other attendees was aiming toward the youth and educating them about the jobs that do exist.

During the question and answer section of the forum, Sen. Becca Balint asked about the transition from conventional to organic farms and what are the obstacles. Wheeler, the dairy farmer of the bunch, chose to tackle that question and said that it is a choice of the farmer and has nothing to do with quality, nutrition or content.

"I think organic is just another choice that we have for our consumers," Wheeler said.

He went on to say that organic is "right" for some people but not for all dairy farmers for a variety of reasons. He said current organic producers may not appreciate more farms going organic because then their product would become a commodity, affecting the price. Most importantly, Wheeler said the focus needs to be on having dairy farms that work together and support each other.

Partridge encouraged attendees to review a packet that was handed out — "Milk Matters: The Role of Dairy in Vermont," which highlighted many facts and statistics about the dairy industry.

According to the Vermont Dairy Promotion Council's Milk Matters report, dairy brings $2.2 billion in economic activity to the state. In addition, every cow in Vermont generates about $12,500.

At the end of the forum, Executive Director of DairyVisionVT, Jackie Folsom, challenged business owners to match the two different scholarships that will be awarded to a student interested in pursuing the dairy industry at the University of Vermont as well as Vermont Technical College. Those interested in supporting this challenge, should contact Folsom at 802-777-3857 dairyvisionvt@aol.com

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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