Leon Berthiaume: DFA working to secure a long future for dairy industry in Vermont

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August 1 marks the one-year anniversary commemorating the merger between St. Albans Cooperative Creamery and Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). It's hard to believe that one year has already gone by, and so much has already changed. Naturally, at that time, none of us could have predicted a pandemic, or the unprecedented impact it would have on our lives and the ways we have had to adapt to what is now being termed, our "new normal."

As many of you know, with the announcement of the merger last year, DFA committed to do three things for the dairy farm families of St. Albans: 1) protect the investment and equity that St. Albans members made throughout its 100-year history; 2) strengthen the milk marketing returns to dairy farmers; and 3) reinvest in our assets — both our plant and the transportation fleet — to position the Vermont dairy industry for the best opportunity for the future.

Today, I'm pleased to share, that despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have been able to make good on these commitments. If you have driven by our St. Albans plant recently, you have seen the construction activity taking place. We are gearing up for a busy summer, and by late this fall, we will have three new receiving bays and silos. This new investment will allow for increased efficiency and milk storage at the plant.

The City of St. Albans has been instrumental in providing guidance and support as we have prepared for this project. For example, we had to request a bylaw change that would allow us to install taller silos, which will help us maximize our space. The City Manager and staff, as well as the boards and councils with whom we worked, were fair and very responsive. We are lucky to be part of a community that is forward-thinking and entrepreneurial when it comes to development.

In addition to the investment at the plant, we have also invested in the milk hauling and transportation fleet named Northeast Area Logistics. To date, we have ordered and put on the road approximately 25 new tractors and 40 new trailers to help modernize and support milk pickup from our family farm-owners. In total, we have earmarked approximately $40 million for the overall investment in Vermont in the upcoming years.

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Throughout this, we have made changes to assure the safety and health of our staff — including plant workers, milk haulers and administration teams as a result of COVID-19.

I certainly cannot tell you what a new normal will look like as we continue to re-open our economy amongst the impact of COVID-19. There are plenty of unknowns, and likely there will be new challenges as a result.

I can tell you, I am looking forward to the finished product and know that our dairy farmer-members, staff and community are as well.

Being part of the DFA family, the collaboration with community partners and support from the city gives me great confidence that, together, we will succeed and be able to secure a long future for the dairy industry in Vermont and beyond.

Leon Berthiaume is senior advisor, Vermont Operations, for Dairy Farmers of America. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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