The future of dairy farming in Vermont WILL NOT be 25 or 30 large farms in Addison, Franklin and Orleans counties trying to compete with farms in the mid west and west milking 5,000 or 10,000 cows as some dairy industry insiders would lead you to believe. The commercial dairy industry is rapidly consolidating and commercial dairy farms are becoming ever and ever larger. I recently spoke with a dairy farmer from the Snake River Valley in Idaho. He told me that within a five mile radius of his farm there are 400,000 dairy cows and one of the neighboring dairy farms milks 70,000 cows in SEVEN 10,000 cow barns. That farm produces well over one billion pounds (116,000,000 gallons) of milk per year. The United States needs less than 150 farms that size to produce all the cheap milk to meet consumer demand.
The average dairy farm in Vermont milks 100 cows. How can we possibly compete with 70,000 cow farms!
Forget about how and ask yourselves why? So Vermont dairy farmers can keep producing lots of cheap milk for suburban and urban markets and selling it for wholesale prices that don't even cover their operating costs? So the milk can continue to be trucked out of Vermont, helping to fuel the endless bickering between the commercial dairy industry and those who desire to sell milk direct from farms in local communities?
The natural future of the dairy industry in Vermont is the cultivation of local, micro-dairy and farmstead dairies that today can have the option to produce raw milk or on-the-farm pasteurized milk due to innovative technologies being developed right here in Vermont. Let Vermonters lead the way with small local dairies producing milk for their friends and neighbors as we have done with our inspirational localvore food movement as well as our nationally recognized sustainable living, buy local, and smart growth commitments.
Micro dairy farms work because they can limit production to match demand, eliminating over production and waste through a reverse economies-of-scale milk production model. Four grazing, hillside Vermont dairy cows can supply up to 60 families with farm fresh milk. In addition, micro dairy farms require very little time to operate and do not dominate a farmer’s life, allowing for diversification of farmstead income options – a perfect mix to the strong and steady localvore movement here in Vermont. Today keeping and milking four cows is no more difficult than having a couple of horses or a few sheep. And a carefully managed small herd dairy can actually be profitable!
What a wonderful opportunity we have to embrace a bright future for Vermont dairy farms – let's do it – let’s bring those cows back home – happy and serving our own local Vermont towns – not just smiling in artwork. Let the future of the dairy industry in Vermont be 1000 micro dairy farms or "small herd dairies" producing farm fresh milk for their local communities located throughout the state. These farmstead dairies will be milking two, four or maybe six cows on a part-time basis and providing the farmers who operate them with a solid supplemental income that, along with the milk they produce, will stay safely in Vermont. Our cows will once again graze the fields and hillsides of Vermont and our fabled working landscape will once again truly be a working one.
Steven Judge is the founder and owner of Bob-White Systems – the John Deere of the farmstead dairy industry located in South Royalton, Vermont and at www.bobwhitesystems.com.
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