UVM to Pilot Regional Program Benefitting Dairy Farmers
Release Date: 11-16-2009
In an effort to help the region's struggling dairy farmers, students at the University of Vermont have agreed to forgo a price reduction on retail milk they would have received due to plummeting milk prices, passing the 10-cent difference on to the 1,025 dairy farms in the state and 1,791 across New England.
Inspired by the fair trade concept, the innovative initiative, which starts on Nov. 17, is part of the Keep Local Farms program, designed to provide a way for consumers to contribute money directly to dairy farmers so they receive a sustainable price for their milk. Despite spending about $1.80 to produce a gallon of milk, farmers are receiving only $1.10 in return, resulting in an annual loss of $100,000 or about $120 per cow for the average size Vermont dairy farm of 130 cows.
"The status quo is simply not sustainable," said Diane Bothfeld, who was recently named Vermont deputy secretary of agriculture after working closely with dairy farmers as the agency's dairy policy administrator. "Dairy farmers are highly leveraged right now and dropping health insurance and working outside jobs just to keep the lights on. Keep Local Farms isn't the silver bullet, but it's one action that consumers can take that will help get money back to the producer of the raw product in this case dairy farmers. The university's involvement should help accomplish this goal while at the same time raise awareness."
Roger Allbee, secretary of agriculture, Bothfeld and other state representatives presented the Keep Local Farms concept to UVM's Student Government Association in September.
Excited about the possibility of helping local farms and expanding its agricultural and fair trade initiatives, SGA surveyed about 300 students and found a majority willing to pass on the 10-cent price break. The student senate passed a bill in October, making UVM the first university in New England to sign on to the one-year pilot project with Harvard not far behind.
"I think it sends a message that students can help in some capacity," said SGA President Bryce Jones. "We have a lot of student senate members involved in agriculture and fair trade issues who were supportive of the concept and others who think it makes sense given our mission as a land grant university. We're excited to see how the program gains momentum."
Students are also contributing to local farms by painting chairs in the Brennan's pub in the Davis Center, which is currently being redesigned. For a cost of $25, student clubs have been painting logos and other artistic representations of their organizations.
Melissa Zelazny, general manager of UVM dining services, said Sodexo is a supportive partner of the program she says can have an impact given UVM's consumption of about 33,000 gallons of milk per year. One way students can look at the program, she says, is that each time they buy a pint of milk they are contributing 10 cents towards the bottom line of a dairy farmer, who will receive two payments a year through the New England Family Dairy Farmer Cooperative.
The state is also encouraging Vermonters to visit keeplocalfarms.org and make a contribution that will go directly to dairy farmers by guaranteeing a fair wage.
For more information on the Keep Local Farms program, visit keeplocalfarms.org or call (877) 388- 7381.