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Funds to help organic dairy farmers pay bills pass the Vt. Senate

A photo of two people standing in a green pasture, with one person reaching out their arm towards the nose of a cow.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public File
Jason and Jill Debreville stand in the pasture where their 50 organic dairy cows used to graze in the town of Washington. They stopped shipping milk in 2017. A number of organic dairy farms still in business say without help, and soon, they could potentially lose their livelihoods.

The Senate has passed a budget for 2024 that includes $6.9 million in funds for organic dairy farmers.

Vermont organic dairy farmers testified earlier this year that because of inflation, drought, the war in Ukraine and supply chain issues, the cost of producing organic milk is much higher than what they are being paid.

They said they needed help soon, or risked losing their livelihoods.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont organic dairy farmers make passionate appeal to lawmakers, ask for $9.2 million to stay afloat

In the current version of the budget bill, the Agency of Agriculture would stand up a program that pays organic dairy farmers $5 per 100 pounds of milk shipped during 2022.

"The Agency will make any organic dairy relief funds made available by the legislature a priority and move it as quickly as possible," an agency spokesperson told Vermont Public on Wednesday.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Bobby Starr introduced the amendment adding in the organic dairy funds to the budget. He says he thinks most lawmakers are happy with the idea of helping out.

“Our organic guys are looking really depending on that to, you know, get caught back up," Starr said.

Starr said the budget bill also includes funds to pay the premiums for a federal risk-management program — the Dairy Margin Coverage Program — tailored to conventional dairy farmers.

Now the bill back heads to the House.

Gov. Phil Scott issued a statement Thursday saying he was concerned about increases to the budget.

"The Senate budget passed today will increase spending at more than twice the rate of inflation, and that doesn’t include the hundreds of millions in new taxes and fees being contemplated in other legislation, which makes it unsustainable," Scott wrote in the statement.

More from Vermont Public: Northeast organic dairy farmers are in crisis. More people buying local could help

But advocates say organic dairy farmers need financial help now more than ever to help pay their bills.

“Debts that they owe to feed dealers or custom operators or other, you know, businesses really in their own local communities, often who they haven't been able to pay,” said Maddie Kempner, the policy director for Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

Kempner says the onset of spring and summer also means a seasonal drop in milk pay prices as well as increased costs for haying.

Currently 127 organic dairy farms are certified in Vermont, according to NOFA-VT.

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Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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