Summer is synonymous with creemees, and well-timed ones at that: June is not only the beginning of summer, it is also National Dairy Month.
This annual tribute recognizes an industry that has supported Vermonters for 150 years. A month to celebrate the food that dairy provides, and the hardworking families who have produced that food while stewarding the land and landscape that sets Vermont apart from so many other places.
Unfortunately, this year, June also marks our fourth month of COVID-19 response. And although Vermont’s farming history has been fraught with challenges, the year 2020 has brought greater challenges to Vermont dairy than any farmer could have imagined throughout the past two centuries.
In the 1840s, sheep dominated Vermont’s farming landscape. By 1860, Vermont had lost a quarter of its sheep as a result of tariff changes and competition from western states. Dairy farming became the alternative to wool production in Vermont by the 1880s, and soon hill farms with cows were established as the leading contributor to the state’s economy.
Fast forward 150 years, and Vermont dairy has remained a leader in the state’s economy. According to the USDA Agricultural Census, in 2017 Vermont dairy receipts totaled more than a half billion dollars, accounting for 65 percent of Vermont’s total agriculture receipts. Dairy farming keeps Vermont’s landscape open and scenic, supporting many other key Vermont industries. To name just a few, working lands as well as Vermont’s dairy heritage and culture are catalysts for cheese and maple production, recreation and year-round tourism.
COVID-19 has impacted demand and decimated markets that have otherwise kept Vermont dairy farmers surviving through already difficult times. Challenging pricing structures, political instability, environmental concerns, and competition from large dairy farms were already pushing some to leave dairy production. Now our collective response to COVID-19 has forced 17 Vermont dairies out of business since March, and more are teetering on the brink of devastation.
What can we do?
First, farmers would like all Vermonters to learn how our dairy industry supports our rural communities and state economy. Second, seek out and purchase products from our Vermont dairy farmers and producers.
How can you do this you ask? Visit www.VermontDairy.com. Not only can you learn about the important positive impacts of Vermont’s dairy industry, but you can show support and purchase Vermont dairy by connecting directly with farms and food in your community. Visit Support Vermont Dairy to discover the farmers and value-added dairy business in your area.
We are Vermonters; we are also consumers. Any increase in demand will help our farm families and rural communities in their fight to stay viable, and help our state move through COVID-19 and protect the land we all love.
For 150 years the work of our dairy families has cultivated and stewarded our Vermont. In their time of need, let’s thank them for their service to Vermont. Let’s show them that we “Support Vermont Dairy”.
Anson Tebbetts Is Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets.