At least 58 organic dairy farms in the North East have found new markets after receiving termination notices from Horizon Organic last year.
Fifty of the farms have joined Organic Valley and eight have signed with Stonyfield, company representatives said.
Of the 89 farms Horizon is abandoning, 13 have exited the dairy sector, at least one has transitioned to a conventional market, and two are still deciding what to do next. Lancaster Farming could not determine the fate of 15 farms in New York and New Hampshire.
Organic Valley was ready to offer a new market to all farms, although some farmers decided other avenues were better for their operations, said Elizabeth McMullen, spokesperson for the national cooperative.
“We continue to maintain an open dialogue with farms who are still evaluating their options,” McMullen said.
The announcement of Horizon’s termination last summer angered regional dairy groups who saw the move as a multinational – Horizon is owned by French dairy giant Danone – getting rid of long-time agricultural suppliers and undermining the future of dairy products in the Northeast.
The USDA and state agriculture departments have explored possible solutions in conjunction with regional farmer groups and processors, and a New Hampshire-based Stonyfield co-founder has started an organization to support organic family farms.
Horizon, which had given the farms an unusually long 12 months notice, agreed to push back the termination date by six months. This put the deadline to February 28, 2023.
The company also said it would pay modest severance packages to farms it releases and consider additional investment in the North East dairy industry.
The Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance said in August it hadn’t seen much evidence the company was meeting those commitments.
“Danone owes a future to these farmers because their safe, organic milk has helped make Danone one of the world’s largest dairy multinationals,” the alliance said.
An email to Danone’s press office came back as undeliverable and Horizon did not respond to an email sent to its press contact.
Horizon said it was abandoning all 89 farms — widely dispersed across multiple states — because of transportation costs. The company is adding 50 small farms in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania that are closer to the processing plant than the abandoned ones.
Horizon’s termination coincided with New York’s Maple Hill Creamery threatening to drop contracts for 46 farms, though that company took over most of those farms, said Ed Maltby, executive director of Northeast Organic. Dairy Producers Alliance.
The agricultural departments of Maine and Vermont provided statistics on new markets for farms in their states.
New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper said his agency did not have information on farms in his state and the New York Department of Agriculture did not provide numbers.