Vermont Organic Dairy Producers Decry Trade War With China

A member of one organic co-op says the group was forced to shelve a plan to expand into a new overseas market

Prominent organic dairy producers in Vermont said Tuesday that trade uncertainty between the world’s two largest economies is having ripple effects on family farmers across the country.

“I think the tariffs have negatively affected some opportunity,” said Tyler Webb of Stony Pond Farm in Fairfield, Vermont.

Webb was referring to the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China, which has seen each nation levying charges on goods imported from the other.

“We’re having a little squabble with China because we’ve been treated very unfairly for many, many decades,” President Donald Trump said in May of the trade dispute, which has picked up steam in recent days.

The uncertain business climate from that “squabble,” Webb said, forced the organic dairy co-op he is a part of to shelve a plan to explore exporting high-quality organic infant formula to China, which was considered an area ripe for dairy growth.

“One in which there was expenditures of effort and money to explore, and that has been quelled for the time being, for sure,” Webb said of the work the Organic Valley co-op put into researching opening up a new market in China.

“If that milk can’t be exported, and it ends up as a surplus staying here in the United States—that’s part of what has kept conventional dairy prices low over these past several years,” observed John Cleary of Organic Valley, noting that when conventional dairy prices are low, it becomes more difficult for producers to sell organic milk at a premium. “So that ends up affecting all Vermont dairy farmers, including organic producers.”

The concerns over trade policies are the latest economic stress to the dairy industry in recent years, which have faced a wide range of challenges, including high feed costs for conventional dairy farmers and a shift some consumers have made to milk substitutes made from soy, almonds, or cashews.

The longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, toured Stony Pond Farm Tuesday.

In response to a question from necn, Leahy said in the White House’s upcoming trade talks with China, he hopes the Trump administration remembers that tabled baby formula plan, and other business stories like it.

“I’m hoping the president is listening,” Leahy told necn. “He’s hearing from both Republicans and Democrats. The tariffs are failures.”

And in an unrelated economic concern, Organic Valley is now looking for federal support to stay competitive with much larger operations, including producers out West.

Organic Valley and Leahy both said they hope the USDA will strengthen rules on the origins of livestock, to ensure cows at organic operations were raised on land that upholds high standards of land management and feed practices. That would ensure the “organic” label has integrity with consumers, Leahy and Organic Valley said.

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