Wednesday, December 11, 2019


After the Civil War, the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was a period of unrest in American agriculture.  In 1893, historianFredrick Turner proclaimed the end of the American Frontier…as the trend toward urbanization was well underway. Some of the farm population was moving to the cities, farmers were losing some of their political clout, railroads and others were gaining political power, and there were growing risks and uncertainties for agriculture. More people lived in rural communities and on the farm, but this number was decreasing. America was being transformed from a rural agrarian society into an urban industrial one. The Patrons of Husbandry or the Grange, the first national farm organization, was formed during this period due to the grievances that existed at that time within the farm and rural population. The railroad monopoly had established an absolute tyranny over the farmers “unequalled in any monarchy of the Old World.” Even in Vermont there weregreat uncertainties with the loss of hill farms. Coming out of this period, President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 appointed a Country Life CommissionThe Commission had three objectives for the improvement of rural life: a national agricultural extension program, scientific surveys of rural life, and the establishment of a national agency devoted to rural progress. They as well as other progressives believed in the country life movement, that “even rural neighborhoods in the twentieth century had lost the sense of community characteristic of the nineteenth century.” Some believed that it was the decadence of country life that led to the fall of Rome.  They saw the decline of the rural population as ultimately affecting the welfare of the nation.

Many in the Country Life Movement had also identified the country church as a key institution in the reform of rural life. The country church had declined and needed to be revitalized. Undertaking studies of how these churches could best be revitalized came through work conducted by Charles Otis Gil, a Yale and Yale Divinity School as well as Union Theological Seminary graduate.  His early work in Vermont was as a Congressional minister in Harland, Vermont. Gil, along with Gifford Pinchot, also a Yale graduate, and a member of the Country Life Commission, authored two influential books on the state of rural churches in America with remedies for revitalization.  Pinchot had already distinguished himself as a leading conservationist and as the first Chief of the U.S. forest service.

The first book, The Country Church, published in 1913 was done by studying rural churches in two counties; one in Windsor County in Vermont, and the other Tompkins County New York, the home of Cornell University, and the home of Liberty Hyde Bailey of Cornell who had been Chair of the Country Life Commission.   It is said that the purpose of these studies and resulting books “was to help in getting the country church back into the position it ought to occupy as a great power working effectively for country life.  Gill and Pinchot, as well as others in the Country Life Movement, had identified the country church as a key institution in the reform of rural life.  The Church, they recognized, had declined but needed to be revived or restored to its “old time” vitality by a new program of social service.  Thus, the country church was seen as a force for community improvement.  Pinchot as a member of the Country Life Commission, believed, along with Gil, that the country church could take a role in making rural life a success by organizing cooperative ventures in crop production, marketing, milling, banking, and purchasing of supplies. The church needed to re-establish itself as a leader in the community and farm life as it had been in the nineteenth century.

In 1913 with his distinct knowledge of country life and rural communities, it was no surprise then that Vermont Governor Fairbanks chose Charles Otis Gil as a delegate to the North American Commission.  This Commission, created by President Wilson in 1913was established to further address rural and farmer concerns raised by the Country Life Commission and others at the time.  It consisted of representatives from many of the states plus four Canadian provinces, and was challenged and authorized “to investigate, and study in European Countries cooperatives, land-mortgage banks, cooperative rural credit unions, and similar organizations and institutions devoting their attention to the promotion of agricultural and the betterment of rural conditions( see 63rd Congress, 1st Session, Senate, Document No. 214). They undertook this mission in travels and meetings throughout Europe, Russia and Egypt in a three-month period from April to July 1913(the map of their study route is very interesting)

After his return as a member of the Commission, Gil joined Pinchot to continue their investigation of country churches andas a follow-up to their study of the two counties, one in Vermont and one in New York.  The conclusion of this earlier study led to the creation of the Commission on Church and Country Life.  It was decided to extend the study to an entire state, and Ohio was chosen.  The Study, Six Thousand Country Churches, by Gill and Pinchot, was published in 1919, and was considered one of the most thorough studies of country churches and their role in rural America at that time. In their findings, they state that “unless a larger and stronger social and religious institution is created in the country districts than is now found in the country church, the more vigorous young people will for the most part leave the country….”

Charles Otis Gill, an American Congregationalist clergyman, retired as a farmer to Westford, Vermont in 1929 after spending many years as a minister in several Vermont towns, and after having co-authored two influential books on the state of rural churches in the United States. Clifford Pinchot, the Co-Author of the two books, went on to serve two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania.  He was considered a leading conservationist at the time, and It is said that his leadership put conservation of forests high on America’s priority list

This period of unrest in the rural and farm community helped to usher in fundamental and lasting institutional changes in the United States. Congress created the federally authorized Agricultural Extension Service and also established the Federal Farm Credit Land Banks in 1916.

Blogger’s Reflections:  Fredrick Turner, a leading historian at the time indicated that the American Fortier had ended.  The information at the time contributed to that finding.  Beginning in the early 1800’s, the Erie Canal had contributed to the opening of the West (see blog posting: The Erie and Champlain Canal, Two Hundred Years of History and How It Transformed the Flow of Commerce by Opening the West).  During the 1800’s vast tracks of Western land were provided, forcing the native Americans onto reservations.  For Example, from 1850 to 1871, the railroads received more than 175 million acres, more than 1/10 of the whole U.S.  In addition, western homesteaders (Homestead Act of 1862) received more than 80 million acres of public land.  The Land Grant Act of 1862 provided 17.4 millionacres of public land for the creation of Land Grant Colleges (based upon 30,000 per the number of members of Congress from each state).  Vermont received scripts for the sale of 90,000 acres, valued at the time at about 90 cents per acre.  These programs opened up the West for settlement and contributed to the findings by Turner that the frontier had ended.

The mid to late 1800’s was also a time of increased national attention to education.  The Land Grant Act was the firstnational attention to higher education for the masses. (see blog posts: The Life and Times of U.S. Senator Justin Morrill, and also The Historical Importance of Agricultural Education).  The formation of the Land Grant in Vermont was not without controversy.  In the beginning it was proposed for example, that UVM, Middlebury, and Norwich be formed into one Land Grant institution.  Even the state legislature passed a law to allow that to happen.  It did not and UVM became the Land Grant, but not without further controversy when the Grange and others at the time in 1890 proposed that its status be taken away due to its lack of attention to agriculture within the state (see Vermont History, the Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society, April 1958).  Other Land Grants with public funds created at the time in the East consisted of Dartmouth (ended with formation of UNH), Yale and Brown Universities(these ended with UCONN, and URI being established as Land Grant Institutions in each state), and M.I.T. which received 1/3 of the public funds available to the State of Massachusetts under the Land Grant Act, with UMASS also a Land Grant in the State.  

In 1887, The Federal Hatch Act authorized the creation of agricultural experiment stations.  The Vermont General Assembly authorized one and it was established at the University of Vermont as a partnership between the state, USDA, and the Land Grant College for the purpose of “conducting research in field of agriculture with special reference to conditions in the State of Vermont.” (see blog posting: Brief History of Agriculture, The Environment, and Land Use in Vermont).

The 1900’s it can be argued was the beginning of a more activist or interventional period in American agriculture.  The creation of the Federal funded Agricultural Extension Service, and the beginning of the Federal Farm Credit Land Banks started this more direct service period to farmers and rural citizens in the United States in 1916.  A more activist period came after the Depression that resulted in the New Deal Programs of the 1930’s.


• Country Life Movement, Wikipedia
• Report of the Country Life Commission, 60th Congress, 2ndSession, Senate, Document No. 705
• Dairy Yonder, keep it Rural, Country Life Movement-Miles to Go, by Timothy Collins, June 24, 2009
• Agricultural History, Vol. 34, No 4, 1960, pp 155-172, Clayton S. Ellsworth, Theodore Roosevelt’s Country Life Commission, Agricultural History Society
• Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890-1938, Laura L. Lovett, University of North Carolina Press, Nov 30, 2009
• Comps Notes: Frederick Jackson Turner’s “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, posted by Jessica M. DEWITT on April 3, 2018
• The Country Church: The Decline of its Influence and the Reality, by Charles Otis Gill, Gifford Pinchot
• Six Thousand Country Churches, by Charles Otis Gill and Gifford Pinchot, The MACMILLAN COMPANY, NY, 1920
• The Church and the Rural Community, by Warren H. Wilson, American Journal of Sociology, Vol 16, No. 5(Mar. 1911), pp. 668-702, University of Chicago Press
• Charles Otis Gill, WIKIPEDIA
• Gifford Pinchot, WIKIPEDIA
• Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900, Railroads in the Late 19th Century, Railroad Land Grants, Library of Congress
• Educator Resources, The Homestead Act of 1862
• Library of Congress, Immigration, Removing Native Americans from the Land,
• See Vermont History, The Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society, April 1958, that has chapter on the challenge by the Grange in 1890 to take the Land Grant status away from UVM.
• DocsTeach, from the National Archives: The Settlement of the American West
• The Chronicle of Higher Education, Commentary, Why theMorrill Land Grant Colleges Act Still Matters, by Christopher P. Loss, July 16, 2012
• Agricultural Experiment Station Act of 1887, WIKIPEDIA
• The National Academies Press, Collages of Agriculture at the Land Grant Universities: A Profile, History and Overview of the Land Grant College System
• Agricultural Cooperation and Rural Credit in Europe, American and United States Commissions, 1913, Senate Document No. 214, Parts I.II, III, 63rd Congress
• The Library of Congress, Web Guides, Primary Documents in American History, Morrill Act

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


According to historical documents, it was inevitable that Vermont would become a dairy state after the demise of Merino sheep due to national and international competition,.  It had the soil, climate, and the topography that grew grass well for livestock that have the ability to convert this energy to meat or milk.  By 1850, St. Albans had established itself as the butter capital of the state and region, with many buyers showing up on market day, Tuesday during the spring, summer and fall.  According to records, this change happened quickly, as prior to 1850 dairy was incidental to other things grown on the farm.  With the growth in butter and cheese, the Vermont Dairymens Association was formed in 1870.  It is said to be one of the oldest in the United States.  By early 1900, there were 186 creameries and 66 cheese factories in the state.

By 1900, Western competition became acute, and the introduction of margarine created new economic threats.  Cities like Boston began to reach out for a source of fluid milk, and the first milk train left Bellows Falls in 1890, resulting in new challenges to dairy pricing from city buyers.  This led to the enactment of state and federal laws that encouraged cooperatives as a way to bargain for better pricing from buyers. In 1924, Vermont Commission of Agriculture E.S. Brigham remarked that unless stimulation of dairying in other parts of the country is checked, Vermont farmers may expect competition exceeding that which they have earlier experienced with consequently lower pricing.” 

Over a period of many years, various approaches have been used to help create conditions for better farm gate pricing for Vermont and other dairy farmers.

Historical perspectivebalancing milk supply and demand.

• 1917 New England Milk Producers Association:  During this period, there was deep concern over adequate pricing to dairy farms in New England when fluid milk demand from the cities resulted in a few buyers controlling the price to dairy farmers. It is said that the rapid urbanization of the 1880’s and 1890’s pushed city milk sheds far into the rural hinterlands, induced farmer specialization, and encouraged the growth of large milk distributors.  By 1914 a few companies sold 40 percent or more of the milk in New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, and other cities.  Smaller dealers often followed price leads from these large firms, thereby diminishing the economic leverage of individual producers. Herbert Hoover, then United States Food Administrator, formed a producer consumer Commission to determine ways to provide adequate pricing.  Under the agreed upon formula at the time, dairy producers were to receive a fixed price plus a reasonable profit.  Seasonal surplus of milk was to be manufactured into products without profits to dealers.  Farmers were to receive a surplus price (what the product brought in the market less the cost of manufacturing).  A milk administrator was appointed to police the surplus plan.  It is said that this mechanism for balancing supply and demand of milk production while quickly dismantled after the WWI Armistice, became the foundation for massive intervention in a highly demoralized industry after 1933.  Should be noted that in 1915 the Boston Chamber of Commerce did a thorough analysis of the marketing constraints faced by Vermont dairy farmers and recommended that farmer cooperatives be formed to guarantee better pricing for farmers.  Federal legislation to include Capper-Volstead Act in 1922 gave these farmer cooperatives limited anti-trust protection against price fixing.

• 1929: The Federal Farm Board was established by the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929. The Board was President Hoover’s response to the downward spiral of crop prices in the years leading up to the Great Depression. The AMA promoted cooperatives (in 1926 a division of cooperative marketing was created within USDA), and the federal board had eight members representing the major farm cooperatives in the U.S.   The intent of the law was to have the cooperatives control production of crops and to increase exports as a way to better pricing.  The Board had $500 million from the U.S. Treasury to carry out its activities.  To increase dairy pricing, for example, the Board made a loan to Land of Lakes Dairy Cooperative to withhold butter sales and to purchase additional product from the market.  The Board also organized a dairy program with five regional butter-marketing associations as a way to provide aid to dairy cooperatives on production controls and marketing.  Dairy farmers were angered when it was suggested that farmers would be paid by the government to reduce the size of their herds in order to cut surplus dairy products.  This voluntary effort by farmers to cut production implemented through the farmer cooperatives failed to produce the desired results.  Prices continued to decline, and Treasury funds were depleted. This experiment on voluntary approaches through farm cooperatives to production controls set the stage for new farm legislation within the first 100 days of the Roosevelt Administration.


With the failure of voluntary approaches through cooperatives to address declining farm prices, there was an increased urgency among farm organizations for more direct federal intervention.  President Roosevelt asked Secretary of Agriculture Wallace to assemble farm leaders to reach a consensus on what could be done.  The centerpiece of the New Deal was developed by a well-organized farm-lobbying group, “and the statute was drafted largely by Frederick P. Lee, legislative counsel to the American Farm Bureau.” (see Libecap paper).  The aim of the Agricultural Adjustment Act was to raise agricultural prices relative to the purchasing power of farmers that had prevailed during the period 1909 to 1914.  The law allowed farmers to enter into agreements with the Secretary of Agriculture to reduce their acreage or production in what was deemed to be seven basic commodities; wheat, cotton, corn, rice, tobacco, hogs, and milk.  In return farmers would receive payments derived from taxes levied on processors.  Better compliance with classified pricing issues in markets like Boston was addressed through the issuance of federal licenses to milk dealers.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act was challenged immediately, and in the case of the U.S. vs. Butler, the Court found 6 to 3 that many provisions of the Act were unconstitutional based on the fact that they were an encroachment upon the rights of the States, and that it was illegal to tax one group (processors) to support another (farmers).  There were major divisions within the Court on the opinion.  Nevertheless, the Roosevelt Administration moved quickly to overcome these legal obstacles (later also trying to pack the Court with its supporters).  The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1937 provided clear authority for federal marketing orders and reaffirmed the marketing agreement provisions of the 1933 Act.  Instead of taxing processors to support farmers, general federal funds were used.

• 1933:  Following the major flood of 1927, Vermont undertook major study of all aspects of the State.  The report, Rural Vermont, A Program for the Future, The Vermont Commission on Country Life, 1931, had a section on agriculture to include dairy.  On dairy supply and demand, it states that the trend should be toward more nearly even or adjusted production, especially since a higher price without increased production costs is likely to result.   It recognized even then that the control of supply and demand was important in more favorable milk pricing.


In June of 1937, a conference of dairy leaders from four of the New England States (including Vermont), organized by the Governors of those states, unanimously adopted a resolution approving the federal control of dairy pricing (see Lewiston Daily Sun, June 26, 1937).  The resolution described those states’ control of the milk shed as being impossible because of interstate commerce laws.  The majority of the milk and cream going to Boston and surrounding cities came from states outside Massachusetts and so pricing controls could not be imposed.  This was due to the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Governor George Aiken described the dire economic situation facing Vermont dairy farms (approximately 10,000 at that time) and said that federal control of milk pricing “would save hundreds of dairy farmers in the State.”  In the same year, when Congress was debating the 1937 Agricultural Marketing Act, Governor George Aiken sent a terse telegram to Capitol Hill. “Informed that the Senate was stalled on a procedural issue, Governor Aiken wrote in true New England style: Dairy industry in peril, act without delay.” (See N.Y. Times Opinion on Milk Pricing, Oct. 3, 1994).    Prior to 1937, Aiken’s predecessor, Governor Charles Smith, had also expressed concern, saying that if action was not taken to overturn a Court injunction (in 1935, the federal government lost its case when it attempted to enforce the provisions of the federal license to milk dealers for classified pricing, but later over-turned on appeal), the Boston market would crumble and there would be a disastrous effect on interstate and intrastate commerce in milk and cream from Vermont (See Lewiston Daily Sun, May 5, 1936, Boston milk case). In his farewell address to the Vermont legislature, Governor Aiken said “state officials and several farmer cooperatives appealed for a federal marketing order.  As sufficient farmers voted, it went into effect and has led to the stabilization of milk prices in Boston and later New York milk shed.”

There have been discussions from the beginning and over a period of time whether the 1937 Act and the resulting marketing orders for dairy were intended to establish parity prices for farmers by controlling the supply and demand for milk.   However, USDA from the beginning of the Act, has contended that the chief objective of marketing orders was to stabilize milk markets through orderly marketing, not to raise milk prices to artificially high levels.  This interpretation relative to dairy marketing orders exists to this day.


While there still are dairy market orders to assure “orderly marketing,” the majority of Vermont dairy farms today still face economic challenges due to wide pricing swings as a result of changes in markets, periodic supply and demand imbalances, and a federal price support structure way below their cost of production, an outdated classified pricing system with changes in the product mix in the classified pricing formula away from fluid milk, and dependence of export markets for higher domestic pricing.    Methods to provide better financial returns to dairy farmers in Vermont and in the Northeast have been a continuing challenge to farm leaders and policy makers over a very long period of time. A minimum dairy parity pricing system was introduced into federal law in 1949 following WWII.  This law could not withstand cost increases to the Government resulting from too much production of milk in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the parity price was established, per the advocacy of dairy cooperatives and their national policy arm, NMPF, at too high a level(75 to 85% of parity) causing large surpluses of butter, cheese, and non-fat dried milk. (With then Congressman Jeffords of Vermont, an ardent supporter of the dairy industry, I worked as a staff aide to help negotiate a pricing replacement to parity as a result of federal budgetary pressures and as part of the 1981 Farm Bill Conference Committee. The dairy subcommittee of the House Agricultural Committee proposed a Canadian Quota System as a remedy, only to have it opposed by the dairy cooperative national leadership). This change in federal dairy policy in 1981with the elimination of the minimum of 75 percent of parity as established in 1949 under federal law, marked the beginning of deregulation of the dairy industry in the United States.  Other actions have been taken over time to address the pricing issues of dairy farmers to include the whole herd buyout, the Northeast Dairy Compact, National Milk Producers Federation Dairy Farmers Working Together, and in the more recent past the milk income loss program, or MILC, and now the federal dairy margin protection program..  Some states have taken action to increase milk prices to farmers by imposing over-order pricing where they have more control over milk supply and are not confronted by interstate commerce clause issues (Maine). Some farmers have also moved to organic dairy production as a way to confront lower commodity pricing through supply and demand controls (Organic Valley Dairy Cooperative as an example).   Others have engaged in greater on-the-farm diversification to include energy systems and the production of value-added products such as award-winning cheeses and butter.  Still today, due to consolidation at both the retail and wholesale levels and independence of many dairy farmers, dairy cooperatives do not collectively endorse a national supply management program (National Milk Producers Board voted against a national program instead relying on export markets, the dairy margin program, and markets for pricing). They have not historically been able to agree collectively over any extended period of time on ways to reduce production to achieve higher pricing. The national cooperative leadership supports, by recent votes, the continued allowance of unchecked market-wide consolidation, including the trend toward greater scale and size of dairy farm operations.  This latest trend is now resulting in the establishment of mega-scaled operations in other regions of the country, with increasing capability to withstand volatile and low commodity pricing.  This is further problematic for the Vermont dairy industry because both national and market forces preclude the competitive establishment of similarly scaled dairy operations in Vermont. The dairy sector still represents the anchor of Vermont’s agricultural economy (75 percent or so of gross farm income in the state), and longer-term unstable milk pricing issues still confront farmers, their cooperatives, and policy officials, and the working landscape in Vermont. 

The recent determination by AgriMark/Cabot Cooperative to announce a supply management program for their farmer members does address the cost of the cooperative in balancing excess supply of milk into powder in the region served by the cooperative member farmers.  While important in controlling the cost of the operation of the cooperative, it does not address the need for a national system to control supply that has been the subject of discussion for many years.  Unlike Canada, that choose a policy to support farm income in its national policy approach, the US policy has always tilted toward increased growth of the dairy sector and efficiency of production on the farm with methods to control major imports of dairy products into the United States( a mature market), and increased emphasis on exports as a way to increase farm gate pricingUnlike the policy approach in Canada, supporting farm income through production quotas and very strict import controls has not been the policy objectives in the United States policy. 

It should be understood that dairy cooperatives today market over 85 percent of the milk produced in the United States. Just as farms have consolidated in the US (over one-half decline from 1997 to 2017, USDA Statistics), so have dairy cooperatives (1964 there were 1244 and there were 118 in 2017),       


• In a paper entitled “The Farmer’s Future”, by Rev. G. F. Wright of Bakersfield, delivered at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture in St. Albans on March 6 and 7th, 1872, he stated that “… it is useless for the Vermont farmer to compete with those of the West in raising those few staples of product that can be naturally raised in the west, and that will bear storing and transportation without risk of injury, and without too much expense.”  He went on to say “that the Vermont farmer has a substantial hold on the future.  His soil, his climate, his abundance of pure water, his proximity to markets of the growing cities and villages, give him unrivaled facilities for success….   Only those will prosper who use their minds in studying how to cater to the demands of this growing market and this changing state of things.”    Others expressed similar views.
• G.G. Small, Esq. of Morrisville stated to the Board (see 1873-1874 Biennial Report of the Board) that, “Vermont as a State is well adapted to butter making.  We cannot compete with the West in beef, pork, wool or grain, and not much longer in butter unless we are making a superior product.”
• M. O. Howe of Fayetteville in the report of the State Board of Agriculture, 1875-1876, stated that, “it is the value of the products, not the quantity, that indicates the profits of agriculture.  There will continue to be the difference of freight and commissions between the markets of the East and the West.”
• Some seven years later, Lyman W. Peet of Cornwall, Vermont in a paper presented to the State Board of Agriculture in 1883-84 entitled “Eastern and Western Farming”, stated that “only by the use of greater skill and capital by which production shall be cheapened with a quality so superior as to command the highest price in the market, can we hope successfully to meet Western competition.
• In the Tenth Report of the Board of Agriculture in 1888-1889 a writer stated that “the selling price of all agricultural commodities tends to approach the lowest cost of production, and the West with cheap feed can produce at less cost than New England.”
• An author in the 15th and 16th Report of the Board of Agriculture for 1894-1895 stated that, “our own state has seen one industry after another go down under the fierce competition of cheap western land.  Our sheep, beef, and grain production have all been borne down through this cause, and today our dairymen are manfully contesting the ground with these same forces.”

These individuals, like some before and many after them, were visionaries.  They had seen change, had been part of it, and recognized the strengths and competitive advantages of farming in Vermont. As noted above, an important advantage to the Vermont farmer was being near emerging markets and growing and producing products of the highest quality to meet nearby consumer needs.  Even later, after the creation of the State Department of Agriculture, there were similar views.  Then Commissioner of Agriculture E.S. Brigham in his annual report stated, “The products that belong in the East are those that are adapted to our soil and climate and are needed in large market centers.” (Fifth annual report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1913). 

Recent CoBank Dairy Reports have made several recommendations relative to the future of the dairy industry and smaller farmers and their cooperatives (see A New 
Era of Dairy Price Cycles: Structural Change Ahead in the Dairy Industry).  These include;

• While small farms will be challenged to compete with their larger counterparts on a cost basis they can be positioned to quickly adapt to evolving consumer tastes and preferences and tap into niche markets for their milk.  Examples of this include organic, grass-fed, local, and other options marketed as premium dairy products.
• Cooperatives may best serve their members who operate smaller farms by investing in processing assets or branded products which can produce counter-cyclical returns to their membership.  The risks to the status quo may be greater than climbing up the value chain, the report maintains.
• The reports also note that dairy consumers are increasingly removed from the farm and are seeking more transparency when it comes to how and where their food was made. This will not be easy to achieve, the report notes.

BLOGGERS COMMENTS:  Vermont has used many approaches over the past based on many studies to address the dairy economic situation.  These has included direct payments to dairy producers, the current use tax program (agriculture and forestry), the PDR or Purchase of Development Rights Program, protection of prime and statewide soils under Act 250, an agricultural lending program at VEDA, conservation cost sharing, funding for cow power and methane digesters, farm viability, and working landscape funding.  While these programs, as well as many federal initiatives have been of great assistance, they have not stemmed the loss of dairy farms in the state nor the trend toward economies of scale that continue to occur in the industryThe attainment of a national supply management program, based on past actions, is unlikely as well if history is any indication.   A recent NRP/VPR poll of 800 Vermonter’s indicated 72 percent felt that the dairy industry is very important to Vermont’s sense of itself (See Poll: Vermonters overwhelmingly support dairy industry, WCAX, Burlington, Oct 33, 2019).  With this interest, it is clear that a new and BOLD approaches are needed as called for in the recent papers to include the Call to Action by the Vermont Dairy and Water Quality Collaborative.  This is a pivotal turning point for the state’s cultural and historic identity as a “dairy state”.  Without BOLD State governmental policy changes and action to resolve the crisis, farm attrition and destressed operation will persist, and the Vermont dairy industry and working landscape will continue to confront only a perilous future.

Some of the BOLD recommendations that have been put forth from recent studies and reportsinclude:
*Create a new quasi-public entity that brings together many functions scattered now all over the place, under-resourced, and without a unified strategic focus: A vision for the future of agriculture and the working landscape in Vermont is critically needed that also addresses the emergency in the dairy sector, with goals and a set of policies to achieve that vision.  Over time it has been demonstrated, from the creation of Act 250, to renewable energy standards, to the Council on the Future of Vermont, to Farm-to-Plate to the creation of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, that citizen leadership outside of the structures and constraints of state government is where change happens. It notes, in its recommendations (Vermont Dairy and Water Quality Collaborative), that the state should provide coordinated, qualified technical assistance and investments through this entity dedicated to the future of environmentally sustainable agriculture.  To be effective, this entity must be housed outside of regulatory and compliance programs and must be closely coordinated with state and federal agencies.
*Revise State’s regulatory powers over milk pricing and farm practices:  It is contended by a recent study (Allbee and Smith), that the state now has the regulatory authority to address the fundamental producer pricing problem confronted by Vermont dairy farms, and the accompanying distressed over-supply of raw milk production, and thereby also is able to achieve remediation of harmful farming practices at substantially lower public costs.  It contends as a majority of the milk is now processed in the state so that the state is not confronted as in the past on the federal commerce clause issues, and like Maine has an opportunity to price the raw milk product resulting in a more sustainable price for Vermont dairy farmers. It notes that the Vermont dairy industry has become a leader in the production of high-value dairy products, and the State has renewed regulatory authority over the producer pricing of raw milk used to make these products.  As a result, the industry, and the state, are no longer solely dependent on remote federal oversight of pricing.
*Governor should convene a Blue Ribbon, Cabinet level, Vermont Dairy Industry Task Force: This Task Force needs to be challenged to implement an integrated program of market regulation and economic development, to renew a durable future for the Vermont dairy industryand other agricultural enterprises and the state’s working landscape, and to restore effective environmental stewardship.
*Develop a comprehensive, and cross-government, economic development plan:  Such a plan is badly needed, it is suggested, to support expanded and new processing and manufacturing capacity for the production of high-end Vermont milk and dairy products, to move up the value chain from commodity products.  This should be a visionary, comprehensive and cross-government, economic development plan, as has been provided for other signature Vermont companies, to support expanded and new processing a manufacturing capacity for the production of high-end Vermont milk and dairy products.
*Restructure Vermont’s regulatory framework to achieve farm and watershed nutrient balance and to focus on outcomes rather than on mandates that require specific practices and institute a transition program for land that should not be in intensive agriculture (see Vermont Dairy and Water Quality Collaborative Action Plan).  The whole farm nutrient balancing for farms has been used in the Netherlands and for Lake Taupo in New Zealand to address very significant Ph and N issues to water bodies.
*Encourage coalitions of farmers, conservationists, environmentalists, residents, consumers, policy officials, and ag development and business leaders in taking an active role in developing mutual solutions. It is stated in the Journal of Dairy Science, American Dairy Association, in an invited review: Sustainability of the US Dairy Industry,2013, that sustained engagement between and among producers, various sectors of the industry, consumers, and citizens will be essential to recognize and implement more sustainable farm practices.

It has been stated that the quality of our water, the viability of our farms and associated businesses, and the fabric of our rural communities are all at stake.  Immediate, incisive, effective, and enduring leadership and action are needed immediately (see Vermont Dairy and Water Quality Collaborative Action Report). 

In the publication, The Vermont Difference, Perspectives from the Green Mountain State, in the Chapter, The Vermont Destination: Working Countryside and Bucolic Retreat, the author states the importance of the working landscape.  “Defined by its iconic rural countryside of farms, forests, villages, and small cities, Vermont’s working landscape has emerged as key to the brand and quality of life of the state and to its future.  In many ways, the land shapes Vermont’s perceived authenticity and its attractiveness to visitors from around the world.”  

Vermont has the rare opportunity to help rescue its largest agricultural industry and to plot a unique Vermont future for agriculture and the dairy industry in the state. Healthy food, clean water, respect for labor, care for animals, profitable farms, bucolic pastures—all are images that Americans have of our state.


• See blog dairy issues in blog
• See Vermont Dairy and Water Quality Call for Action, March 2019
• A 2018 Exploration of the Future of Vermont Agriculture, October 2018, by UVM Extension, VHCB, Vt Land Trust, Farm to Plate, VCRD, et al.
• Re-establishing a Viable Vermont Dairy Industry-Report and Call for BOLD State Policy Change and Action, DRAFT REPORT, by Roger Allbee and Dan Smith Esq, September 2019
• Agricultural Supply Control: Lesions from the U.S. Dairy and Potato Industries, Choices Magazine, 4th Qtr., 2015
• Herbert Hoover, the U.S. Food Administration, and the Dairy Industry, 1917-1918, by James L. Guth, Associate Professor of Political Science, Furman University, The Business History Review, Vol. 55, Np 2(Summer 1981), pp. 170-187
• National Milk Producers Federation, Herd Retirement Program, Dairy Farmers Working Together, 2003-2009
• Farm Relief, 1929-1941,
• Hoover Federal Farm Board History according to historical documentary, 1929
• National Farm Bureau, Reviewing U.S. Dairy Supply Management Efforts, Market Intel;. April 15, 2019
• USDA, Milk Diversion Program, Jan 84-Mar 85
• Dairy Market Stabilization Program, 2014 Farm Bill
• Farmers Increasingly Look to Supply Management, Successful Farming, Leah Douglas, May 3, 2018
• Milk Pricing and the Vermont Dairy Industry, James M. Jeffords Vermont Legislative Research Service, The University of Vermont 
• See U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization Report, Commodity Stocks and Supply Management by Thomas Lines, January 2014 “Policies known as supply management came to define farm policies in late 20th Century”
• Seeking to Ensure the Future Viability of Vermont’s Dairy Industry, Report of the Thirty-Third Grafton Conference, The Windham Foundation, Grafton, 2009
• Agricultural Focus Group, Report to Governor’s Commission on the Economic Future of Vermont, November 1989
• Committee Passes Lawrence Bills to Aid Struggling Dairy Farmers in Pa, My ChesCo Website, October 27, 2019
• Dairy Monthly Imports, September 17, 2019, USDA, Foreign Ag Service
• US Trade Policy on Dairy is Simple: We Basically Allow No Imports at All, Mother Jones Commentary by Kevin Drum, June 20, 2018
• Chapter 14, Vermont’s Agricultural Future, The Vermont Papers, Frank Bryan and John McClaughry, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1989
• The Vermont Difference, Perspectives from the Green Mountain State, The Woodstock Foundation and Vermont Historical Society, 2014
• How the U.S. system of dairy import quotas and tariffs may be as protectionist as Canada’s, by Tom Blackwell, National Post, September 11, 2018
• A New Era of Dairy Price Cycles: Structural Change Ahead in the Dairy Industry, by Ben Laine, CoBank, Senior Economist, October 2018
• U.S., Mexico, Canada are worlds apart for dairy farmers: here are the major differences and how the dairy industry works in each country, by Rick Barrett, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 28, 2019
• The Northeast Dairy Compact, by ILSR, The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, November 2008
• Background Information, The Commodity Credit Corporation, the Farm Service Agency, USDA, August 1996
• Food and Agricultural Policies in the 1980’s, Major Crops and Milk, The Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office, March 1981
• Dairy Co-Op to Impose Penalty on Farms That Make Too Much Milk, John Dillion, VPR, October 21, 2019
• Trump trade war with China takes toll on struggling Upstate NY dairy farmers, by Mark Weiner,, October 29, 2019
• The Economic Shifting Winds that continue to negatively impact the longevity of conventual dairy farming in Vermont, A Model to Achiever A Sustainable and Economically Viable Dairy Farm Sector in the State, Testimony of Roger Allbee to Vermont House and Senate Agriculture Committees, 2017
• We must reject the ‘go big or go home’ mentality of modern agriculture, by Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union Opinion Contributor, The Hill, October 8, 2019
• The Farm Economy, Forum of the Farm Foundation, October 22nd, 2019, Washington, D.C.   Discussion by Dr. John Newton, National Farm Bureau Economist; Dr. Keith Knobel, Miss State University; Dr. Seth Meyer, FAPRI
• Dairy Cooperatives: Potential Implications of Consolidation and Investments in Dairy Processing for Farmers, US Government Accounting Office (GA)-19-695R) published September 27, 2019

Roger is a former Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets for the State of Vermont.  He has been the Ex. Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency for Vermont, has been a Vice President and member of the Senior Management Team for the former Farm Credit Banks and Banks for Cooperatives of Springfield, MA (then the largest farmer and cooperative lender in the Northeast U.S.)  He has served on the professional staff of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture for the late U.S. Congressman Jim Jeffords, where he was responsible for dairy and soil conservation policies. He was the first consultant to the Governor’s Current Use Advisory Committee in 1979. He has served in the past as Chair of the Animal Products Advisory Committee on trade to the U.S. Trade Ambassador and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  He has been a member of the international practice group for a D.C. law firm, where he participated as an NGO in the Seattle Round of Multi-National Trade Negotiations. He has a B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Agricultural Economics. He is a veteran serving in the U.S. Army as a Captain during the Vietnam period.  He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards.