Vermont Dairy Co-op Votes to Merge with National Giant

The move comes as dairy farmers have been struggling with a prolonged period of low milk prices.

Defining Milk Well

ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) — Farmers who belong to a 100-year-old dairy cooperative based in Vermont voted overwhelmingly Monday in favor of merging with a large national cooperative.

The more than 300-member St. Albans Cooperative Creamery with farms in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire will merge Aug. 1 with Dairy Farmers of America, which has 8,100 farms across the country and is based in Kansas City.

"This is a great opportunity we're very fortunate to have," said Harold Howrigan, chairman of the St. Albans cooperative board and a Vermont dairy farmer.

The move comes as dairy farmers have been struggling with a prolonged period of low milk prices that have forced some out of the business. The St. Albans co-op lost about 40 farms last year and gained about 20 this year, said Howrigan.

DFA has promised to invest millions to help the co-op upgrade its Vermont assets, including a processing plant and a milk hauling business.

The co-op plant now does not have enough throughput of milk to be competitive in the marketplace, said farmer Bill Rowell of Sheldon.

"The fact is we all have to be competitive if we want to stay alive, don't we? So that's what the move is," he said. "These guys have the capital to invest in (the) St. Albans plant so that it improves the infrastructure located in Vermont, which we needed and it gives us an opportunity to participate in the global marketplace at a level that is quite recognizable."

About 108 of the 307 voting members voted. The result was 99-9 in favor of the merger.

The merger won't have any impact on the price paid to farmers for their milk.

"Throughout this process, one thing that's remained the same is we're still working in the same milk market and ... prices are still basically based on global milk markets and we're not going to see a big change there. What we're going to see is a change in programs that DFA has to offer," Howrigan said.

DFA offers member services to help make farms become more profitable that could include programs for insurance, buying for feed or technical equipment, grazing or energy, said Brad Keating, senior vice president and chief operating officer of DFA's Northeast area.

The St. Albans Cooperative Creamery has been a member cooperative of DFA since 2003.

The two have worked together on milk marketing efforts, industry collaborations and looking at industry initiatives regarding policy, Keating said.