Vermont artist D.J. Barry has put cows on the map again. Or vice versa. The Middlesex artist has taken his World Cow mural artwork worldwide. Barry’s characteristic black-and-white Holstein has black areas that resemble a world map. The theme of his campaign is to promote peace and kindness and raise money for charitable organizations.
It is not unlike the global attention placed upon Woody Jackson, of Middlebury, for his iconic cow art — now decades in the making.
Once upon a time, when there were several thousand dairy farms across Vermont, there likely were more cows than citizens. (Some people still joke that Vermont has more dairy cows than people. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Vermont has one cow for every 3.8 people, which is still the nation’s highest ratio of cows to people.)
Vermont takes great pride in its dairy heritage. It is a pride that spans generations, and supported the state’s economy for many years.
Last year, an independent poll by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS found tremendous public support for dairy in the Green Mountains. The scientific poll found a total of 93% of Vermonters support Vermont dairy. “These independent results are encouraging as we try to grow the Vermont economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts at the time. “We are working hard to improve the livelihood for dairy farmers throughout Vermont. One major way to have an impact is to improve the outlook for dairy farming.”
The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets was awarded one of three national USDA Dairy Innovation grants. “These important dollars will help to further develop Vermont’s dairy economy, offering farmers support for developing new products, new markets and new practices,” a news release noted. In addition, support is building for a nationwide growth management plan. The Vermont Milk Commission continues to expand a grass-roots network advocating for change in how farmers are paid for their product.
But a new report, scheduled to be released tomorrow, proposes bold state action to address the crisis confronting Vermont’s dairy farmers. According to its authors, the report details the state’s regulatory authority over milk price, supply and production can be updated and used more effectively to revitalize the industry’s future.
Notably, it calls on Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers to convene an administrative and legislative Blue Ribbon, Dairy Industry Revitalization Task Force, to implement the report’s recommendations.
The report will be rolled out in a presentation to a joint meeting of the Vermont House and Senate agriculture committees at 9 a.m. Feb. 20 in Room 10 of the State House.
The report is based on a three-year study by Roger Allbee, former secretary of agriculture, and Daniel Smith, the founding executive director of the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact Commission.
“The hemorrhaging loss of dairy farms has led to a pivotal turning point for the state’s cultural and historic identity as a ‘dairy state,’” they write. “Without BOLD State governmental policy changes, distressed operation and farm attrition can only persist, and the Vermont dairy industry and working landscape it supports will continue to confront a perilous future.”
According to a statement announcing the findings, the report “goes beyond this disturbing premise, to also find that evolving industry changes provide new cause for optimism.”
Smith and Allbee conclude: “The Vermont dairy industry has evolved into a multi-sector, diverse and high value industry, which now includes both a substantial new in-state processing and manufacturing sector along with the historic raw milk production sector. This new in-state combination of substantial raw milk production and dairy products’ manufacture has reestablished comprehensive State regulatory authority over the State’s dairy marketplace.”
They maintain that effective use of this restored regulatory power, combined with more strategic economic development, can restore rational producer pricing and overall milk supply, “and thereby also achieve remediation of harmful farming practices with reduced public funding,” they write.
It would be easy to dismiss the notion of a commission to study and implement when there are other issues circulating around the State House. But in the ever-present push to reclaim lost jobs, create new jobs, and harness ways to pump money back into the states struggling economy, maybe going back to basics is a sound idea.
Sen. Bobby Starr, chairman of the Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture, invited the authors to testify this week. He notes optimistically that the report provides “the exciting development of our industry’s new and diverse manufacturing sector and, most importantly, explains how this new development creates a new path forward for addressing the needs of both Vermont dairy companies and their supplying dairy farms.”
We should milk that.