The following is a guest post from Stonyfield Farm President and CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg, written in response to a post by Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.

Londonderry, N.H.: These are
difficult times for the organic dairy industry, and as we have
demonstrated consistently for over a decade, we are deeply engaged in
the effort to find solutions that balance escalating supply costs with
the need to keep organic product prices within the average consumer’s

Stonyfield has consistently fought for farmers’ interests, despite
the pressures of the marketplace to reduce or hold prices for our
yogurts. Over the past five years, the pay price we pay for organic
milk has risen 34 percent, while Stonyfield has only raised the price
of its 6-oz. yogurt 11 percent over the same period. We have endeavored
to meet farmers’ needs, while finding savings in other parts of our

The fact is, despite our supplier costs rising dramatically over
recent years, we have worked hard to maintain an affordable price for
the consumer. This is a very tough balancing act, but at the end of the
day, the greatest thing we can do is to grow the organic segment that
benefits all the players — farmers, processors, and consumers. And
Stonyfield has done just that, by converting 100 percent of our
products to organic, increasing our purchases of family-farmer-supplied
organic milk to over $60 million per year, and all the while investing
in numerous strategies that will help our family farmers to thrive.

“Stonyfield Farm has been a trustworthy partner and has been
diligent and unwavering in its support of organic dairy farmers,” says
Jim Gardiner of Otselic, N.Y., organic farmer and Northeast Organic
Dairy Producers Alliance board member.

“Organic has to work for everyone in the chain — from farm to
table,” says Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative dairy producer and
Vermont farmer Regina Beidler, who supplies milk to Stonyfield Farm for
its yogurt. “We need to figure out how to deal with the unprecedented
increase in organic feed costs, and working together, I’m confident
that we will.” Beidler adds, “Stonyfield Farm has always been an active
and resourceful partner at the table working to help figure out how to
make organic work for the dairy producer and the consumer.”

Stonyfield Farm will only purchase milk from family farms, a
stipulation that is explicitly spelled out in its agreements with both
its organic milk suppliers HP Hood and Organic Valley/CROPP. Stonyfield
purchases all of the milk for its yogurts and frozen products from
Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, and licenses HP Hood to sell and
distribute Stonyfield Farm Organic Milk. Stonyfield does not directly
source the organic milk for the Stonyfield brand.

We sympathize with farmers’ struggles with rising fuel, feed, and
operating costs. As a processor, we are dealing with many of those same
issues as well. Energy costs have risen dramatically, and we have
invested significantly in implementing conservation efforts to hold
these costs. On the other side, there has been an explosion of
low-priced, competitive, private-label organic yogurts supplied by
producers of non-family-farm milk, creating intense downward price
pressure in the market. In short, there have been increased costs and
pressures across the board, but we are not abandoning farmers, even as
we face our own financial challenges.

Stonyfield Farm’s mission is to drive consumer support for organic
family farmers while proving it is profitable to be an organic
processor. We believe this is the only way to convert our food system
to healthy and sustainable organic practices and ensure that farmers
are treated fairly. Average pay price (Midwest prices) over the past
decade for organic milk for Stonyfield Farm’s supplier of milk for its
yogurt has steadily increased, compared to the “roller coaster” of
prices paid to farmers for conventional milk.

In contrast to the extreme highs and lows of nonorganic-milk-farmer pay prices, Stonyfield Farm has
lowered the price it pays farmers for organic milk — even during
periods of significant oversupply, such as this past year. It is this
stable and steadily growing pay price that has made organic dairying
attractive to many farmers.

And as we work toward a paradigm of sustainable food production,
reducing the farmer pay price — a tactic favored by conventional dairy
— is not an option.

Overall, no dairy processor has been more aggressive in supporting
family farmer interests. Here is a list of some of Stonyfield’s organic
farmer support initiatives:

  • We were the nation’s first dairy processor to pay farmers
    not to treat cows with the synthetic bovine growth hormone rBGH.
  • We have invested over $1.2 million in grants to farmers to assist with transitioning to organic.
  • We
    started a loan program to assist farmers transitioning to organic. The
    fund was launched by a six-figure personal contribution from Gary and
    Meg Hirshberg, as well as with support from Stonyfield Farm and Organic
    Valley/CROPP Cooperative.
  • We have provided tens of thousands of dollars in grants directly to farmers to improve sustainable farming practices.
  • We have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to fund workshops, trainings, and other assistance to farmers.
  • With
    a grant of $450,000, we were the lead donor to the nation’s first
    land-grant organic dairy at the University of New Hampshire.
  • In
    2006, we hosted members of Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance
    for a meeting at Stonyfield Farm, where we opened our financials to
    them to create a dialogue and increase understanding of the financial
    challenges facing everyone in the organic chain.
  • Late last
    year, we converted 100 percent of our product line to organic, ensuring
    a steady demand for the organic farmers’ products.

In recent months, to address the unprecedented increase in organic
farmer feed costs, Stonyfield has worked on several new initiatives to
help dairy farmer profitability. These include increasing producer pay
in 2008, funding a program with the Northeast Organic Farming
Association of Vermont to provide energy audits and consulting to
farmers to help reduce on-farm energy costs, and working with Organic
Valley/CROPP Cooperative to find ways to reduce organic feed costs,
such as long-term contracts with organic feed growers.

Everyone — suppliers, processors, and consumers — needs to
understand there are enormous challenges in moving from a system where
farmers have been undervalued to one where their vital role is both
recognized and rewarded. We believe that the conversion to an organic,
sustainable model is the only way to achieve this end.

About Stonyfield Farm
Stonyfield Farm, celebrating
its 25th year, is the world’s leading organic yogurt maker, and it
produces organic yogurt, smoothies, cultured soy, frozen yogurt, ice
cream, and milk. The company advocates that healthy food can only come
from a healthy planet. Stonyfield donates 10 percent of its profits to
efforts that protect and restore the environment, was America’s first
manufacturer to offset 100 percent of its CO2 emissions from facility
energy use, and recently installed the largest solar array in New
Hampshire to help power its production plant.