LISA RATHKE, Associated Press
ESSEX JUNCTION -- The outlook for Vermont’s dairy industry is optimistic with relatively strong milk prices, increasing demand for U.S. dairy products as well as growth in the number of dairy processors and milk produced in Vermont, despite a drop in the number of dairy farms, officials say.
The average milk price paid to farmers rose to $19.60 per 100 pounds of milk last year, up from $17.98 in 2012 and a low of $12.16 in 2009, Diane Bothfeld, deputy secretary at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, told an annual meeting of dairy farmers this past week.
More dairy processors also came on line in 2013 -- with seven more off-farm for a total of 36 and five more on-farm for a total of 59.
"The more people that need milk, the more competition there is for milk," Bothfeld said. "The more processors we have in the state, the better we are."
Vermont’s milk production inched up to 2.6 billion pounds in 2013, from 2.5 billion pounds in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bothfeld said, while Vermont lost an estimated 33 dairy farms last year, ending with 939.
But the average number of cows stayed the same, with more farms growing in size. The number of small farms with fewer than 200 cows continued to drop from 810 in 2012 to 780 in 2013. But the number of large farms with more than 700 cows stayed the same at 17. The state is getting applications for a number of farms seeking to grow in size, Bothfeld said.
"There’s another indicator that dairy’s not dead in Vermont," she said.
Vermont’s milk is being exported to China, which is a huge emerging market, said Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross.
Milk prices are expected to remain strong in the coming months because of international demand, said Bob Wellington, a dairy economist and senior vice president at Agri-Mark Inc. dairy cooperative, which this fall was named 2013 exporter of the year by Dairy World magazine.
"We think mostly it’s going to be pretty good times for Vermont farmers and farmers around this country. We are really going to be the milk pitcher for the world as we move forward," he said.