Diversification strategies for the resilience of small New England dairies
Keywords:Organic Dairy, Regenerative Agriculture, Soil Health, Social Networks, Land Stewardship, Cooperatives, Local Food Hubs, Vermont, New Hampshire, Qualitative
Dairy farmers face persistent market shocks that force creative diversifications to enhance their resilience. In the summer of 2021, corporate dairy companies canceled over 100 contracts with organic dairy farmers in New England, a market shock to the industry across the Northeast. To better understand how farmers cope with market shocks in small dairy production, we studied small-scale dairy farms from the perspective of social ecological resilience, exploring the role of diversification in small dairies in Vermont and New Hampshire: which strategies are most effective, what factors influence diversification, and the barriers to diversification. Data came from interviews with dairy farmers and advocates from multiple sectors involving ecological, economic, institutional, cultural, and personal domains. We highlight why, how, and with what support small-scale New England dairy farmers have adapted, supplemented, or transformed their dairy operations. Dairy farms exhibited high levels of diversification, motivated by a range of economic, ecological, and personal incentives. Predominant diversification pathways include (1) higher premiums from organic or directly marketed liquid milk, (2) value-added dairy products, (3) nondairy farm products, and (4) efficient and sustainable land management practices. Our findings suggest that what supports diversification is the transparent and open sharing of knowledge among a network of farmers, based on strong interpersonal relationships. Institutions such as government programs and dairy cooperatives frame diversification, which is best supported by funding flexibility and accessibility of information. Diversification has enabled greater resilience for dairy farmers, despite continued dairy market volatility in the Northeast. Without structural and institutional changes, dairy viability will continue to be in jeopardy, and the need for diversification will remain.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Snorek Julie, Wyatt Cummings, Eric Hryniewicz, Keelia Stevens, Rose Iannuzzi
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