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Maine has lost one-third of its dairy farms since 2020 due to rising costs and other challenges

 Dairy Manager Ben Gotschall uses a pitchfork to disperse the hay among the cows at Wolfe Neck Center in Freeport, Maine.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
/
Maine Public
Dairy Manager Ben Gotschall uses a pitchfork to disperse the hay among the cows at Wolfe Neck Center in Freeport, Maine.

The Task Force to Support Dairy Farms in Maine met for the first time Wednesday to come up with recommendations for how the state might help farms be more profitable.

The panel will consider ideas such as whether Maine should expand its milk processing operations, allowing farmers to bypass costly commercial plants.

The Maine Milk Commission says 99% of milk produced here goes to a commercial plant and then to stores throughout New England.

Department of Agriculture Commissioner Amanda Beal said the state's Dairy Stabilization Tier Program that addresses price fluctuations for dairy farmers will not be dismantled in favor of new ideas that haven't been tried. Beals said the Tier program will remain in place as a foundation for dairy farmers while new initiatives are implemented to try to stabilize the industry.

A third of the state's Dairy Farms have shut down in four years, many citing high costs and low returns.

Farmers said state lawmakers must better understand the challenges facing the dairy industry, and its important place in the food system and Maine's economy.

Jenni Tilton-Flood is a member of Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton.

"I think that if we remember this is an investment in Maine, an investment in our food system, our food security, our community, our economy, I think that might be easier to say this investment is good for us rather than this line item is too big," Tilton-Flood said.

The Task Force will present its recommendations to the Legislature by January.