There has been considerable discussion around dairy sourcing as of late. Ben & Jerry’s has long focused on being an active supporter to our Vermont dairy industry partners. At times we have helped the farmers. At times we’ve challenged them. At times we’ve probably been a pain too, if we’re honest. So let’s have an honest discussion about our commitment to the dairy industry.
We have heard from those such as Regeneration Vermont and others who have the same deep concern "about the dire economic conditions that continue to face Vermont’s conventional dairy producers and their families and the impact this is having on the economy, the working landscape, farmers and farm workers, the environment, and our rural communities." We share their vision of a strong, regenerative agricultural model for Vermont dairy.
Ben & Jerry’s has intentionally chosen to work with Vermont’s famers to pursue sustainable solutions. We have invested directly in our dairy supply chain with farm level investments versus simply purchasing milk and cream. In 2016 alone, we have invested approximately a half million dollars in on-farm carbon reduction, and paid over $2 million dollars in direct premiums to the farmers in the 86 farms who participated in our Caring Dairy program. We’re proud of what we’ve done to support the industry, and yet, we’re not proud of the state that the dairy industry is currently in.
We have long cared about the health and viability of the dairy industry in VT and elsewhere, throughout the US and abroad. We scaled our US version of the Caring Dairy program in 2010 with the intention of driving meaningful change within our dairy supply chain through a continuous improvement program that addresses the full farm ecosystem. Beginning in January of 2016 we globally re-launched the Caring Dairy program through the lens of building soil health as the foundation for a healthy ecologically based farming system.
Our new program focuses on the key aspects of a viable farm by setting high standards for environmental practices, fair and respectful farm worker program and the utmost care for the dairy cow. The first five years of the program was about raising awareness about key farming practices. The current program establishes baseline information in key areas such as: chemical use, nutrient application and greenhouse gas emissions. The program further outlines very comprehensive farm worker requirements and requires all farms to utilize veterinarians to provide a proactive evaluation of the dairy herd to maintain good animal husbandry. All farms are required to have a third party audit. Caring Dairy has twelve categories that make up sustainable farming practices: animal husbandry, biodiversity, nutrient management, soil fertility and health, soil loss, pest management, farm economics, energy, water, farm workers, farmer and farm family and community. In addition, we invest in on-farm Carbon reduction (technology & management systems), all while providing premiums to farmers to implement agroecological practices. While this program is extremely robust, it admittedly does not go far enough and we recognize that we have to raise the bar.
We are a values-led company, and so in our messaging we say “we strive to make the best possible ice cream in the nicest possible way.” Sure, it’s a little bit aspirational, but this simple statement means a lot when you unpack it. It means that we are looking at every single aspect of how our ice cream is crafted, from the ingredients that we use, the partners that we work with, to the way the ice cream is made. It’s all driven by our Mission Statement and our Progressive Values Statement, both of which challenge us not just to “do good,” but to make continuous improvements in what we are doing. It’s a never-ending process for us. There is always room for us to improve, and one area that we have been focusing an increasing amount of our attention on is our Dairy Sourcing.
The dairy industry in Vermont, and the US as a whole, is a broken system. The issues that plague the industry are many and wide ranging, and we at Ben & Jerry’s share a desire, with many others, to make it better. We want to make it work for the farmers who are continually finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. We want to make it work for the farm workers, the animals, the environment, our fans, and in the end, to match the values that we believe very deeply in.
So as we have been evaluating our current Dairy Supply chain, and while we have worked diligently over the past 7 years to improve farm practices, we fully acknowledge that it is not where we would want it to be. There is greater opportunity to have a positive impact to change the current system. We recognize that we are operating in the same broken system that is failing our dairy farmers, and we are actively exploring ways to change that - to create a more viable system. It’s a complex issue that has involved hundreds of hours of research, discussion and effort, and has led to recognition that this is no easy task.
As we’ve journeyed through the evaluation of our supply chain, one insight is clear - that it will take multiple stakeholders to create comprehensive solutions. We encourage and look forward to this dialogue with the full intention of creating a path forward that includes innovative thinking and courageous collaboration to create a strong, sustainable Vermont dairy industry. This is a vision we are fully committed to. We hear and understand the urgency to come up with solutions. We are working now to define our path forward and plan to share our plans as soon as possible in 2017.