February 1

Maine farmers hope Oakhurst sale changes nothing but the owner

For decades, the family-owned business has rewarded its milk producers for quality.

By Mary Pols mpols@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Tim Leary stands with some of the 45 dairy cows in the “small potatoes” herd he keeps at his farm in Saco. He is one of 70 independent Maine dairy farmers providing milk to Oakhurst Dairy.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Yes, says Oakhurst Chairman Bill Bennett. “Having milk with no artificial growth hormone is important to our consumers so we remain committed to our pledge and will continue to pay our farmers to do so.”

Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, said consolidation in the past 10 years has been challenging for Maine’s dairies, and for Oakhurst. She’s cautiously optimistic about the company’s future. “The devil is in the details,” she said.

Jerry Dryer, editor of Dairy & Food Market Analyst, said Oakhurst and Dairy Farms of America may make a “good marriage.”

“There aren’t too many small dairies left,” Dryer said. “They often need more resources. It’s very expensive to run a company. DFA brings some resources to the table, and some national reach.”

In Minot, Hemond echoed that sentiment. His farm, R.E. Hemond Inc., begun in 1945 by his father, bottled milk under its own label until the family sold the dairy business to the much bigger Oakhurst in 1988. Hemond has trucked milk to Oakhurst’s Portland plant since.

“I think it’s all for the better,” Hemond said. “Deep down, I knew something was going to be happening, because of the stiff competition. Even as big as Oakhurst is, I don’t believe they can compete with these big companies.”

And he’s looking for the bright side.

“They told us to increase production if we could because they are going to be needing a lot more milk,” Hemond said. “I don’t know if they are going to be packaging for someone else, but they’re telling us that it is exciting news for the farmers, that there is a market for Maine milk outside the state.”

Jean McKeen, who runs Silver Maple Farms in Albion with her son Dennis, has sold about 28,000 pounds of milk to Oakhurst every other day. If, as promised, the sale changes nothing, she’ll be pleased. But after 40 years in the business, she’s learned to roll with what comes her way.

“I guess we’ve got to believe them and wait and see,” she said.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall contributed to this report.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

mpols@pressherald.com

 

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