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Dairy Conference Looks at Farm Sustainability

farm tractor in field
WAMC/Pat Bradley

Farmers and agricultural leaders from Vermont, New England and New York gathered in Burlington today for an annual conference for dairy producers. Sustainability is a key issue at the gathering.
The Vermont Dairy Producers Conference was founded in 1999.  Organized by farmers, it focuses on the most pressing issues they are facing.  More than 300 had registered by the start of the conference, which included sessions on the family farms’ sustainable future,  how to assure a generational transfer of farm ownership, dairy genomics, and animal care.

Vermont Dairy Producers Association Chair Reg Chaput has co-owned his dairy farm for 35 years and is a founder of the conference.   “As time has gone on we’ve recognized that there’s more of a  need to discuss things like farm transfers and more of the whole personnel part of the operations, whether it’s getting the next generation in, whether it’s dealing with employees.  Though we still discuss topics that have to deal with the cows themselves and sometimes the cropping part of it, we find ourselves needing to discuss the personnel part of it.  And I think that’s because the operations are getting a little bigger as time goes on, and that’s s just the way the industry’s headed.  So there are more people working together.  It’s becoming more of a team effort.”

Chaput notes that a key concern for farmers in the Northeast is the generational sustainability of their farms.   “Dairy operations now are high capital.  You know we’re talking hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.  And so a lot of times if a farm doesn’t move on to the next generation there’s a financial component to it that prevents it from doing so. So it takes a lot of prior planning, talking to one another.  And by that I mean generation to generation and not just going on as business as usual every day.  You know there has to be plans on how the farms’ are going to transfer to the next generation. That’s as important as the crops that you grow and the way that you manage your cattle.”

The Miner Institute is an agricultural research center in Northern New York.  Dairy Outreach Coordinator Wanda Emerich is excited to see discussed a broad range of topics, including reproduction, economics, calf health, attracting employees and sustainability.   “The program and the variety of topics gives the producers some additional tools to work with.  There’s a lot of new technology, new uses of technology. Farmers have a lot of tools available to them in production agriculture and they need to make the most of what those tools are in order to have the best margin. The margins in farming are fairly narrow.  So we need to be able to make the best profit that we can on what we’re working with so that we can insure that our high quality product is produced at a reasonable cost so that we can stay in business.”

There are about 850 dairy farms in Vermont hosting 134,000 dairy cows. According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, dairy brings about $3 million into the state’s economy daily.

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