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Wolfe’s Neck Farm Secures Major Grant from Stonyfield to launch an Organic Dairy Farmer Training and Research Program
FREEPORT, Maine — For many years, the story of dairy farming in New England was a story of decline. But, a new program being launched by Wolfe’s Neck Farm in partnership with organic yogurt maker, Stonyfield, hopes to change that trend. The Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program aims to revitalize and strengthen the organic dairy industry in Maine and New England while ushering in the next generation of organic dairy farmers. The program is made possible by a 3-year, $1,693,000 grant awarded to Wolfe’s Neck Farm from Stonyfield and the Danone Ecosystem Fund.
“This program has the potential to jumpstart the next generation of organic dairy farmers in New England,” said Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield’s Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture. “We’re designing the program to address the unique challenges faced by dairy farmers in our region by giving qualified young farmers the tools they need to succeed when starting up their own organic dairy.”
The program will also involve a research element. “Our goal is to build a viable and sustainable organic dairy model at Wolfe’s Neck Farm that will be used for two purposes – training the next generation of organic dairy farmers and conducting forage and pasture-based research to advance organic dairy farming across the region,” says Wolfe’s Neck Farm Executive Director, Dave Herring.
“The timing is perfect for an initiative like this,” stated Rick Kersbergen, Professor for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Sustainable Dairy and Forage Systems. Kersbergen will be on sabbatical at Wolfe’s Neck Farm later this year to help support and launch this initiative.
According to Kersbergen, the average age of organic dairy farmers in Maine is 57. And, the total number of dairy farms in the state has been in decline for years – from 597 dairies in 1995 to 285 today. In that same period the number of organic dairies has grown from 1 to 60, but growth in organic dairy has also started to slow, due in part to the economic barriers to entry for new organic dairy farmers. Meanwhile, demand for organic milk and its by-products is going up.
Kersbergen added, “Researching and putting into practice the best ways to grow high quality forage and then training organic dairy farmers on those practices is a key to helping those farmers control their costs, improve their products and create a sustainable future for organic dairy here in the Northeast.”
Ultimately, participants in the Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program hope to contribute to growing organic dairy as a part of strengthening New England’s entire food system.
“Maine has a chance to play a leading role in shaping the future of food and farming in the Northeast simply because we have the land to produce more food,” Herring stated. “Maine only produces 3-5 percent of the protein we consume. This number should be closer to 30-50 percent. By preparing young organic dairy farmers to bring more land into production, we can increase that percentage and improve the environment, our health and our economy.”
The first farmer trainees are expected to start in 2015 and complete their training in 2016. “We want to start right away. The need is there and we’re busily preparing all the components of the program and the training,” says Herring.