From horse-drawn logging to start-up cheesemaking, digital tools are playing an increasingly valuable role in keeping our working lands enterprises efficient and profitable. This article first appeared in the January 23, 2015 edition of Agriview.
Digital Tools Having Big Impact on Vermont Farms
In one way or another Vermont’s farmers have always been drawn to new technologies, from innovations in horse-drawn plows to devices that bring them essential weather updates. Today, rapid advancements in digital tools are putting remarkable opportunities into Vermonters’ pockets and barns. Working lands enterprises across the state are adopting these tools in creative ways and they are making a big difference in areas such as efficiency, marketing, nutrition management, and resiliency.
Consider, for example, Carl Russell at Earthwise Farm and Forest in Bethel. At first thought, the co-owner of a draft-animal powered organic family farm wouldn’t seem among the first to embrace mobile technology. Yet he is doing just that. As one of the businesses that received hands-on help through a recent federally-funded Vermont Council on Rural Development project Carl now uses an iPad to map his daily logging plan. But he went beyond that to solve a larger problem. In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, Russell found plenty of demand for his sustainably harvested logs, but the time-consuming nature of the process made supplying the logs difficult. He found digital tools to be an immense help in setting up a new cooperative for sustainable loggers across the state and encouraging them to pool resources to meet the ever-increasing demand.
Over the past two years the Vermont Digital Economy Project provided 50 of Vermont’s most flood-damaged towns with services that helped speed recovery, spur economic development and job growth, and improve community disaster resilience. Earthwise was one of over 100 ag-related businesses that received one-on-one assistance. As a result, VDEP developed an extensive resource of field-tested ways that digital tools can be used in settings throughout the Green Mountain state. Many of these are highlighted in “Vermont’s Digital Stories,” and other online accounts that are posted at vtrural.org.
Last fall Nicky Foster and Julie Danyew completed their new cheesemaking facility on Nicky’s family farm in Addison County. Their brown Swiss herd is world-renown as breeding stock, but the cheese needed online promotion. With help from the VtSBDC, Bridport Creamery launched an e-commerce web site (bridportcreamery.com/) that informs visitors about their delicious products, lists places where people can buy locally, and offers customers an option to make their purchases online for delivery anywhere in the United States.
One thing that stuck out for Heather Darby, a farmer and professor at UVM Extension, was that farmers really wanted an easier way to plan, analyze, and report their nutrient management. “What dawned on me was that farmers have trouble using their computers, but they all know how to use their phone,” she said. The result is GoCrop, an app that replaces antiquated spreadsheets and puts technology to work in the field.
Front Porch Forum, the digital version of a local gathering place, is now available in every Vermont town. For farmers it’s proving to be great way to let neighbors know about seasonal products, services, and on-farm events.
This handful of innovations is just scratching the surface of what’s available today (and possible tomorrow) to propel all of Vermont’s working lands.