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Dairy Farmers Talk Sustainability & Innovation at Annual Conference

Burlington, VT – Hundreds of dairy farmers from New England and New York gathered at the 17th annual Vermont Dairy Producers Conference in Burlington this week to hear from a panel of experts about emerging technology and innovative strategies to ensure dairy farms continue to be a vibrant part of the local economy.

“It’s critical that our growing population continues to have access to local, nutritious and affordable dairy products,” said Les Pike of Keewaydin Farm, 2015 Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year. “To do this farmers continually look for innovative ways to be more efficient and sustainable – this conference delivered helpful new perspectives we can use to remain competitive.”

Farmers received expert advice from dairy industry professionals from across the country. Jude L. Capper specializes in food system sustainability, and says that today’s modern dairy farms have reduced their carbon footprint by two-thirds since the 1940s, but that most people aren’t aware of the improved practices on farms.

“Farmers often face an uphill battle when it comes to consumer perception about sustainability – we need to reach out to the people in the middle that are looking for information to build trust,” Capper said. “Sustainability doesn’t only mean natural, or organic, or pasture-fed. Sustainable means caring for our animals and land to make a nutritious product.” 

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross thanked dairy farmers for their contributions to the state. Shumlin said during his administration, 5,000 jobs have been added in value-added agriculture.

“You maintain the backbone of Vermont,” Shumlin told the crowd. “You maintain our working landscape.”

His remarks were echoed by Ross, who said he had come to thank dairy farmers.  Dairy farmers bring $3 million per day into Vermont, he said.

Dr. Ray Nebel, Vice President of Technical Programs at Select Sires, talked to farmers about emerging technologies they can use to stay ahead in genomic selection and reproductive efficiency.

“Traditionally, milk production has been used as an indicator of cow health. Now we have access to the ultimate tool for wellbeing – a new health monitor that attaches to the cow’s ear, like an earring, that measures five parameters of health, including their temperature, their resting and eating patterns, “ said Nebel. “It helps farmers be proactive to keep their cows healthy and productive.”

A topic that every farm faces is how to transition the farm to the next generation – a crucial step to ensure the long-term stability of farms, said motivational speaker, Garrison Wynn, author of The Real Truth About Success, the bestseller The Cowbell Principle, and contributor to the Washington Post.

"To attract employees, whether it’s within your family or outside, you have to ask yourself is the culture you have going to attract and engage employees?” Wynn said. “Help them understand how their day to day contributions fit into the success of the business and their future opportunities.”

Sarah Zeger, an undergraduate student at UVM with a focus on dairy science said that the conference helped her to gain inside information she wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.

“As the next generation to enter the dairy farming industry, I’m walking away with ideas I can use to ensure the success and sustainability of dairy farming for my generation and beyond.” Zeger said.

Conference organizers say they hope the over 300 dairy farmers who attended the conference leave with the same sentiment.

“This conference provides an opportunity for dairy farmers, students and professionals to come together to share and learn from one another,” said conference chair, Reg Chaput, a dairy farmer from North Troy.  “It’s inspiring to see young, energetic students interacting with experienced and progressive dairymen and women with a united goal to advance the future of the dairy industry.”

About The Vermont Dairy Producers Conference:
Founded in 1999 and organized by farmers, for farmers, The Vermont Dairy Producers Conference (VDPC) brings industry experts together each year to share information, strategies, and best-practice sharing. The VDPC is the premier event for New England and New York dairy farmers seeking cutting-edge information to improve their business practices. For more information:

Photo Caption:  

Les and Claire Pike of Keewaydin Farm in Stowe, VT at the 17th annual Vermont Dairy Producers Conference on February 23, 2016 in Burlington, Vermont. Over 300 dairy farmers and industry professionals gathered at the 17th annual Vermont Dairy Producers Conference to learn about emerging technologies and innovative strategies to ensure dairy farms continue to be a vibrant part of the local economy.