Production and Processing

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Production & Processing Working Group Chair Update

Two years ago, the Production and Processing Working Group changed the focus of its meetings from high level discussions that impacted all of agriculture to conversations about challenges and opportunities for specific commodities. These more sharply defined meetings have allowed for shared conversations with producers, technical assistance providers, and funders to look at opportunities that will increase the viability and profitability of Vermont farms.  

Examples include:

Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program 

Helping to establish the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) Program in Vermont, which was first established in Wisconsin in 2010. Its focus is on having a formalized training program for the next generation of dairy farmers in grass-based, managed grazing settings and is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor as an official apprenticeship program. Apprentices work for 4,000 hours over two years with their master grazing mentor and through online classwork and networking opportunities. At the end of the apprenticeship, graduates have the knowledge and experience base to start their own operations if they choose to do so. Last year, Mary Ellen Franklin was hired as a part time coordinator for the DGA program in Vermont. She is working under the auspices of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture to sign up master graziers in Vermont and to assist in linking up young or new farmers with those who wish to mentor.

2019 Ranching for Profit Cohort

A meeting with a group of beef producers introduced Production and Processing to Ranching for Profit (RFP). This program, in existence for 35 years, focuses on the health and productivity of the land and the financial profitability of meat operations. Leaders from this program came to Vermont this past year for the first time to lead an intensive week long course. The first Vermont cohort graduated from this program and a number are continuing to pursue this connection through RFP’s graduate support programs. The cohort also received small grants for infrastructure, grazing, and marketing assistance to accelerate learnings from the RFP school and improve overall profitability of their businesses. 

The demand for locally produced grain continues to increase in Vermont. Brewers, distillers, mills, and bakeries are all showing interest in buying grain from local farms. In the past year, a small group has met with a number of possible end users as well as a grain center in Quebec to understand the demand and potential infrastructure needs for increased grain production in Vermont. A market feasibility study for grain markets is underway this fall and the results will dictate next steps in pursuing this opportunity for Vermont farms.

Recent Production and Processing meetings have focused on challenges for vegetable growers and those choosing to grow hemp. These meetings drew a large stakeholder group and these topics and other commodity discussions will drive meeting activity for the rest of 2019.

It is difficult to find a solution that works well for all Vermont farms.  However, by finding opportunities that benefit some farms we are slowly able to move the viability and profitability of our farm community in a more healthy direction. - Regina Beidler, Group Chair