The scene at many supermarket dairy aisles across the country: a sign where the organic milk should be. Demand is rising dramatically and there aren’t enough farmers to meet it, causing a nationwide shortage. In Maine, the average age of a dairy farmer is 57, and there are too few new farmers entering the field to take their place.
Enter the Wolfe’s Neck Farm Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program. This 18-month, residential training program is the first of its kind in the nation. The new program aims to reverse the shrinking population of organic dairy farmers by infusing the industry with qualified and experienced farmers, increasing the number of organic dairy farms in Maine by 30% over the next five years.
The program is launching this year, thanks to a major grant from the Danone Ecosystem Fund and Stonyfield. Wolfe’s Neck Farm is now actively recruiting its first class of four students.
Hands-On Learning Focused on Business Success
“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.” Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield’s Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture.
This first-of-its kind program helps trainees go from inexperienced-to-expert in all aspects of organic dairy cow operations and management and starts with students working on business and transition plans within their first month. Participants will live and work on the Wolfe’s Neck dairy farm, sharing production responsibilities and gaining the skills, confidence and technical expertise they need to start their own viable, sustainable farms.
Using the farm’s pasture-based low-grain operation as a classroom, students will focus on all elements of commercial organic dairy production from pasture, forage and crop management, to dairy nutrition, herd health, and low stress livestock handling, to milk production, and facilities planning, design and maintenance.
The course includes an emphasis on business management as well, so that students head out with the background they need in business planning, data collection and analysis and financial management to ensure their success in the future. Starting in the first month of the program, students will begin developing their own business plans. Then, shortly before graduation they’ll present their plans to a panel of industry experts who will provide feedback, guidance and, eventually, approval.
Learn From Industry Experts
To lead the program, the farm has hired a rising star in the industry, 36-year-old Rebecca Brown. “As one of her impressive references put it, no one in her generation knows more about grass-based dairy than her. She is one of the leading thinkers in the world on this topic.” says Dave Herring, Executive Director of Wolfe’s Neck Farm.
Brown has spent most of her life on farms, and graduated cum laude from Union College in NY with a degree in Environmental Studies and Natural Resource Management. Since college she has studied pasture-based management on diverse dairy farms in New Zealand, Virginia, Wisconsin and Hawaii before becoming Pennsylvania Regional Director and Biological Farming Consultant for Midwestern Bio-Ag. For the past few years, she has been lecturing throughout the Northeast about soil health and related topics for the Ohio-based Farm to Consumer Foundation.
Other advisors include farmers, staff from organizations supporting farmers and factulry from the University of Main, Tufts University and the University of New Hampshire. You can see the complete list here.
Tuition, Wages and Other Benefits
The $5,500 tuition for the first class of four students is being waived thanks to support from Stonyfield. Students will also be paid for their work from months 7 -18. Housing is provided at a cost of $350 per month. Graduates of the program will also have opportunities to apply for access to alternative milking equipment, animals, land for lease, and preferred financing.
Application Deadline is June 1, 2015