A Solution to the Organic Milk Shortage

April 30, 2015
Freeport, Maine

A Solution to the Organic Milk Shortage
Nonprofit Farm Leads the Way in Training Organic Dairy Farmers

FREEPORT, ME – 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.

Organic Dairy Director Rebecca Brown with Holstein Cattle

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, who will all receive a full scholarship to cover tuition and will earn a fair market wage.

“We are humbled to be taking on such an important initiative here at Wolfe’s Neck Farm. This is exactly the kind of work that the Smith family envisioned when they donated the farm back in 1985. This program will play a significant role in supporting a stronger agricultural economy in Maine and New England,” stated David Herring, Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s Executive Director.

“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 sits on the program’s advisory board, a panel of experts in the field who will help guide the new farmers through the program and their first years on their own farm.

The program also addresses another challenge faced by organic dairy farms: feed costs. For organic cattle, all feed must itself be certified organic. This organic feed is in short supply – which can mean importing from as far away as China. This means very little profit for the farmers.

“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.

The Wolfe’s Neck Farm Organic Dairy will be used as a platform for forage-based research, minimizing both feed costs and environmental impact by utilizing the region’s plentiful natural resource: grass. “Researching and putting into practice the best ways to grow high-quality forage 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.” said Kersbergen.

Other research elements include the import of a mobile milking parlor from Europe. Wolfe’s Neck Farm will be the first dairy in the country to deploy such a unit, maximizing the use of the farm’s many non-contiguous oceanfront pastures. 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.” Herring stated.

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.

Becky stated: “I am honored to be involved with such a valuable initiative. If there had been a program like this when I was starting out in farming, I would have been years ahead of where I am now. Instead, I had to travel extensively, weed out best information from the best practitioners, and learn that hard and expensive way. In contrast, Wolfe’s Neck Farm is offering this huge opportunity on a silver platter.” Interested parties are encouraged to apply to the program before June 1st for admittance into the 2015 class. More information about this program is available at www.wolfesneckfarm.org/organic-dairy-farmer-research-training-program

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About Wolfe’s Neck Farm:
Wolfe’s Neck Farm is a nonprofit organization based in Freeport, Maine dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture, education, and outdoor recreation while preserving its 626 acres of open space and historic buildings. This working saltwater farm has a rich history of farming innovation and includes hundreds of acres of forest, saltwater marsh, pasture lands, over four miles of Casco Bay coastline and an award-winning oceanfront campground. Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s educational programs include a summer day camp, field trips, Farm School and its Teen Ag Program and Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program. It hosts annual barn dances, farm festivals and farm-to-table dinners as well as growing vegetables and pasture-raising chickens, turkeys and lamb for the local community. Open free to the public year-round, the Farm encourages visitors to explore its miles of hiking trails, meet the animals in the barn, explore the organic gardens and enjoy the open space. For more information, visit www.wolfesneckfarm.org

Rebecca Brown
Organic Dairy Program Director
Office: (207) 865-4469 ext. 112
Mobile: (774) 521-6100

David Herring
Executive Director
Office: (207) 865-4469 ext. 100

Jackie Stearns
Marketing and Communications Manager
Office: (207) 865-4469 ext. 107