Developing a Support Network for Grass Based Livestock Producers
Growing grass in Maine takes advantage of its short growing season and cool, wet climate, which is more advantageous for sod than cultivated crops. Pasture raised milk, meat, poultry, and eggs have higher nutritional content, higher market prices, are good for the environment. Grass farming increases profitability helping to keep farms viable and maintains the rural character of our communities.
The primary focus of this project is to establish the Maine Grass Farmers Network. The aim is to create an active core of 15 professionals who will provide technical information and support a network of grass farmers in Maine. This network will facilitate the dissemination of information and help in the initiation of research into information that will be valuable to the farmers and will be a conduit for information between Cooperative Extension Educators, University staff, farmer consultants/leaders, food scientists, various NGO livestock professionals, veterinarians, feed and fencing dealers and livestock farmers.
Of the 50 Cooperative Extension, USDA, Maine Department of Agriculture, NGO’s, commodity groups, private consultants, producer/leaders, veterinarians, and supporting industries representatives at the workshops held, an active core of 15 professionals will be created to provide technical information and support a network of grass farmers in Maine and will learn about new and emerging farmers and markets including new minority groups, and will keep abreast of new information relevant to grass farmers.
Of the 600 or more livestock farmers in the state of Maine, 75% will be identified and given access to the MGFN established and supported by these professionals that will last 5 or more years.
Of the 25 professional educators from Cooperative Extension, USDA/NRCS, Maine Department of Ag, UMO, NGO’s, 10 will use the marketing and production information including enterprise budgets and other practical tools, developed by the network to support grass farmers.
Without the formation of this network these professionals will have limited resources to assist the grass farmers and 15% of the livestock farmers will go out of business and farmland will be lost to development and 40% of those remaining will lose the marketing advantage of grass fed livestock products.
The performance targets will be met when the Maine Grass Farmers Network emerges as a self-sustaining group and there is an the increase of 20 new grass farmers in Maine
The Maine Grass Farmers Network had many accomplishments during its first 8 months. In July 2004, we sent out the first brochure with a letter inviting people to sign up to be on our mailing list and in our database. We have received 135 responses to date, which is very encouraging to establishing the directory. An email address for the network firstname.lastname@example.org has been established.
We held six pasture walks for the summer and fall at farms in Union, Thorndike, Sydney, Monroe, Freedom, and Swanville. Each walk had a slightly different focus: refurbishing pastures, looking at pasture species and weeds, setting up for pasture rotation, measuring pasture productivity, pasturing poultry, and multi-species grazing. Of course, there were general topics that were also discussed at each farm, including livestock breeds and management, fencing issues, watering systems. The pasture walk attendance varied from 6 to 15 folks. We also held some pasture related talks at Small Farm Field Day at MOFGA in Unity, last July.
118 people attended our first annual conference at Pineland Center in New Gloucester. Sarah Flack and Gwyneth Harris came from Vermont to share information about their work with the Vermont Grass Farmers Association and the Vermont Pasture Network. Six concurrent workshops in the morning and five in the afternoon provided a great variety of topics, as well as frustration for all the people who wanted to go to more than one workshop at a time.
The Annual Conference Evaluation Tally has been mailed, to be included.
This is a change from our Milestones listed in the grant. We had planned on having 4 regional workshops. In addition to the Annual Conference, those have now become the Winter Calendar with six meetings across the state. These meeting will also begin to establish the small local study groups we had planned on creating.
We also compiled a resource list with web sites, periodicals and other written materials.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The most significant outcome so far has been the great attendance at the annual conference with many farmers but also 32 NRCS folks and five extension agents attending in addition to the six pasture walks last summer. The target to identify livestock farmers in Maine is being achieved by continuing to add to the mailing list for MGFN. The resource list is the first step toward creating tools for farmers and educators to use.
Gillman Pond Rd
New Portland, ME 04947
Office Phone: 2073400098
445 South Monmouth Rd
Monmouth, ME 04259
Office Phone: 2079333052
22 Hall Street, Suite 101
Fort Kent, ME 04743
Office Phone: 2078433905
105 Stevens Rd
Swanville, ME 04915
Office Phone: 2073381265
992 Waterville Rd.
Waldo, ME 04915
Office Phone: 2073425971