Dairy stewardship alliance: On-farm assessment for sustainable practices

2006 Annual Report for LNE06-243

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $86,157.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Allen Matthews
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Allen Matthews
Chatham University

Dairy stewardship alliance: On-farm assessment for sustainable practices


A partnership among a farmers’ milk cooperative, extension staff, and private industry will support dairy farmers as they adopt sustainable practices and develop sustainability indicators for dairy farms. The project manager will provide farmers with a self-assessment tool and clarify with them the areas where technical assistance is needed, specifically regulatory assistance and help with the implementation of state and federal accepted practices. Of the 520 farms in the cooperative, 52 will participate in the assessment, and 40 will improve at least two sustainable production practices. The Alliance is partnering with a Ben & Jerry’s sister program in the Netherlands.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of 520 farms in the dairy co-op, 52 will participate in the Dairy Stewardship Self Assessment and 40 farms will implement at least 2 new identified sustainable production practices by June, 2008.

– 520 farmers and dairy specialists receive detailed background information concerning On-Farm Self Assessment for Sustainable Practices.

– 52 farms are identified for participation by Extension, NRCS, VT Pasture Network, and Agency of Agriculture. During the Mid-Phase, these farmers complete the Dairy Stewardship Self Assessment and help to refine the tool kit.

– Self Assessment Modules are revised, and pre- and post-assessments are completed by 40 farms for planning and decision making concerning new practices to implement and technical assistance needs.


After the first 6 months of a 3 year project, 28 Farmers completed baseline assessments for all ten modules for sustainable dairy practices, received summary reports and identified sustainable practices to implement. (This is 54% of total project target)

During this period, farmers identified sustainable farming practices to improve in the next phase and utilized the self-assessment to guide them in meeting AAPs and LFO/ MFO certification requirements.

Through farmer input, the Dairy Stewardship Alliance and University of Vermont Extension identified biodiversity, energy enhancement, water quality and farm safety for future areas for needed technical assistance.

The modules are being assigned to Extension and other agricultural specialist who will help to compile the final edited version of the Dairy Stewardship Self Assessment when it is published and distributed with recommendations in 2008.

The final report for 2006 is available at www.uvm.edu/sustainableagriculture in the publications section. It is also available in a color printed hard copy by e-mailing project coordinator, Allen Matthews.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Sustainability Indicator Highlights

– We now have 28 farmers who have completed the assessment which is 52% of the final target to be completed by Dec 2008

– We are partnering with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who are also developing “Sustainability Indicators” for dairy farms as a
sister project with Ben & Jerry’s – Holland.

– In October, we hosted 35 visitors for the Netherlands for an 8 day tour of Vermont Dairy farms. Eleven farmers and their families, University faculty advisers, and Ben & Jerry’s personnel. 75 participants attended a luncheon to hear about the self assessments.

– UVM CREAM students hosted our guests for a tour of the UVM Farm and to hear a presentation by Dean Rachel Johnson. Twenty-eight faculty and students
attended a forum on the project on UVM’s campus, hosted by Dr. Lantagne, Director of Extension.

– Our student intern is a computer specialist, who is assisting in redesigning the database, and will help to make the Self Assessment modules available on line.

The Vermont Dairy Stewardship Alliance and The Dutch Caring Dairy Partners Share a Week of Fun

The week of Oct. 16-22 a group of 35 traveled to the US as part of Ben & Jerry’s sponsored farmer exchange. The group included the 11 farmers and their families that provide the dairy used in Ben & Jerry’s European production. The group known as Caring Dairy is an offshoot of the Vermont Dairy Stewardship Alliance with mutual goals of promoting sustainable dairy farming practices through the development of a self assessment tool kit. The idea is rooted in the concept that no one can evaluate their farm better then those who milk the cows, pay the bills and maintain the land. Through the questions contained in the self assessment, the farmer is able to determine the sustainability of their farm in relation to environmental, social and economic attributes of their farm.

One of the many unique aspects of this project, aside from the international participation, is the relationship to the dairy cooperative that processes the milk and the local university in each country who have expertise in sustainable agriculture (Wageningen University in the Netherlands and UVM in Vermont). The visiting Dutch contingent included academic representatives from Wageningen.

During the week the Dutch guests visited two distinctly unique farms. The first, Nordic Farms in Charlotte milks over 500 Holstein cows with an automated milking machine and utilizes a methane digester to manage dairy waste and to generate energy on their farm. The second was Shelburne Farm, whose low impact grazing oriented operation is an icon in the world of sustainable agriculture; Shelburne Farm milks 107 Brown Swiss. Both farms fill important niches in the landscape of agriculture in Vermont. Our guests then visited one of the Dairy Stewardship Alliance participating farms operated by Jason and Tina Burt. The Burtland farm milks 250 Holsteins was one of the first group of farms that utilized the tool kit. The farm was one of the four top scoring farms in regards to the criteria of the tool kit. Jason has been a great advocate of the project and currently serves on the DSA Advisory Team.

The clear highlight of the week was a two day stay with our local farmers. During their farm stay the new friends shared details about similarities between their farms as well as the challenges they each face. Jason Burt was quoted in saying about his guests, “they weren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty” and “they liked our local beer!” Both are signs of success!

Our academic guests didn’t stay on farms but were hosted by UVM’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and were treated to a tour of the UVM farm by members of the CREAM program. CREAM is a student led program that focuses on dairy farming. The farm visit was followed by an in-depth presentation by Wageningen’s researchers on the Caring Dairy program. While the results of the two projects are the same, both reflect the unique approach to farming in each country. Ultimately though the end result is the same; a balanced approach to farming that reflects economic, environmental and social attributes.


Diane Bothfield

Sr. Development Specialist
VT Agency of Agriculture
Montpelier, VT
Tom Gates

Membership Director
St. Alban's Cooperative Creamery, Inc.
140 Federal Street
St. Albans, VT 05478
Office Phone: 8025246581
Andrea Asch

Environmental Specialist
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
Burlington, VT