Farmer educators for a pilot grazing demonstration project in Vermont
The Vermont Pasture Network offers outreach and education to farmers on grazing techniques. A recent program evaluation indicates that the needs of novice graziers are being met, but that advanced material needs to be developed for skilled and established farmers. The project leader has identified two hub farms for hosting workshops on topics like fencing, riparian buffers, and grazing for different species, and seven satellite farms for tours and demonstrations. The goals are to develop the skills of these experience and to train other farmers, agency personnel, and professionals from NRCS and extension. Another evaluation of program effectiveness will be completed at the end of the grant period.
Demonstration farms were identified by the VPN’s farmer advisory board, the Vermont Grass Farmers Association (VGFA) as a possible way to carry out research projects and offer more advanced level workshops on grass-based agriculture. In addition, the VGFA board wanted to keep and strengthen the role that farmers play in determining the content and direction of program offerings. The VPN coordinator took on the task of creating a pilot farm demonstration project, using working farms for demonstration throughout the year, and tapping the knowledge of farmers at different workshops and meetings.
The intent of this grant was to provide funding to allow cooperating farmers to be educators in a demonstration project, by compensating them for fifty hours of work throughout the year.
The demonstration project planned to incorporate the work of the VPN with the funding provided by this grant to create a network of demonstration farms, which would host workshops, demonstrations, and group visits during the year, and allow for information to be shared at a variety of levels.
This report will outline our accomplishments to date, as well as noting challenges to the project.
The performance targets for this project were based upon educational impact, although other goals were included, such as implementation of demonstration projects on the farms involved.
Each demonstration farm hosted two on-farm pasture walks or demonstrations, and most participated as presenters in two additional workshops. The farms have been made available for up to two planned field trips by interested groups, although there was little time fro this to happen this season—we hope that a copy of our report on the project, as well as stories from the field will encourage more use of the sites in the coming grazing season. In addition, each farm set up one project to act as a demonstration. Most often, this project was an element of their existing farm system. Each of the farmers participated in planning meetings in the spring of 2003 to determine these projects.
The two “hub” farms also planned workshops and demonstrations, although they were less active in the project than we had hoped. Both gave us access to their facilities to host additional workshops with the farmer educators, though. Following is a list of farms and the demonstrations that they chose and carried out this season.
Brent & Regina Beidler
Beidler Family Farm, Randolph Ctr.
Organic Grass-Based Cow Dairy.
Organic fertilizer applications to crop and grazing land
Three Owls Farm, Granville
Sheep Dairy & Horse Training & Boarding Facility
Start-up concerns for a Sheep Dairy
Leo “Joe” LaDouceur
Bowman Hill Farm, E. Barnard
Organic Grain-Free Beef.
Livestock & Feeding Concerns for Grain-Free Beef Production, & Beef Cattle as a Tool for Clearing Land
Bill & Kathy Moulton
East Hill Farm, Plainfield
Horse Training & Boarding Facility.
Managing a Small Acreage Horse Boarding Facility for Improved Forage Production and Natural Resource Protection
Jesse & Marian Pomeroy
Pomeroy Farm, Londonderry/Weston
Organic Grass-Based Dairy with Cheese Production and Direct Marketing of Diversified Farm Products.
Farm Transfer Issues for Grass-Based Farmers in Vermont
David Tansey and Margaret Wilson
Scott Farm and Mostly Merino, Brattleboro
Sheep for Fiber Production.
Sheep Pasture Feed and Management Concerns for Fiber Flocks
Simplicity Farm, Waitsfield
Conventional Grass-Based Cow Dairy.
Seasonal Grazing Rotations for Heifer and Cow Herds
Kyle Thygesen, Farm Manager
Vermont Technical College Dairy Farm, Randolph Center (Hub)
Grazing System Set-Up for Dairy Heifers & Dairy Beef Steers.
Kevin Kaija and Sam Comstock, Collaborators
UVM Extension Office, Brattleboro (Hub)
Fencing Equipment & Options for Grazing.
Each farm planned to reach an average minimum of 30 people throughout the year (a minimum total of 240 people in the first year). Of these people (farmers, agency personnel, agricultural professionals, consumers, and community members), we project that 75% will report that the demonstration attended caused a change in behavior which will support the adoption of sustainable grazing practices. An evaluation tool to measure this impact is being put together this winter.
We have reached twice our target audience of 30 agency personnel and agricultural professionals from NRCS, the University Extension Systems, and other agricultural organizations. It will not be possible to measure our main goals, that “At least a third of those attending programs will go on to work on a grazing plan in the year following attendance at the demonstration or workshop (ten new grazing plans)” and “At least a third of those attending programs will lead a field trip to a demonstration satellite or hub farm in the year following the workshop (ten visits to demonstration farms)”, within the time frame of this grant, and so we are considering applying for an extension. It has also been difficult to measure the visitors to the hub farms.
Overall, this grant has been a great learning experience. The most successful aspect has been the workshops and farmer presentations that it enabled. The idea of developing a whole network of demonstrations farms, I believe, is beyond the scope of this grant, and currently beyond the scope of the Vermont Pasture Network Program. Such an ambitious undertaking would require a full time coordinator, part-time “hub” facilitators (which could be provided by interns, etc.), and more buy-in from individual farmers, based upon measured benefits to their operations (which this pilot should help establish). Most of all, a project like this would require more time to develop. This grant has been a first step in this direction, and I am hppy with the progress so far.
To date, most of the workshops have been completed, although we are somewhat behind schedule with other aspects of the project. It will be necessary to develop a formal evaluation tool to gather impacts of the project, beyond simply transferring information to farmers and others. This was scheduled for fall of 2003, but the task has been pushed back into the winter.
A list of the workshops and demonstrations hosted or staffed by demonstration farmer educators over the summer and fall of 2003 follows:
May 2, Fence Design and Layout, Vermont Technical College Dairy Farm, Randolph VT (16 attendees)
May 20, Fencing Options, Methods & Equipment, UVM Extension Office, Brattleboro, VT (14 attendees)
May 22, Government Assistance Programs & Sheep Grazing, Three Owls Farm, Granville, VT (8 attendees)
May 29, Dairy Grazing Part 1: Making The Best Of Your Land Through The Seasons, Simplicity Farm, Waitsfield, VT(6 attendees)
June 3, Horse Grazing Part 1: Land Management Concerns Of Boarding Horses On A Small Land-Base, East Hill Farm, Plainfield, VT (8 attendees)
June 17, Beef Grazing Part 1: Grain-Free Organic Beef, Bowman Hill Farm, Barnard, VT(6 attendees)
June 19, Equine Health and Land Management Workshop, Jericho, VT (10 attendees)
June 23, Sheep Pasture & Feed Management, Scott Farm, Brattleboro, VT (12 attendees)
June 26, Finding Land for Your Grass-Based Farm, Vermont Technical College, Red Schoolhouse, Randolph Center, VT (7 attendees)
July 17, Horse Grazing Part 2: Facilities Management Concerns Of Boarding Horses On A Small Land-Base, East Hill Farm, Plainfield, VT (5 attendees)
July 22, Organic Fish & Kelp Fertilization of Pasture & Hay Land, Beidler Family Farm, Randolph Center, VT (12 attendees)
July 24, Starting Over: Experienced Graziers Relocate their Farm, Pomeroy Farm, Weston, VT (10 attendees)
July 24, Potluck supper “Consumer Night”, Pomeroy Farm, Weston, VT (9 attendees)
July 29, Dairy Grazing Part 2: Making The Best Of Your Land Through The Seasons, Simplicity Farm, Waitsfield, VT (8 attendees)
July 31, Regulatory concerns for starting up a grass-based sheep dairy and cheese making facility, Three Owls Farm, Granville, VT (8 attendees)
August 4, Beef Grazing Part 2: Clearing Land with Beef Cattle, Bowman Hill Farm, Barnard, VT (12 attendees)
August 14, Horse Management Workshop, Larsen Barn, Moretown, VT (18 attendees)
September 9, Organic Fish & Kelp Fertilization Of Pasture & Hay Land, Beidler Family Farm, Randolph Center, VT (12 attendees)
September 22, Sheep Grazing For Fiber Production, Scott Farm, Brattleboro, VT (6 attendees)
November 8, Beef Cattle Can Green Your Farm, Albany, NY (73 attendees).
A total of 260 people participated in the workshops, including 69 agency personnel and agricultural professionals. These numbers exceed the benchmarks set for the project, even though not all of the presentation work scheduled for the farmer educators has been completed.
These workshops have allowed the farmer educators to use more than half of their hours, but we have not been able to fit in enough workshops to use all of their time. Another issue has been different levels of participation—whether because of time constraints, personality, or other factors—resulting in some farmers using more than their allotment of time, with others only using half.
These issues need to be addressed as the project comes to a close.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
More than 260 people attended workshops through the summer and fall of 2003 (see above).
Five farms developed projects that helped them to answer questions about their grazing management.
Two public facilities brought grazing into their planning process, looking at layout and options for fencing, as well as ways that grazing demonstrations to the public could be incorporated into their missions.
One of the demonstrations is outlined below to give a better understanding of the type of project that took place. This was the most ambitious of the demonstrations, but it gives an idea of the time involved in facilitating the project, and again point to the need to reassess the needs of the program and plan over a longer period of time.
The Beidlers joined the Vermont Grazing Demonstration Project because they wanted to look at their fertility program, and assess different materials and the efficacy at improving the yield and quality of grazed and harvested forages. They felt that this information would be helpful to farmers deciding to transition to organic, but unfamiliar with the options and effectiveness of the many products available.
We chose three areas to look at—one grazed all summer, one cut for hay early on and grazed for the remainder of the season, and one harvested for hay exclusively. Each area was sprayed in strips, leaving control areas between applications. For this small study, we teamed up with Charlie Taplin of Floating Bridge Organics to look at a commonly recommended product—hydrolyzed fish and seaweed. Charlie donated the product and his time, as well as sending in soil tests to see what impact the applications would have on soil fertility, and Gwyneth Harris worked with Brent to take forage samples to the UVM lab for analysis. Yield was measured by clipping and drying samples, using an electronic capacity meter (or pasture probe), and measuring yield in bales for the hay land areas.
The results were shared in two workshops at the farm during the summer. The first walk in June showed little difference in the treated versus control areas—forage analyses and yield measurements showed no significant changes. However, there were some higher readings for yield on the treated areas, and it was a chance for Charlie to explain the procedure and the product he was using.
A group of 14 farmers spent the morning walking the pastures and hay land, and discussing not only the product used, but other organic fertility options. The Beidlers talked about the manure that they have used in the past, and their current composting project to lower the volume of material spread, and increase the stability of some of the nutrients—especially nitrogen. A nearby heifer barn had given them some manure, which was then composted and spread on hay land. There was some concern with this material that disease organisms might make it through the composting, and so Brent was incorporating it in areas where he tills to replant hay crops. This creates two separations from the cows—putting the material under the sod to break down, and then using a crop that is harvested, dried, and stored before feeding out to the cows. The primary concern was Johne’s and other diseases that are not always apparent in a herd. The Beidlers stressed that even though they were comfortable with the disease control and records in the heifer herd, they wanted to add some extra insurance for their cows.
The second walk in September showed some changes in the yields on the treated vs. untreated areas. The yields were slightly higher in all of the treated areas measured with the pasture probe. However, we did not see changes in the forage analyses or soil tests. This, Charlie noted was probably due to the mode of action of the seaweed product—it is sprayed on in a liquid form, and taken up through the leaves of the plants primarily. It is a soluble product, and so it leaves little residue in the soil and is used principally for immediate growth processes in the plant. The participants in the study agreed that it would be interesting to see how the application of hydrolyzed fish and kelp would affect growth in areas with poor soil fertility. The soluble fertilizer might well give a much needed boost to low fertility stands being grazed or harvested for hay during renovation. It might also function better in a drier year, giving the plants access to water soluble nutrients not moving through the soil during dry periods. However, it was noted that this increase is not as pronounced as with applications of soluble nitrogen. Another benefit of the seaweed is that it does not cause animals to reject forage, and the areas can be grazed immediately following application without toxicities.
While the Beidlers did not think that the seaweed would be an economical addition to their operation, with easy access to plenty of manure and compost, there were several attendees who did not have this source of nutrients—in particular, farmers producing organic hay were interested in finding cost effective ways of adding nutrients without relying on farm manure. Charlie Taplin was interested in continuing this study, here or at another farm, for an additional year, and it seems that it would be much more effective to look at the applications over time and in different settings.
Bowman Road Farm
P.O. Box 149C
So. Royalton, VT 05068
Office Phone: 8027637454
911 Main Street
Waitsfield, VT 05673
Office Phone: 8024962481
1 Main Street
P.O. Box 500
Randolph Center, VT 05061
Office Phone: 8027285053
East Hill farm
Plainfield, VT 05667
Office Phone: 8024790858
P.O. Box 878
Putney, VT 05346
Office Phone: 8022547436
VTC Dairy Farm
1 Main Street
P.O. Box 500
Randolph Center, VT 05061
Office Phone: 8027281265
Beidler Family Farm
P.O. Box 124
Randolph Ctr., VT 05061
Office Phone: 8027285601
28 Farmvu Drive
White River Jct., VT 05001
Office Phone: 8007896713
Three Owls Farm
4926 Rte. 100
Granville, VT 05747
Office Phone: 8027674127
157 Old Guilford Road, Suite 4
Brattleboro, VT 05301
Office Phone: 8022577967
1660 Middletown Road
Londonderry, VT 05148
Office Phone: 8028245489