Sharing the Global Community of Grazing Knowledge (2013 Vermont Grazing Conference)
Sharing the Global Community of Grazing Knowledge
By Troy Bishopp
Fairlee, Vermont-When folks think of traditional Vermonter winter-time activities, they gravitate toward things like downhill skiing, pond hockey, ice-fishing and maple syrup production. However, for 17 years, the ever popular Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference has become part of this legacy too with this year in particular going beyond our borders.
As Eric Noel, Organic Farmer and President of the Vermont Grass Farmers Association greeted the over 300 hearty graziers from around the Northeast, he inspired a call to action saying, “Embracing the global community learning the financial, environmental and social benefits of grass farming systems and sharing this collaboration of knowledge together with small family farms throughout the world will ultimately make a better planet from the soil up.” Jenny Nelson, Agriculture Advisor to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), echoed the sentiment, “We really need to grow our soils for the next generations to thrive.”
The reason for the international perspective was prefaced in the conference theme: “From our perspective in northern New England, the rest of the world feels so far away sometimes, and yet it’s closer than ever before. The financial crises of the past few years have touched countries and communities large and small. And so we ask…if we can host groups of farmers from Australia, South America and even New York on our farms to share what we do and what we’ve learned, can’t we return the favor and learn from them as well?
It was a homecoming of sorts for now Professor Abdon Schmitt who traveled from Brazil to study grazing and mentor with Vermont’s own Dr. Bill Murphy. Upon receiving his Master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Vermont, Dr. Schmitt returned to his homeland of Santa Catarina, Brazil to teach and influence a new generation of students and farmers on pasture ecology and management, silvo-pastoral systems and restoration of his native Atlantic Forest region.
He lamented in his keynote address, “How did Vermonters help reshape family dairy farms in Southern Brazil?” that when he arrived back home full of vigor for applying grazing management techniques learned, the “University”, extension and even farmers said, “It’s not going to work here”. Abdon’s DNA didn’t recognize the concept of can’t, as he sold himself and the grazing ideas in the rugged topography of the region to local small farmers (<20 cows) who by his own admission were being displaced to the cities at a rate of 15% per year because of economic pressures, intense social pressures against pasture-based options and governmental institutions boycotting the notions of grazing, creating uncertainty with farmers.
In the midst of this negativity, one independent farmer said yes to the passionate Mr. Schmitt and started breaking his continually grazed small acreage into many paddocks using stock density and rest to improve his land and sward while going from milking 7 cows to 15 cows which by the village’s standards was “a big deal”, according to Abdon. The rest they say is history. Fast forward to today and more than 600 farmers have partnered with a reinvigorated University of Santa Catarina-UFSC, Brazil agro-ecology curriculum and its students headed by Abdon who is the coordinator of the Voisin Silvopastoral Group piloted after the UVM Pasture Outreach Program. They are now putting viable teaching, research and in-the-pasture practices to work that interconnect ecosystems restoration, rural livelihood and renewable agriculture for the betterment of Southern Brazil. Who says grazing can’t be global!
Throughout the 2 day conference headed by UVM Center for Sustainable AgriculturePasture Program Coordinator, Jennifer Colby and her dedicated staff, farmers were treated to a host of topics including: Planned grazing, using Keyline plows and tillage radishes to address pasture compaction, could New Zealand style grazing work in New England?, the basics of balancing pastured animal nutrition, grazing fundamentals, 85/15: Alternative paddock management to improve milk yield, easing transition to pasture through animal behavior, how to improve your soils if you had $40/acre to spend, tips to keep customers happy, healthy and coming back, fine tuning your outdoor pig operation, the economics of finishing beef and exploring financing models to expand your farm.
Complimenting these topics were Friday’s intensive all-day sessions on pastured poultry production and how to boost your communication skills led by Fertrell Company Nutritionist, Jeff Mattocks, University of Maine Animal Health Lab’s, DVM. Anne Lichtenwalner, Cornerstone Farm Ventures Consultant, Jim McLaughlin and Ashforth Associate’s Communication Guru, Fred Ashforth.
In keeping with Vermont’s global leadership, a top-notch tradeshow of inspirational vendors and local foods with an extraordinary ice-cream social supported good brain function and happy taste-buds. According to Vermont Grass Farmer, Bruce Hennessey of Maple Wind Farm such events invigorate not only the mind but the soul. “It’s a place where you can let your mind wander alittle, dream alittle and catch up with good friends on what they are doing. Whether it’s local, national or global, I think farmers should take the time to network over the attributes that grazing systems provide and share the knowledge to feed a hungry planet and create an environment for more farmers to thrive.”
The conference was cohosted by the VT Grass Farmers Association and the VT Beef Producers Association with major support from The University of Vermont Extension Service, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, USDA-NRCS, VT-GLCI, USDA/RMA, Organic Valley, Family of Farms, Fertrell, Agri-Dynamics, Animal Welfare Approved, Morrison’s Custom Feeds, Cornerstone Farm Ventures, Vermont Agricultural Credit Corp., NESARE, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, Horizon Organic, Wellscroft Fence Systems and the Royal Butcher. For more information contact Jenn Colby at email@example.com or (802)728-2045
Published 1/25/2013 in Lancaster Farming-North Edition