FAIRLEE, VT — The frozen surface of Lake Morey and the majestic mountain ranges provide many hours of relaxation, skating, hockey games and ice-fishing while adding the scenic backdrop for the 19th annual Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference. All is quiet under the frozen lakes and soil of the Green Mountain State, but water quality opportunities and challenges coming down the pike for residents and farmers will no doubt heat things up.
Over the years, The Vermont Grass Farmers Association, The Vermont Beef Producers Association and The UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Pasture Program have explored conference themes in building community and ecological resilience, integrating natural systems and growing the local food movement. This year’s theme, and perhaps the most telling, “At the Junction of Livestock and the Environment” added to the decision-making discussion as the immense Lake Champlain watershed comes under pollution diet restrictions.
“Livestock are at the intersection of environmental issues, both positive and negative,” said Conference Coordinator, Jennifer Colby of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture. In this heightened arena, now is the time to have an honest dialogue between grass-based livestock farmers and public policy-makers who sometimes are disconnected from actual scientific data and practical farm conservation solutions. To help move this forward, we want to create shared learning opportunities between livestock and environmental management systems, always keeping a strong connection to long-term profitability.”
Special guest attendee, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross added, “Our number one priority is water quality. There is no question, we have problems in agriculture, lake communities, with impervious surfaces and streambank erosion all the while being exacerbated by intense rainfall events and climate change issues. Solutions in agriculture come from well-managed land. This is our goal and why this grazing conference is so vitally important to the conversation of good stewardship”.
The 300 folks who participated in this year’s forum were treated to Friday intensive workshops on the next levels of swine production aptly coined, “From Breeding to Eating”. The comprehensive track featured the University of Missouri Extension’s State Swine Breeding expert, Tim Safranski; UVM’s Extension Livestock guru, Joe Emenheiser; author and gourmet celebrity butcher, Cole Ward and Vermont’s own pigerators, Lumberjack Ben Nottermann and Zach Bartlett.
The other track focused on the possibilities and practice of Silvopasture in the Northeast by popular speakers, Joe Orefice, Assistant Professor in the School of Natural Resource Management and Ecology at Paul Smith’s College and Brett Chedzoy, Senior Resource Educator in Natural Resources and Agriculture with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Schuyler County, NY.
Saturday’s agenda featured a cornucopia of presenters and topics including getting started with grazing, protecting feed quality, scaling up egg production, resolving environmental conflicts, cattle health, dairy stockmanship, living with coyotes, poultry processing, evaluating carcass quality, managing invasive species with sheep, raising geese on pasture and even a full day kid’s conference.
Sandwiched between a keynote address by Joe Orefice and the afternoon presentations was the first ever water quality panel to address how livestock, riparian areas and policy fit together. Higher levels of management and common sense approaches were the repetitive theme of this lively plenary.
Panelists with unique perspectives included Dwight Dotterer, former dairy farmer and Chief of Nutrient Management systems for Maryland Department of Agriculture; Curt Dell, USDA-Agricultural Research Service Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit; Marli Rupe, VT Department of Environmental Conservation; and John Roberts, former dairy farmer and current Small Farm Water Quality Inspector, Vermont Agency of Agriculture. It was moderated by Molly Lambert, retired State Director of USDA Rural Development.
As if the agenda wasn’t full enough, there was also a vibrant group of exhibitors within the trade show area where farmers could get specific questions answered. Conversations always flow better with a good local meal and conference ending ice-cream social and this year was no exception.
The 18th annual grazing conference was sponsored and supported by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, The USDA Risk Management Agency, CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley, USDA/NRCS VT GLCI, Agri-Dynamics, Vermont Agricultural Credit Corp., Neptune’s Harvest, Shelburne Farms, Wellscroft Fence Systems, Morrison’s Custom Feeds, Vermont Beef Industry Council, Green Mountain at Spring-Rock Farm, VT Ag Resilience, Westminster Meats, Yankee Farm Credit, City Market Onion River Co-Op, Dirigo Quality Meats, Pyle Agency, Inc., City Market, Corner Rail Fence, Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, Rural Vermont, UVM Extension Service, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, O’ Bread, VT Smoke & Cure, Health Hero Farm, Cabot Cooperative Creamery, Black River Produce, Cloudland Farm, Stonyfield Farms, Guild Fine Meats, Lakeway Farm, Wagner Ranch, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Rock Bottom Farm at Strafford Organic Creamery & Fat Toad Farm.
For more information contact Jennifer Colby, Pasture Program Coordinator at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at 802-656-0858 or firstname.lastname@example.org .