FREEPORT, Maine — A $1.7 million grant from organic yogurt maker Stonyfield and the Danone Ecosystem Fund will allow Wolfe’s Neck Farm to launch an organic dairy farmer training program designed to revitalize the organic dairy industry in Maine and New England.
The farm will use the three-year grant to build a “viable and sustainable dairy model” to train future dairy farmers and conduct “forage and pasture-based research” to advance organic dairy farming, said Dave Herring, executive director of Wolfe’s Neck Farm, in a release.
“This program has the potential to jumpstart the next generation of organic dairy farmers in New England,” said Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield’s director of organic and sustainable agriculture. “We’re designing the program to address the unique challenges faced by dairy farmers in our region by giving qualified young farmers the tools they need to succeed when starting up their own organic dairy.”
The number of dairy farms in Maine has dropped from 597 in 1995 to 285 today, while the number of organic dairies has grown from one to 60, according to professor Rick Kersbergen of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Sustainable Dairy and Forage Systems.
But Kersbergen said the growth in organic dairy has begun to slow in part due to economic barriers — even as demand for organic milk and by-products is increasing.
“Researching and putting into practice the best ways to grow high-quality forage and then training organic dairy farmers on those practices is a key to helping those farmers control their costs, improve their products and create a sustainable future for organic dairy here in the Northeast,” Kersbergen said in the release.
The first farmer trainees are expected to start in 2015 and complete their training in 2016.
“Maine has a chance to play a leading role in shaping the future of food and farming in the Northeast simply because we have the land to produce more food,” Herring stated. “Maine only produces 3-5 percent of the protein we consume. This number should be closer to 30-50 percent. By preparing young organic dairy farmers to bring more land into production, we can increase that percentage and improve the environment, our health and our economy.”