cows in field

Summary: The 14th Annual NODPA Field Days, Stonewall Farm, Keene, NH

And Annual Meeting Hailed as a Great Success

Added November 13, 2014. Organic producers and their families sent a clear message about their top concerns while at the 14th Annual NODPA Field Days, and they are:

  • The shortage in supply of organic milk is a great opportunity to push the pay price up to help offset high cost of inputs.
  • The Organic Trade Association does not represent producers.
  • NODPA producers voted to oppose a federally mandated check-off – unanimously.

The NODPA Field Days were held during the last week of September at Stonewall Farm, Keene, NH, in the bucolic setting which has a remarkable building, a unique and very relevant mission, and wonderful staff. All of these aspects made for a great event that some said was the best NODPA Field Days ever. The Commissioner of Agriculture for New Hampshire, Lorraine S. Merrill, dropped in on Thursday afternoon to welcome the group to New Hampshire and to Stonewall Farm. Following NODPA’s Banquet and Annual Meeting, the keynote speakers were Miles McEvoy, National Organic Program Deputy Administrator, and Jean Richardson, the new Chair of the National Organic Standards Board, who joined past NODPA President Henry Perkins in a diverse and rich presentation of how unique the National Organic Program is, and the important role that producers play in its future.

Field Days started with a tour of Stonewall Farm, rich in diversity, which was very informative and mirrored some of the many ways that organic dairy farms can thrive in the future, including a new mini-combine that immediately had the male producers swarming all over it when it was started up. Executive Director Josh Cline conducted the tour of diverse operations at the farm which included their 50-70 member-share CSA vegetable operation, which also sells bagged compost; a 1-year Farm School farmer training program that has an option to include a MBA in Finances from Antioch University, at a cost of $5,500 per year, including housing; selling bottled milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese; Cool-Bot technology and an insulated shed (home built), to create a walk-in cooler for under $10,000; access to a small combine, which was introduced (and demonstrated) by Dorn Cox who had purchased it for $19,000. Dorn Cox also works with two non-profits to support his work assisting with harvesting, storage and seed cleaning for small grains and smaller scale livestock operations (Green Start and Tour participants also observed their small-scale organically certified micro-fodder system, and ended with farm manager Glenn Yardley talking about the dairy cows in the large tie stall barn and milking operation. The farm was featured in the March NODPA News.

The workshop sessions ‘Maximizing farm income’, ‘Planning for the next generation’, and ‘Creating a sustainable farming future’ were presented by national leaders of programs that have proven track records, and provided relevant and detailed information. One of the great aspects of Field Days is being able to talk with these leaders and innovators in person, and to go beyond the presentation and learn from their practical experiences. Kathy Ruhf was able to share her knowledge on generational transfer which she sums up as, “Farm entry and exit are flip sides of the same coin. We need to pay attention to both, and solutions for one side of the coin can offer solutions to the other.” Margaret Christie was able to share her knowledge of over 20 years of experience with Buy Local programs which can increase farmers’ income as they diversify their operations, and Kyle Thygesen informed participants about Stonyfield Farm’s future plans for sourcing milk for their yogurt program. Liz Bawden spoke about her family farm that developed a successful bedding and heifer hay operation, in addition to producing organic milk, and Sarah Flack gave some do’s and don’ts from her business planning work on diversified livestock farms. There was an excellent panel discussion of grass-fed dairy. Peter Miller, a representative from Organic Valley, discussed the launch of “Grassmilk” in response to consumer demand. Joe Miller from Trickling Springs Creamery and Tim Joseph, Maple Hill Creamery also shared their observations. Sarah Flack, a grazing expert from Vermont, discussed her preliminary research on how farms with grass-fed herds are doing and Cliff Hawbaker, a PA producer of grass-fed milk, added his experiences in this style of production. The interest in grass-fed milk was reflected by the number of presenters on the panel, and the keen interest expressed by the attendees. Producers were not just looking for details on the higher pay price, but how they can maintain healthy cows while meeting the requirement of grass-fed labels.

The “Ask the Vet” session, which is reported in a separate article in this newsletter, was full of detailed and excellent practical animal health care information that producers can add to their toolbox in both preventing and curing problems with their livestock. Veterinarians Hubert Karreman and Cindy Lankenau, complementing each other very well during the morning workshop, continued after lunch with a two-hour, hands-on educational session in the dairy barn - which was too short. Guided by Dr. Karreman, attendees worked on selected cows to perform a physical exam and some emergency techniques, and Dr. Lankenau demonstrated acupuncture, acupressure and chiropractic care on an aged cow while discussing her use of herbal medicine – while appearing skeptical at first, the cow most definitely appreciated the session!

One of the important traditions of Field Days is the producer-only meeting that begins the Friday morning Field Days program. Restricted to organic dairy producers, this 2-hour meeting is a great opportunity to exchange information and build priorities for NODPA’s work. The meeting was facilitated by past NODPA President Henry Perkins who was able to ensure that everyone had their say without dominating the meeting, and could keep participants focused. There was unanimity that NODPA should oppose any organic check-off, and should work with other groups to represent organic producers against the Organic Trade Organization work to establish a mandatory USDA check-off program.

Pay price was a major topic of concern, and folks exchanged pay price information and the potential for “moving milk.” NODPA has a great resource at produced by the Farmers Legal Action Group with support from NODPA. Its title is “When Your Processor Requires More than Organic Certification: Additional Requirements in Organic Milk Contracts,” which has useful information about producers’ rights and processors’ responsibilities. Apart from producers changing their buyers, there was support for NODPA educating producers about the availability of different opportunities, especially for those that have already developed and are practicing grass-based production. It was thought that if the Maine producers in the MOO Milk pool of organic milk that needed a buyer had had a little more information, they may not have agreed to a lower pay price to subsidize the processors.

There was considerable discussion about the perceived “glass ceiling” for retail milk, and the thinking by processors that they need to fit into the cheap food policy of US agriculture rather than market a higher quality product that really does have higher costs of production. Producers believe they should not bear a greater proportion of these high input costs and deserve a fair return for their labor and capital investment. Producers felt that the answer to tight supply does not lie in increased imports but rather in higher pay price. The Origin of Livestock Rule was another topic that has been a top priority for NODPA for the last eight years, and producers again stressed the need to publish regulations. Unfortunately, the timeline for having any regulation in place looks to be sometime in 2015.

Some of the ideas coming out of the NODPA Field Days, during both the producer meeting and the NODPA Board Meeting held prior to the start of Field Days, have been implemented in this edition of NODPA News and we are committed to honoring those ideas and requests from producers. There was some discussion about the future of Field Days and whether it is still a relevant resource to producers and their families, and is touring to different states making it too difficult for producers to attend. Also, should the time of year be changed to a time when it’s easier for producers to attend (during the winter, for example), which might mean sacrificing the farm tour?

These are all issues we are looking for feedback on from producers. The 2014 Field Days had great presenters with national reputations that gave freely of their time and knowledge to attend and educate producers and their service providers. We thank them and our sponsors for their support and generosity. The eclectic mixture of attendees at Field Days emphasized the breadth of the organic community and the interdependency of all stakeholders if organic dairy is going to support its family farmers at a reasonable income level. The NODPA Field Days bring together the different stakeholders in a unique setting, especially this year at Stonewall Farm, amidst great New England fall weather.