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The 12th Annual NODPA Field Days and Annual Meeting:
A Summary Report

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

Thanks To All
Our Sponsors & Supporters!

This is a major fundraiser for NODPA and we had a great group of sponsors, supporters, presenters and trade show participants that contributed to the success of the event. Thanks to our many vendors and friends who made this event possible and subsidized the cost for producers to attend:

Lead Sponsors

  • Horizon Organic
  • Lakeview Organic Grain

Sponsors

  • Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative
  • Morrison’s Custom Feed
  • Fertrell
  • NOFA Vermont
  • NOFA New York
  • MOSA
  • Organic Dairy Farming Cooperative
  • Prince Agri Products
  • RMA, USDA Risk
    Management Agency

Supporters

  • Acres USA
  • Agri-Dynamics
  • Albert Lea Seeds
    Organic
  • Arbico
  • Blue River Organic Seeds
  • Buffalo Molasses
  • Dairy Marketing
    Services
  • Green Mountain Feeds
  • King’s Agri-Seed
  • MOSES
  • Neptune’s Harvest
  • PA Certified Organic
  • Renaissance Nutrition
  • Redmond Minerals, Inc.
  • Resource Management, Inc.
  • River Valley Fencing
  • Spalding Labs
  • Taurus Service
  • USDA NASS-New England

Trade Show Participants

  • Agri-Dynamics
  • Blue River Organic Seeds
  • Fertrell
  • Green Mountain Feeds
  • Horizon Organic
  • King’s Agri-Seed
  • Lakeview Organic Grain
  • Morrison’s Custom Feed
  • NOFA-New York
  • NOFA-Vermont
  • Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative
  • Prince Agri Products
  • Redmond Minerals, Inc.
  • Resource Management, Inc.
  • Spalding Labs
  • Taurus Service, Inc.
  • USDA NASS-New
    England Field Office

Added November 24, 2012. NODPA Field Days and Annual meeting was a resounding success with excellent presentations and many producers in attendance. For a slideshow of some great pictures of livestock, presenters, producers (the beautiful, the handsome, the debonair and the well ….. all the rest of us!) and many great scenes from the Field Days, please go to to our slideshow, and read the full summary below.

The weather was beautiful for the two farm tours that opened the Field Days, and the hosts were generous in sharing their experience and production practices, as well as some excellent snacks. Many of the presenters of Field Day workshops, plus experienced graziers and organic dairy farmers were on the tours and were able to increase the educational value of the experience by highlighting the importance of different practices and some common challenges. Sarah Flack (Vermont), Dr. Cindy Daley (Chico University, California), and Kathy Soder (USDA Pennsylvania), continued the education at the first formal session of the Field Days with a great and comprehensive presentation on the challenges and mistakes that can easily be made when working with pasture. They compiled their own top 10 grazing mistakes:

  1. Badly designed grazing system & infrastructure
  2. Poor grazing management
  3. Pasture plants being damaged by overgrazing
  4. Low DMI from pasture
  5. Poor plant species selection or diversity
  6. Overfeeding Protein
  7. Poor forage quality due to wrong species, low diversity or over mature plants (low digestibility)
  8. Poor soil fertility
  9. Inadequate records to keep the certifier happy
  10. Overgrazing damage!

Bob Parsons (UVM Extension), Les Morrison (Morrison Custom Feeds) and Travis Little (Green Mountain Feeds) continued the theme of maximizing farm profitability with a very honest, if depressing, assessment of the next few years’ outlook for purchased feed and the impact on farm profitability. Luckily, in New England we have feed dealers that are committed to the future of organic livestock family farms and will do everything they can to mitigate the effects of the marketplace. The message was very clear – if you don’t have enough feed, don’t expect to find it easily or buy it at a reasonable price. And if you can, develop more productive grazing crops as the outlook for purchased feed will not be changing in the next few years.

The Field Days continued into the evening with networking and socializing prior to dinner and, after a brief welcome from NODPA President, Liz Bawden, and an update from the NODPA Executive Director, Ed Maltby, Cheyenne Christianson gave a great presentation of his and his family’s life on their Wisconsin farm. With some wonderful photos he was able to illustrate the practice and philosophy of his production methods and how he operates his grass based, no-grain organic dairy. With the cost of purchased and conserved feed rising, Cheyenne’s speech was very relevant and held the attention of all those in the room for over an hour followed by many questions from interested producers.

Our Annual Producer Meeting

It is a long held tradition at NODPA Field Days that there is a two-hour producer only meeting on the second day of the event, where farmers can freely express their successes and complaints without fear of reprisal from their processors. As NODPA deliberately rotates the location of their Field Days in different parts of the Northeast, these sessions attract producers who are new to NODPA plus experienced NODPA members. Pay price was a major point of discussion, especially the lack of leverage that producers have and how farmers could increase consumer support without adversely affecting consumer confidence in the integrity of certified organic. Producers also had many excellent ideas for possible improvements to how NODPA does its work and the need to increase diversity of NODPA Board members and Representatives. Producers were very clear about the need for a final rule on the Origin of Livestock and equally demonstrative over the need to simplify and standardize certification paperwork, especially when it comes to documenting livestock. The producer-only meetings are never long enough and always allow for free flowing and articulate conversations plus they give direction for NODPA staff for the upcoming year.

It’s always a pleasure to listen to Jack Lazor as he shares his ideas and philosophies, especially on whole farm health, and this Field Day’s Friday morning session was no different. Jack presented his own experiences on his farm and was followed by Cindy Daley and Heather Darby (UVM, VT) who presented their research, with Cindy ensuring that her work was done within the context of farm profitability.

Annette Higby (New England Farmers Union) and Dave Rogers (NOFA VT) followed Jack, Cindy and Heather, giving information on the continuing gridlock in Washington DC around the Farm Bill and the perspective of how it affects Vermont, plus what Vermonters can do to influence key, prominent legislators. The “diversification and your farm’s future” was a great session, which was moderated by Fay Benson. Jeannette and Mark Fellows explained how they had achieved profitability by developing different profit centers over the last twenty years on their Massachusetts farm and Henry Perkins was his usual ebullient self, painting a forceful picture of his experience diversifying his dairy farm and the opportunities that are available after you sell your milking cows

Last but not least, Dave Johnson posed many questions about the economics of growing feed and the increasingly difficult challenge of making organic farming pay, reminding us there is no one silver bullet to a profitable and sustainable family farm.

The final session of the day featured the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) proposal for an Organic Check-Off. The OTA presenter, Laura Batcha, presented the idea and process of setting up a mandated, federal organic check-off and answered questions raised by Ed Maltby’s presentation and by farmers in the audience. This format was very effective in allowing OTA to lay out their ideas and explain how they are going to achieve them with an immediate opportunity for dialogue on the major issues. There were many questions and comments and the session stretched out for 2 ½ hours and would have gone on longer if the manager of the facility hadn’t wanted to lock up the hall!

NODPA Field Days, by design, varies in content, attendance and location year by year. While it always provides a forum for producers to meet and exchange ideas, gossip and plan for the
future, some have lower attendance and some workshops in retrospect lack relevancy and interest to producers. This year’s Field Day was blessed with good weather and a fine array of presenters that freely gave their services to educate producers and share their ideas. Under the excellent organization and coordination of Nora Owens, this year’s event was judged by everyone to be a unqualified success and for some it was ‘the best ever.’ Plan to attend the 2013 NODPA Field Days next September and help make that one the ‘best ever.’