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The 12th Annual NODPA Field Days and Annual Meeting September 27 & 28, 2012
Vermont Agricultural Business & Education Center, Brattleboro, VT

By Nora Owens, NODPA event coordinator

Register now for the conference >

Added July 16, 2012. The 2012 NODPA Field Days and Annual Meeting returns to Vermont this year for the first time since 2004. We will gather in southern Vermont at the scenic Vermont Agricultural Business Education Center (VABEC) in Brattleboro on September 27th and 28th, at the height of the autumn color for a program that’s packed with compelling, practical topics, 2 farm tours, a large trade show, delicious local and organic meals, a social hour, and plenty of time for networking with your fellow farmers.

Farming Smarter: A Nutrient and Energy Dense Agenda
to Help Farmers Become More Self-Reliant

During a year of grain shortages, high feed prices and dramatic weather patterns, the Field Days organizing committee created a very topical agenda to help farmers become more self-reliant by growing more of their own feed in healthy, rich soil.

Educational session topics include:

  • Productive Pastures
  • Maintaining Cow Health while having realistic production goals and a good cash flow
  • Nutrient Dense Forage Production and Soil Health
  • Diversification and Your Farm’s Future: the opportunities and challenges
  • The 2012 Farm Bill: what’s happening behind the scenes in Washington
  • The Organic Trade Association’s Organic Check-Off Proposal: what you need to know

We kick off on Thursday morning, September 27th with not one but two farm tours co-sponsored by NOFA Vermont and led by Vermont Dairy and Livestock Specialist Willie Gibson. The tours will feature David and Mary Ellen Franklin’s farm in Guilford, VT, and the Miller Dairy in Vernon, VT. We will see two types of dairy farms based on land-base and soil (small valley and hill-farm vs. Connecticut River flat silt-loams), as well as their approaches to dairy farming over the past 20 years, and how they came to be certified organic. Diversification, extended season grazing, summer annuals, and multi-generation, inter-generation, and external partnerships are all parts of these farming operations. The Miller Dairy milks 140 Holsteins; the Franklin Farm has 50 to 60 milkers of various breeds. Each farm feeds very different rations, and aim for different production results.

Following lunch and Field Days registration at the VABEC, the educational program gets under way with a timely follow up to the morning tours. Leading national organic grazing experts from near and far will dig into their experiences of managing organic pasture across the country in: “There are No Shortcuts to Productive Pastures! The 10 top mistakes in pasture management and how to avoid them”.  Sarah Flack (VT), Cindy Daley (CA), and Kathy Soder (PA) will use their extensive experience and knowledge to host an interactive and dynamic discussion that will show the good, the bad and the ugly of pasture management.

Next, a panel of practitioners, UVM Ag Economist Bob Parsons and USDA Resource Conservationist Karen Hoffman, and experts in the feed business, Klaas Marten, Lakeville Organic Grain, NY, and Les Morrison, Morrison Feeds, VT, will share their insights in “How to Maintain Cow Health, Realistic Production Goals and Good Cash Flow to Stay in Business”.  They will discuss projects for winter feed supply and the most efficient feed utilization based on existing market conditions and anticipated pay price.  

Following Thursday’s education program, attendees will have time to catch up with both new and old friends, and visit the Trade Show during our Social Hour. We will follow that with a banquet of local and organic foods that highlight the rich Vermont harvest. This year, in order to give our Keynote Speaker and audience plenty of time for questions and discussion, we will have NODPA’s annual meeting and year in review right after dinner.

The remainder of the evening will be devoted to the Keynote Speaker, acclaimed Wisconsin Organic Dairy Farmer Cheyenne Christianson, who will describe his experiences taking a conventionally managed farm to a vibrant biological system that is practically self-sufficient. For the past 20 years, Cheyenne and Katy Christianson have operated a 325-acre grass based, no-grain organic dairy in Wisconsin. Cheyenne discuss his experience of zero grain consumption and much more, and will leave plenty of time for questions and discussion.

An early morning (well starting at 7:00 am, so not that early!) Producer-Only meeting will be held on Friday, where producers can speak about their concerns, challenges and successes without fear of their views and opinions hindering their relationships with processors. His is a unique opportunity for producers to help direct the future activities of NODPA and clearly express their views on topics that they feel are important.

The morning program kicks off with “Nutrient Dense Forages and Soil Health: The Basis for a Sustainable Future?” This interactive session offers a rare opportunity to learn from the ‘grandfather of organic dairy’ Jack Lazor, Butterworks Farm, VT, and the top organic educators in the nation, Dr. Cindy Daley, developer of the Center for Organic Dairy Production in the West, University of California-Chico, and Heather Darby, Associate Professor of Agronomy and Agronomic and Soils Specialist for the University of Vermont Extension, as they share their ideas and philosophies on the importance of whole-farm health with practical examples on improving the soil and remaining profitable on the organic family farm.

Following a milk break, Annette Higby, Policy Director for New England Farmers Union, and Ed Maltby, Executive Director, NODPA, will fill you in on what’s happening in Washington, DC with the 2012/2013 Farm Bill and relevant policy issues, and how they will affect organic dairy farm families in the future.

Lunch follows, with plenty of time to visit the trade show professionals, network with fellow attendees and wait for your name to be called as we have our ever popular Door Prize Drawings, where you can win great prizes-everything from hats and tee-shirts, to books, fertilizer, seeds, solar powered fly traps and other valuable items- donated by our sponsors, supporters and trade show participants.

We round out our 12th Annual Field Days with an afternoon of thought provoking sessions. First, in “Diversification and your Farm’s Future: Is it possible to enjoy greater profits by diversifying farm and non-farm operations?” we explore the opportunities and challenges of diversification on the farm, including direct marketing, leasing land to energy companies (solar, gas, wind, cell towers), selling more crops and milking fewer cows, and more. The panel of Organic Dairy Farmers: Jeanette Fellows, MA, Dave Johnson, PA, Henry Perkins, ME (retired), and Cheyenne Christianson, WI, along with team leader for the Cornell University Small Dairy Team, Faye Benson, will share their experiences and answer your questions.

The final session of the day, guaranteed to have a lively discussion, will focus on the “Organic Trade Association’s proposal for an Organic Check-Off Program”. This panel presentation from OTA representatives and those opposed to an Organic Check-Off will examine the benefits and challenges of OTA’s proposal; what the program might look like, and what alternatives there might be. Participants will have the opportunity to weigh in on whether a check-off program is the best way to go, and what they’d like to see happen.

This year, participants are encouraged to make plans for lodging early. There are a number of very cost-effective hotels and inns in and around the Brattleboro area but these will be filling up fast with the ‘leaf-peeping’ tourists, so please plan ahead. You can make reservations for hotels, motels, B&Bs or inns by visiting travel websites such as www.expedia.com or Googling Brattleboro VT lodging. Prices begin around $60 and go up at places such as Holiday Inn Express, Quality Inn and Super 8.  The local KOA Campsite has cabins, trailer hook-ups and tent sites available, call 800-562-5905 or visit www.KOA.com for more information. For a more rustic option, Fort Dummer State Park, just minutes away, has off-season camping available, however there are no restrooms available after the season ends at Labor Day. Call the park phone 802-254-2610 for more information.

Watch your mailbox for your NODPA Field Days brochure, which will be mailed out in early August and will be available for download from NODPA’s website. Visit the NODPA Field Days webpage regularly for updates on speakers, sponsors and other program details as they become available.

The September NODPA News will have more articles on the Field Days, including more information about our terrific presenters. With the generous support of our supporters, we’ve been able to continue to offer registration for free for organic producers plus free Thursday banquet dinners for transitioning producers and their families.

Save the date and plan to attend this year’s NODPA Field Days for up-to-date information and learning opportunities, good food and plenty of time to meet with fellow NODPA members.

Have questions? Call Nora Owens, Field Days Coordinator, 413-772-0444 or email her at noraowens@comcast.net.