(Jonathan and Mary Ann Connor – Providence Dairy, Addison Vt. Photo Credit Cheryl Cesario)
By: Lindsey Kelley
Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program
With sustained low prices in the conventional dairy market and Vermont’s new Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for reducing the impact of agricultural activities on water quality, Vermont farmers need to be creative and resourceful to ensure their businesses remain viable into the future. Jonathan and Mary Ann Connor, who own Providence Dairy in Addison, exemplify this spirit as they transition their dairy to a more pasture-based operation and make use of VHCB grant programs that make costly, long-term investments more financially feasible.
One of the biggest constraints the Connors face is access to land. “I can’t expand because the land around here is so valuable” said Jonathan, “so we have to find a way to make what we have profitable.” With the help of an array of financial and technical support, the Connors are well on their way to doing just that. Cheryl Cesario at UVM Extension helped the Connors develop a grazing plan designed to transition their 90-cow conventional dairy from a tie-stall to grazing operation. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offered to fund 75% of the project. However, the remaining cost-share for the farm was not feasible. To help reduce the cost on the business and make the project financially viable, the Connors applied for, and were awarded an $8,500 Dairy Improvement Grant by the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, cutting their 25% cost-share almost in half. The new grazing plan was designed to meet multiple goals: to improve milk production and animal health and to decrease input costs and environmental impact.
The farm is located in the Lake Champlain basin. Like many farmers, Jonathan and Mary Ann are working to ensure excessive nutrients from the farm are not ending up in the lake. Through their overall grazing plan, the Connors took measures to address water quality concerns in their local watershed and greater Lake Champlain basin. They seeded their fields with plants that have longer roots which can hold more soil together, thereby increasing water infiltration and decreasing run off. The plants also help decrease the erosion of valuable pasture land. In addition to these field improvements, the Connors have installed animal laneways that not only guide the cows to pasture but also protect nearby land and surface water from runoff and erosion.
The Dairy Improvement Grant received by the Connors through the Viability Program was, like all Dairy Improvement Grants, funded by Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, LLC, a greek yogurt manufacturer located in Brattleboro. This grant program is designed to support the construction, renovation, and upgrades to essential farm infrastructure or equipment. This grant program is open to Vermont members of Dairy Farmers of America or St. Albans Cooperative Creamery.
The Viability Program also has a new grant program for farmers, Water Quality Grants. These grants assist with the costs of on-farm capital improvements on any Vermont farm that has a gross income of $15,000+ and is subject to Vermont’s Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).
There are two upcoming deadlines for both grant programs, November 15, 2017 and February 21, 2018. For information go online to http://www.vhcb.org/viability/ and check out our grant programs fact sheet.