By Hannah Reid, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets
After 30 years of commitment and service to the Vermont Agricultural community, Dairy Section Chief Dan Scruton will be retiring from the Agency of Agriculture this month. Throughout his three decades of service to the Vermont agricultural community, Dan cultivated deep expertise in areas of agricultural technology, energy policy, farm viability, and even foreign relations, while maintaining a steadfast commitment to Vermont’s farmers, animals and the environment.
Almost as soon as he was hired by the agency in 1985, Dan began driving positive change within Vermont’s dairy industry by developing a groundbreaking milk quality program focused on reducing the prevalence of mastitis in dairy animals –a common inflammation of tissue in affecting mammary glands usually caused by bacteria. Dan helped design the mastitis control program in collaboration with extension workers and researchers from UVM, and working closely with Vermont veterinarians to prevent infections on dairy farms throughout the state. Within five years of the program launch the average somatic cell counts (or white blood cell counts indicative of infection) among Vermont cattle had dropped by about 50%. When the program was phased out last year, somatic cell counts were a third of what they were then the program started – about 200,000 on average – representing some of lowest counts reported across the country.
Dan’s dairy expertise is not, however, limited to cows. Dan helped advance the small ruminant (sheep and goat) industry in Vermont, creating a foundation for what is now a thriving industry of goat and sheep farms responsible for dozens of award winning cheeses and other dairy products.
In addition to being one of the foremost dairy experts in Vermont, Dan is also recognized for his passion and understanding of agricultural energy issues. In the 1990s Dan was instrumental in engaging Vermont utility companies in a proactive effort to reduce “stray voltage” on Vermont dairy farms, extraneous voltage that appears on grounded surfaces in buildings, barns and other structures. While usually imperceptible to humans, stray voltage can have a severely negative effect on animals. Thanks in large part to Dan, Vermont has the first and only proactive stray voltage program in the country in which utility companies are an equal partner in protecting animals. Dan’s ongoing commitment to addressing agricultural energy issues collaboratively with farmers, legislators and utility companies has led to extensive research and testing of anaerobic digesters on farms, which, along with net metering, enables farms to generate their own power to be used throughout their farm facilities. Dan was also involved in the development of the pricing models for the farm side of the Vermont Standard Offer Program which allows farms to generate power and sell it to the utilities at a set price that is concurrent with production cost rather than tied to wholesale prices. The resulting reduction in energy price swings, along with utility renewable programs, has made Vermont home to more anaerobic digesters on a per farm basis than any other state in the country.
Other career highlights for Dan included working with Governor Snelling to lead a team of agency staffers, UVM extension workers, and private industry to increase farm viability through business planning; and several agricultural technology exchange trips to Israel, Russia, and twice to China. “Those were eye opening experiences,” recalled Scruton, “our trip to Russia right around the fall of the Soviet Union was a particularity fascinating experience. It was a great privilege to represent Vermont and the United States internationally, and to have the opportunity to share best ag practices with other cultures.”
In 2009 Dan took over the post of Dairy Section Chief at the agency of agriculture where he has been overseeing the state’s dairy regulatory programs, while still trying to keep in touch with the technical side of the industry. “I grew up on a dairy farm in New Hampshire, and since then I’ve always wanted to help the dairy industry grow and advance.” Says Scruton, “I’ve worked on every issue you can imagine, from technology, to milk prices, to animal health issues – my goal has always been to make sure the dairy industry has the tools and resources it needs to excel.”
“His vast knowledge of the dairy industry and depth of experience gained over the last three decades has made Dan a true asset to the Agency of Ag and to our mission.” said Deputy Secretary Diane Bothfeld, “But most importantly, Dan has been an invaluable resource to Vermont’s farmers and has helped to improve the health, safety, and sustainability of all Vermont farms over the course of his career.”
Said Scruton, “I am truly grateful to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for providing me with this platform from which I was able to pursue many of my goals for the advancement of the dairy industry. I think farmers are in a better place than they were when I first joined the agency in 1985. I’m not sure I can take any of the credit, but I hope I was a positive contributor.”
Upon retirement Dan looks forward to spending more time fishing and enjoying the company of his children and grandchildren. “I may be retiring from state government”, said Scruton, “but I look forward to continuing to provide technical assistance to Vermont farmers for as long as I can be useful.”