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Organic farm succession may be key to future of dairy farms

photo credit: Benedikt Dairy

photo credit: Benedikt Dairy

UPDATE (3/16) – Dairy farm succession help available!

With a grant from the Keep Local Farms Fund of the New England Dairy Promotion Board, Land For Good is offering farm succession planning services at reduced or no cost to any commercial, cow milk dairy farmer. Funding suppor is limited. Learn more about our consulting, this special offer for dairy farmers (.pdf) then contact us to see if we can help ensure your farm’s legacy.

Original Post

New England’s farmers are aging, and the viability of the region’s dairy farms will have a large impact on the future of rural landscapes and farm economies. Meeting the growing demand for local, organic dairy products may be a key to helping ensure the survival of the region’s dairy farms. But the linked challenges of farm succession and farmland access have to be addressed in the process.

With grants from two organic food and farming supporters, the Clif Bar Family Foundation and Organic Valley’s Farms Advocating For Organics (FAFO) Fund,  Land For Good (LFG) has launched an initiative aimed at successfully transferring working organic dairy farms to next generation farmers. LFG will work with organic dairy farmers and other partners in the sector to provide a meaningful legacy to exiting farmers and help foster farming possibilities for the next farming generation.

These grants make possible the development and pilot of educational and direct support strategies by identifying the unique land access and farm transfer challenges and opportunities of family-scale dairy farmers, a vulnerable and important organic farming sector in New England. Dairy farming is an important contributor to the region’s farm economy, culture, and working landscape. It is still the highest-value agriculture sector in most New England states, despite a slow and steady decline. In the Northeast, the number of dairy farms has plummeted from over 100,000 in 1960 to fewer than 16,000 today, while organic milk production is one of the fastest growing segments of US organic agriculture.

Succession planning among all farmers is inadequately served. “At no point is a farm’s future more at risk than during this transition,” says Andrew Marshall, Education and Field Director for Land For Good. “Farmers need transfer planning information and support, especially when there is no identified successor. Whatever the situation, it’s never too early, or too late, to start planning for this major transition,” explains Marshall. LFG will identify unique challenges and opportunities with the organic dairy sector to ensure that organic farm businesses, land, and expertise are passed on.

The farm succession challenge is compounded for dairy farms by the very nature of the enterprise. Dairy farmers have substantial equity tied up in land, equipment, infrastructure, and animals. Those are also daunting start-up costs for beginning dairy farmers. With fewer farm transfers happening within the same family, more farm transfers are taking place between unrelated parties. This trend represents opportunities for innovative approaches to farm transfer and succession.

Land For Good works throughout New England helping farmers access and transfer farms and farmland. It is one of the few groups nationally focused on farmland access and transfer issues. Land For Good provides education, resources and direct services to farm seekers, established farmers, landowners, and community stakeholders in all six New England states.

The Clif Bar Family Foundation supports of innovative groups working to strengthen our food system and our communities, enhance public health, and safeguard our environment and natural resources. Organic Valley’s Farmers Advocating For Organics (FAFO) Fund strives to protect and promote organic farmers by investing in organic research, education and advocacy by elevating the benefits of organic production and food for health.

To help identify the key issues unique to organic farmers and to identify participating farmers, the initiative will partner with the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (NODPA), and state organic farming groups, such as Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and Northeast Organic Farming Associations (NOFA).

The project will conduct farmer focus groups and work with farms on transfer planning in western and eastern New England. Selected based on need, potential for innovation and potential for successful transition outcomes, the pilot farm families will be supported to develop robust succession and transition plans that can serve as models for other dairy farms in the region. It is envisioned that a second phase of the project would develop educational and support materials, and scale up the direct support to family dairy farms. Transitioning dairy farms to new owners who are also tapping into the growing organic dairy market keeps more dairy farms in business – and their land in farming – for years to come.

 

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