New Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program

One solution to the current economic issues facing dairy farmers is to help them to convert to grazing. If farmers are already doing grazing, additional help can also improve their practices in order to increase profitability, build quality of life for themselves & their communities, and protect shared land &  water.

In August, in partnership with the VT Farm to Plate Network, the University of Vermont (UVM) Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Pasture Program developed the VT’s Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program to support farmers and aspiring farmers in the region. 
 
This Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program is the only accredited apprenticeship for farming in the country. Its mission is to provide a guided pathway to independent farm ownership, to develop grazing careers, and to strengthen the economic & environmental well-being of rural communities and the dairy industry.

The apprenticeship is an “earn while you learn” opportunity. It is composed of 4,000 hours of paid employment and training over two years. Of those hours 3,712 are on the farm under the guidance of an approved Master Grazer. The 288 balance of hours is comprised of courses in farm & pasture management, herd health, milk quality, soils, holistic management, and peer discussion groups, pasture walks, as well as farming conferences & networking opportunities.

Dairies in VT are experiencing the same pressures as dairies across the country. VT Agricultural Census data from 2012 shows the average age of farmers in the state was 57 years old, and that many don’t have a second generation who want to continue farming. Falling milk prices make it more important than ever to reduce costs. The grazing model has been shown to help do this while at the same time improving herd health and the environmental benefits.  

Farmers best suited to become Master Graziers are optimistic about the future of their farm business, they believe the industry still hold opportunities for people who have the desire to succeed & live this lifestyle, and they consider themselves educators willing to pass on their knowledge. The program requires that apprentices have a high school education or equivalent. Apprentices need to be hard-working, not be afraid of long hours or getting dirty, be able & willing to work with others, and be passionate about the well-being of the animals they partner with and the land that provides for them. Taking on an apprentice for two years is a big step for any farmer. Apprentices are more likely to put their skills to work here in the Northeast when they graduate as Journeymen and Journeywomen.

More about the VT Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program: