Organic Dairy Training Program Begins at Wolfe's Neck Farm

Rebecca Brown, Organic Dairy Program Director
Wolfe’s Neck Farm, Freeport, ME

In the spring of 2015, Wolfe’s Neck Farm launched the two-year, residential Dairy Training Program, the first of its kind in the country. The dairy operation involves managing a 60 cow herd, training members of the next generation of dairy farmers, and conducting research studies on their 626 oceanfront organic farm in Freeport, ME. 

With a grant from the Danone Ecosystem Fund and Stonyfield Organic and in partnership with the Wisconsin-based Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, the Dairy Training Program seeks to facilitate entry of new farmers into dairy production and thus help increase the supply of organic milk, particularly in Maine and New England.

Nationwide, dairy production is in decline and the average age of dairy farmers in Maine is approaching 60.  Meanwhile, the demand for organic milk is increasing at a dramatic rate, creating a nationwide shortage of organic milk. Our training program focuses first and foremost on providing our trainees with the skills they need to manage a successful business so that they can stay in business.

Dairy production is declining nationwide while the demand for organic milk is soaring

In order to run a profitable enterprise, our farm is a pasture-based, low-grain operation that utilizes biological farming practices and also carries organic certification. Biological farming focuses on fostering soil health in order to grow high quality, mineralized feed, which is the key aspect of supporting our animal health and farm profitability. The holistic management mind-set is an integral piece when managing such a dynamic, living system; our students learn the macro and micro aspects of holistic farm management as well as the highly diverse set of skills that are required to run a dairy farm.

The Wolfe’s Neck Farm dairy will also be used as a platform for forage-based research, experimentation, demonstration. Although we emphasize the importance of understanding and mastering the basics, we will also feature and study innovative approaches in order to help new farmers to reduce the initial capital investment, reduce financial risks, and optimize tried and true techniques.

The Organic Dairy Training Program provides comprehensive, holistic, hands-on training to beginning dairy farmers

Joining the legacy of Wolfe’s Neck Farm has been a fantastic opportunity for me. I grew up on a farm and studied sustainable agriculture in college. Most of my farming experience has been focused on grazing and meat production. Over the past 8 years or so, however, my finally focus switched to dairy farming. Prior to that time, I had intentionally avoided dairy farming because it was so intimidating! In my mind, dairy farming was the pinnacle of difficult farming endeavors - the toughest of the tough - and although I had the livestock skills, the grazing experience, the soil knowledge, and the organic practices under my belt – I still didn’t want anything to do with the challenge that dairy farming is. So, it took heavy networking, working on dairy farms for a year in New Zealand, working and volunteering on numerous farms in the States, and moving to WI to attend eight months of soil and dairy nutrition training with Midwestern-Bio Ag to get me to the place where I was ready to manage a dairy farm.

Rebecca Brown discusses biological farming, which fosters soil health and grows high quality, mineralized feed

The point is, after spending all that time, effort, and money on gaining the skills I needed, I have a deep appreciation of the true value that Wolfe’s Neck Farm offers in this Training Program. We have assembled a top-notch team of experts to help bundle up this knowledge and serve it to our trainees on a silver platter; in a nice and neat package. So far, the most rewarding part is that our applicants recognize the value of this program as well. Most of them do not have prior experience in dairying, and like me, ruled our dairy farming because of the intimidation factor, but they can see that the Training Program offers a seamless, streamlined, fully assisted entry into running a farm business. This is the first training program of its kind in the country and opportunities like this don’t come around everyday - but this program and the people it attracts is just what the dairy industry needs.

To learn more about Wolfe's Neck Farm's Dairy Training Program, check out their website here.