You’ve heard the saying that “practice makes perfect”? Well we believe practice makes happiness – for farmers, cows, and the planet. 2014 marked the fourth year of our Caring Dairy Program. We’ve crunched the numbers, the results are in, and our farmers are making big strides as they turn their farms into models of sustainability. If you aren’t familiar with it, Caring Dairy is an educational support program we started up with local farms in the St. Albans Dairy Cooperative here in Vermont. An easy-to–use web based self-assessment allows our farmers to evaluate the sustainability of their farm. Then we help each farmer develop a unique action plan to improve his or her practices.
In simplest terms, each farm is scored on 11 different sustainability criteria on the farm which are then color coded as green (good), yellow (doing okay), and red (needs work). This year showed great progress: 85 farms participated, green scores have doubled since we got started, a number of farms moved up to yellow from red, and overall red scores continued to decline. That’s good news! We’re finding that the longer farmers participate in Caring Dairy, the higher they score. The program is working.
The highest scoring areas included animal husbandry (happy cows), farm financials (farmers are keenly aware of their farm business), energy (efficiency is up), and economic impact in the community (successful farms benefit all of us).
One of the most exciting parts of the program is the workshops we host or sanction that can help farmers work on various aspects of the program. Workshops have been a big hit. 111 approved workshops contributed to the continued success of our farmers. There was keen interest in topics such as energy, nutrients, and soil quality and loss. A single workshop topic offered on nutrients and soil had a majority of our Caring Dairy farmers in attendance.
In just four years the Caring Dairy Program has been instrumental in strengthening our relationship with our farmers and getting us closer to our ultimate goal of happy farmers, happy cows, and a happy planet. It doesn’t stop with the U.S. either – it is in place internationally, with the Dutch dairy farmers who supply our European dairy participating in the Caring Dairy program as well. Check out our summary of the latest findings.