Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s innovative Organic Dairy Farmer Apprenticeship Program has received $753,256 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maine’s two senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, announced last week.
The two-year residential program provides participants with 4,000 hours of training in all aspects of organic dairy cow operations and management.
“Apprenticeships provide individuals with invaluable skills and experience, preparing them for a successful future in their chosen field,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “The investment in this intensive apprenticeship program will support young people seeking a career in organic dairy farming. Knowledge of organic farming practices is increasingly important as consumers place a growing emphasis on the origin and content of the foods they purchase to feed their families.”
The program qualifies as a National Apprenticeship under the U.S. Department of Labor-Employment and Training Administration. The program started last year with a $1.7 million grant from Stonyfield Farm Inc., and the idea is to strengthen the organic dairy industry in the state and in New England.
The program was organized in large part due to the fact that nationwide, the average age of dairy farmers is approaching 60, and the number of farms producing milk is in decline. Meanwhile, the demand for organic milk is steadily increasing, creating a shortage.
It is hoped that trainees who reside at the farm will go on to operate their own organic farms, on leased land, following 18 months of training at Wolfe’s Neck Farm. The Stonyfield grant also helped with the purchase of up to 60 cows, a new barn and housing for the trainees.
Sarah Littlefield, dairy director at the farm since last September, said there are four trainees working in the program, with room for more. Two of them have been at it for a year, others have dropped out.
“We still have space,” Littlefield said. “We’re being picky to make sure the goals are met. Lots are applying.”
The program also needs more cows, Littlefield said. There are 40 milking cows and 25 younger animals.
“We want to be milking 60 cows, so we have room for another 20 mature animals, and 20 young stock. Older animals do pass on and we have options to sell. It takes two years to get a heifer milking.”
Littlefield said that Wolfe’s Neck Farm sells its milk to Stonyfield by the pound.
“We’re paid for every 100 pounds,” she said. “Cows produce 25-30 pounds a day, some more, some less.”
Meanwhile, in a drought summer, Wolfe’s Neck Farm is faring surprisingly well with its grass production. The apprentices are cutting the third crop this week, Littlefield said, and a fourth is possible because the land retains moisture.
Littlefield said that the program is growing, but carefully.
“We want to make sure we’re doing things at a high standard,” she said.
Wolfe’s Neck Farm will receive $573,256 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the farm’s Organic Dairy Farmer Apprenticeship Program.