Technology & Sustainability
Vermont farmers are increasingly embracing new technologies to become more efficient and sustainable. These innovations are creating new opportunities for the next generation of dairy farmers. Methane digesters, for example, are turning manure into renewable energy. At last count, there were 16 operational digesters in the state, generating 18,000 MWh of “cow power” in 2013, with a retail value of more than $2 million. Interest in wind and solar energy also continues to grow.
A small but growing number of farmers across the state are using robotic milkers, which allow cows to milk “on-demand.” These automatic milkers replace the farmer’s daily milking routine, allowing unprecedented schedule flexibility. Farms are also adopting energy-efficient technologies to conserve resources and improve their operations, from LED lighting, to energy-efficient fans, to variable speed milk pumps, and more.
Challenges & Opportunities
Vermont’s dairy industry faces formidable challenges. Although many farmers are working hard to minimize their environmental impact, significant water quality challenges remain. Farmers need to increase their efforts and work with state, federal, and non-profit partners in order to protect our waterways. The agricultural community has a big role to play in restoring the health of Lake Champlain.
Generational farm transitions also present challenges. The average Vermont farmer is 55 years old, so engaging the next generation is imperative. Some farms are also navigating complex labor and immigration issues. Vermont’s congressional delegates have been working with the dairy industry to advocate for sensible immigration reform at the Federal level, but progress is slow. As the price of milk continues to be volatile, new tools, like the Margin Protection Program, are enabling farmers to mitigate their risk, but uncertainty remains.
There’s hard work ahead. But in light of the many ways dairy enriches our state, working together to find solutions is clearly worth the effort.