Farmers grow at CALS

Photo by TooFarNorth (Karyn Christner) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

“Growing Future Farmers,” a recent and highly informative piece by Erik Ness for the UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, describes the challenges of finding and preparing a new generation of farmers, as well as the CALS programs that are helping to confront those challenges. One of my favorite sections is the following:

“Since 1995 [Dick] Cates has run the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers, a hands-on seminar series conducted as a joint program of the Farm and Industry Short Course and CIAS [the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems]. By focusing on business planning and pasture-based management, the school provides an accessible and sound financial approach for the beginning farmer.

“One key for new farmers, says Cates, is managed grazing. In a typical confinement feed operation you have to plant, cultivate, harvest, dry and store the feed. Then you have to take it out of storage, feed the cows, and remove and distribute the manure. It takes a lot of labor, equipment and fuel.

“Grazing advocates like to joke they hire the cows to do all that. By providing a lower capital approach, grazing allows for a farm that can reasonably be owned by a family just starting out. ‘Your business is turning sunshine into grass into milk or meat,’ says Cates. ‘You can make it as complicated as you want, but those are the essentials.'”

Among other educational programs, the story describes a new formal apprenticeship aimed at promoting managed grazing and another that seeks to help farm families with generational transfer, a process that can be difficult in the modern era. The piece also touches on the topic of urban food deserts, describing federally funded research efforts at CALS “to analyze urban food systems to identify local innovations in food production and distribution—and then expand local production.”

It’s a somewhat lengthy article, but well worth the read.

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