It is a race to the finish for two Dairy Grazing Apprentices in New York State, Liz Pickard and Missy Bennett!
Two years ago New York joined 9 other states in offering the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) Program, the only nationally approved apprenticeship program for agriculture. Of our 22 approved Master Graziers, six are paired with Apprentices. In addition to the two Apprentices preparing for graduation, two have just celebrated their one-year anniversary in the program, and two just started the program within the last few months.
The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship requires 3,700 on-the-job training hours, plus and 300 hours of related instruction. The instruction includes dairy and grazing focused college courses, local pasture walks, discussion groups, and bi-monthly meetings with the Education Coordinator. The program is administered by Fay Benson and Abbie Teeter with the Cornell Small Dairy Program, affiliated with the South Central NY Dairy & Field Crops Team.
In Central New York, Liz Pickard has competed all the required instruction, and is working on completing her last 600 hours of on-the-job training. Close by in the Southern Tier, Missy Bennett has exceeded the hourly requirements for on-the-job training, and is working to finish her final class to meet the related instruction requirements. Liz and Missy are anticipated to be New York’s first graduates of the program, and will achieve Journey Worker status as recognized by the Federal Department of Labor.
The DGA program has relied on a variety of different finding sources since it began in 2016. We began with a local grazing fund to support the program start up. Once this fund was used up, other grants have kept the program active, including funds from Organic Valley and the NRCS. This summer, look for NRCS funded pasture walks which will support Master Graziers and Apprentices in the Northeast.
Participants and supporters of DGA in New York recognize the need for the apprentice program because dairies who adopt grazing as part of their management have shown that they can lower their cost of production and remain viable. In addition, New York has more organic dairies than any other state. Without this program, it is difficult for grazing dairy operators to find and train new and young farmers, since there are few educational programs that teach grazing in the state.
What’s next for our two future graduates? Missy earned youngstock to start building up a herd as part of her pay from Master Grazier Rob Moore of Nichols, NY. She is currently milking them on a rented farm in Tioga County, while still working for Rob and his wife Pam. Liz is applying to graduate school to expand on the practical knowledge she gained from working with Master Grazier Kathie Arnold at Twin Oaks Farm in Truxton, NY. Liz hopes to continue working on the farm during her off time.
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