Photo from Fay Benson, Cornell Small Dairy support specialist.
Wanted: aspiring dairy farmers and dairy master graziers to stem the tide of retiring dairy farmers in New York State.
Cornell Small Dairy Support Specialist Fay Benson is recruiting participants for the New York edition of the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program (DGA), the groundbreaking, nationally recognized apprenticeship program for the agricultural industry.
Modeled after apprenticeship programs such as those for developing a highly skilled level of experience for new plumbers and electricians, the DGA is recognized by the federal Department of Labor.
The two-year DGA requires 4,000 hours of instruction, including 277 hours of online classes, and on-the-job training on farms approved for good agricultural practices and safety measures. The federally registered apprentices are paid on an established wage scale to work on an existing grazing dairy farm while they gain knowledge, skills, and early experience. The wage increases over time as skill level grows.
The New York apprentices and master graziers will work with Benson as the New York DGA education coordinator and a “job book” containing several hundred dairy industry topics to prepare the apprentice to successfully own, operate, or manage a grazing dairy farm business.
Apprentice candidates must be at least 18 years old; have a high school diploma or equivalent, e.g., GED or composite ACT score of at least 18; be physically able to do the work a farm requires; and have reliable transportation.
A master grazier must have at least five years experience with managed grazing or certified organic dairying an an interest in mentoring someone interested in dairy career entry.
Master graziers often find their own apprenticeship candidates. In some cases, once the training is complete an apprentice stays on as a dedicated farm employee, becomes a farm partner, or eventually transitions into farm ownership.
Successful completion of the DGA provides the apprentice with a journeyman certificate recognized for college-level credit by the New York Department of Labor. The journeyman experience may help secure a beginning farmer loan with FSA (flexible spending account) or a bank.
The Cornell Dairy Farm Business Summary has shown that dairies that use grazing are more profitable than non-grazing dairies of similar size. Grazing is a way to lower fee costs while maintaining animal health and agricultural stewardship.
The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program that began in Wisconsin in 2009 is now approved in nine states: Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.
Those interested in becoming an apprentice or serving as a dairy master grazier may apply online at www.dga-national.org; for assistance, contact Abbie Teeter at firstname.lastname@example.org, (607) 391-2660, ext. 412.
Once registered, the apprentices and dairy master graziers can search the entries across the nine-state region to initiate discussion of a possible apprenticeship opportunity.
To learn more about the New York Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, contact Benson at (607) 391-2660 or via email at email@example.com. Benson is project manager for the New York Organic Dairy Program, an educator with the Cornell University South Central New York Regional Team, coordinator of the New York Soil Health Trailer, and a member of the New York Crop Insurance Education Team.