Dairy, Farm Bill Take Center Stage at Vt. Farm Show

2/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Leon Thompson Vermont Correspondent

ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. — Diane Bothfeld was on a tight schedule the morning of Thursday, Jan. 30. It was the final day of the three-day Vermont Farm Show in Essex Junction.

Bothfeld, Vermont’s deputy agriculture secretary, had booked the Bissonette Room at the Champlain Valley Exposition Pavilion for her 90-minute-plus workshop, “Update on Dairy Issues,” but she had just learned about a last minute event scheduled in the same space.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, State Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., had decided to hold a press conference about the U.S. House passage of the long-awaited Farm Bill, and what better place to make public comments than at the Vermont Farm Show.

“So I’ve got to be expeditious,” Bothfeld told the 60 people that attended her workshop.

Indeed, talk of the mammoth, five-year Farm Bill — slated to cost $1 trillion — was on the lips of many of the 13,000-plus attendees of the 18th annual Vermont Farm Show, held Jan. 28-30.

At the press conference and at the annual dairy farmers banquet, Welch called the Farm Bill a constructive step for Vermont dairy, Vermont agriculture and U.S. agriculture.

While the state’s dairy farmers did not get a milk supply management program, the bill does include an insurance program to protect farmers from wild swings in feed and milk prices, and a mechanism to deter oversupplies of milk.

Welch said the Farm Bill is “a good deal better than the status quo.” Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate approved the measure 68-32 and sent the $1 trillion Farm Bill to the White House for the president’s signature.

At a news conference following the Senate vote, U.S. Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said: “I have been here for seven of these five-year Farm Bills, and I have never seen such a roller coaster in my life. This was hard-fought.”

Bothfeld told farmers that the outlook for Vermont’s dairy industry is optimistic. She said the average price paid to dairy farmers rose to $19.60 per 100 pounds of milk last year, up from $17.98 in 2012 and a low of $12.16 in 2009.

Bothfeld also said the state saw growth in the number of dairy processors and milk production increased to 2.6 billion pounds, up slightly from 2012, which saw production at 2.5 billion pounds.

Vermont lost an estimated 33 dairy farms in 2013 — ending the year with 939 dairy farms — but the average number of cows stayed the same, meaning that while farms are growing in size, the state is producing slightly more milk.

“The more people that need milk, the more competition there is for milk,” Bothfeld said. “The more processors we have in the state, the better we are.”

There were numerous dairy and maple equipment dealers at the farm show. Animal and groomers’ associations, state and federal agricultural agencies, and farmers themselves were also represented heavily on the exhibitor roster, which numbered around 150 this year.

Kevin Lawyer has been an outside sales rep for Leader Evaporator in Swanton, Vt., the largest manufacturer of maple sugaring equipment in the U.S., for about one month. This was his first time at the Vermont Farm Show and he hoped to break away from Leader Evaporator’s busy spot to see other exhibits.

“I think it’s great,” Lawyer said. “I’m surprised by how many vendors there are. I’m going to spread the word about this. There is more here than people might realize.”

Wednesday, Jan. 29 marked the popular Consumer Night, a celebration of Vermont’s diverse agricultural products. The Buy Local Market allowed farm show visitors to mingle with local food producers and sample their fresh goods.

Consumer Night also featured the Capital Cook-Off, an “Iron Chef”-style contest that plucked state lawmakers from the heat of the Statehouse and into the heat of the kitchen for some friendly culinary competition.

Jackie Folsom, vice president of the Vermont Farm Show, said Wednesday’s attendees helped raise nearly 2,000 pounds of food and more than $500 in cash for the Vermont Foodbank.

Free admission to the Vermont Farm Show is always a draw, but this year’s weather helped, too, as attendees were treated to sunny skies and seasonable temperatures.

“I think the energy and enthusiasm of the exhibitors this year was as terrific as the weather,” Folsom said.

The Vermont Farm Show started in the 1930s following talks at meetings of the Vermont Dairymen’s Association and Vermont Maple Sugarmakers Association. In November 1957, the Vermont Farm Show Inc. was officially organized and incorporated.

For many years, the Vermont Farm Show was held in Barre in central Vermont, but space constraints and parking struggles caused the show to move to Essex in 2012.

At this year’s farmers banquet, the state recognized Boston Post Dairy of Bakersfield, Vt., as the 2013 Farm of the Year. Robert and Gisele Gervais, who have been married for 55 years, started the farm with 35 cows and now have one of the largest farms in Franklin County, Vt.<\c> LF20140208N_thompson-farm-show-01

Photos by Leon Thompson


Sheep were on display at the Vermont Farm Show.


One of more than 13,000 attendees of this year’s Vermont Farm Show watched the demonstration of a robotic milking parlor.

AP Photo


The Snowshoe Farm booth housed two alpacas at the annual Vermont Farm Show.

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