Access to Production Knowledge, Skills & Technical Assistance
By Allen Matthews, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Anne Hilliard, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
A key challenge you face as a new farmer is gaining access to production skills, knowledge and technical assistance. While finding access to land, capital and markets can be daunting, developing the skills to actually produce a sustainable income is critical to success. Gaining practical, on-the-farm experience may often be one of your best investments to a productive future in farming.
If you weren't raised on a farm, think about how you will gain the skills and knowledge to address the challenges of understanding soils, nutrition, and on-going farm maintenance, as well as sources of information and support along the way. If you are already farming but considering a new crop, animal or production method, think about how you and your farming partners will ensure the viability of the farm business while making the needed changes.
For new and aspiring farmers, access to production skills, knowledge and technical assistance starts with developing an awareness of the various agricultural outreach and educational programs available in the state and region. You will also want to develop an understanding of appropriate state and federal regulations that will affect your farm business; commodity and farmer associations that provide support and professional development; and relevant internships and applied degree programs available.
Agricultural Outreach Programs
There are numerous organizations in Vermont that assist farmers with production and marketing practices; help farmers conserve their soil, water, and other natural resources; and provide technical assistance to farmers as they plan and operate their businesses. The following are some organizations that offer technical assistance and training programs that build production skills. Many offer on-farm workshops, as well as classroom and web-based learning opportunities. More information on all of these organizations can be found in the Organizational Lists section of this website.
- Intervale Center
- Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT)
- University of Vermont Extension
- USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service
- UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
- Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
- Vermont Housing and Conservation Board's Farm Viability Program
Internships and Degree Programs
Learning by doing may be one of the best ways for you to gain the skills you need. Become familiar with local farmers in your area. Frequently, farmers are in need of more help, and some may be willing to have you volunteer on their farm to gain experience. Some may even be able to provide you with a modest income as you learn from them. NOFA-VT coordinates an apprenticeship program with organic farmers across the state. You may also want to check out the ATTRA website at for a listing of internships and apprenticeships in the US and Canada.
UVM's F.A.R.M.S. 2+2 program prepares young people to become professional farm managers/owners for Vermont and the Northeast. All students first earn an Associates Degree in Dairy Management, Agricultural Business Management or Landscape Design from Vermont Technical College. There are also some very exciting internship and applied degree programs available throughout Vermont colleges, including Vermont Technical College, Sterling College, University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Green Mountain College, among others.
Commodity-based associations can be a resource for gaining production knowledge. Whether you are just starting out, thinking of transitioning to a new crop, or developing a new market for your farm products, it may be helpful to get directly in touch with the appropriate commodity or farmer association. Visit the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for a list of organizations. You may also want to check out the listings of individual farm vendors, commodity associations and retail outlets who sell Vermont agricultural products at Buy Local, Buy Vermont, the "Find Organic Food" section of the NOFA-VT website, the Valley Food and Farm On-Line Guide which serves the Upper Valley, or the Rutland Farm and Food Link's on-line guide serving the greater Rutland region.
There are numerous state and federal regulations that govern many aspects of farming. While they may sometimes be seen as a burden, it is extremely important to become familiar with regulations related to the crops, livestock and products you intend to produce. An ounce of prevention, in this case, is worth a pound of cure. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) is the primary regulatory agency of agriculture in the state and provides information about agriculture-related laws and regulations on its website.
In addition, you might consider contacting someone within the different divisions at VAAFM, addressing animal health issues (802-828-2421), dairy (802-828-2433), plants, soil, water quality (802-828-2431) plus overall administrative, policy or permitting questions (802-828-5434).
Farmers wishing to be certified organic should contact NOFA-Vermont (802-434-4122). As a new farmer, you need to work through the regulations and license requirements specific to the agricultural product(s) you plan to grow for sale and/or food/agricultural/horticulture products made for sale, wholesale or retail. If you have a question about whether or not a regulation applies or a license is needed, it is best to call ahead and ask.
Conservation and Cost-Share Programs
The USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service works with landowners to conserve soil, water, and other natural resources. They provide technical assistance for conservation of natural resources; develop and deliver technical assistance and information on conservation practices; conduct natural resources surveys and analyses; and help land users develop conservation plans for their land. NRCS also offers several cost-share programs to encourage environmental stewardship. On average, beginning farmers receive 90% of the cost to install a practice through a conservation program contract.
Last modified July 05 2011 11:59 AM