University of Vermont

Bob Parsons Surprised With Top Vermont Dairy Award

UVM Agricultural Economist Helps Farmers

collage of parsons getting award.
Clockwise: Bob Parsons is confused, CALS Dean Tom Vogelmann stifles laughter, Parsons realizes he's the subject of Finley Award presentation. Posing: department chair Jane Kolodinsky, VT Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, spouse Grace Matiru, Parsons and presenter Kate Finley Woodruff.

University of Vermont Agricultural Economist Bob Parsons became the 36th annual recipient of the John C. Finley award from the Vermont Dairy Industry Association on January 31. The award, a surprise to the recipient and audience, is presented at the Vermont Farm Show dairy banquet at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds in Essex Junction. 

John C. Finley Award

Named in honor of the late John Finley, an educator and former Vermont deputy commissioner of agriculture, the honor recognizes distinguished service to Vermont Agriculture and the outstanding character and mental vigor Finley exemplified. 

“Bob is man I’m sure my dad would have been proud to have as a colleague and a friend,” said Kate Finley Woodruff, daughter of John Finley, who is a lecturer in UVM's master of public administration program. As Woodruff began to describe the winner as someone who, like her dad, studied agricultural economics at Pennsylvania State University, Parsons began to look confused. (He later said he was trying to figure out who else in Vermont farming went to Penn. State.) Finley continued to say that also like her dad, the award recipient received Ph.D. in agricultural economics, and dedicated years to Vermont's dairy industry, farm management and farm profitability.  

At that point the light of recognition began to show in Parsons' face. And it didn't help that colleagues around him at the banquet table could no longer control their glee.

Parsons’ contributions to Vermont agriculture include securing $8.4 million in grants, conducting agricultural research on turning cow manure into electricity, and evaluating Vermont grass-based livestock farm policy, educating farmers about crop insurance and risk management, developing a community based bio-security plan and teaching farm owners how to transition their farms to the next generation. 

Known For International Work Too

However, Parsons’ agricultural economics work spans international boundaries, including Albania, Kenya and Zambia. In Africa, he and his wife and fellow agricultural economist Grace Matiru, worked with farmers on dairy management, increased profitability and financial training.

As one colleague said, “He talks to farmers in their own language.  He has a great way of simplifying complex issues with a wonderful sense of humor.” 

Parsons came to UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2000. He is an Extension associate professor who teaches agricultural policy and ethics in the community development and applied economics department of UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“I love my work because it ties together so many different aspects of the dairy sector, from technology and business to community planning,” Parsons said. “It keeps what I do very refreshing.”

Sean Michael Wilcox contributed to this story.