Two Area Dairy Farms See New Life

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Front Page / Jul. 24, 2011 1:59pm EDT

By M.D. Drysdale

Brandon Bucossi leads his herd, 45-strong, across LaBounty Road toward the barn for evening milking on Thursday. (Herald / Tim Calabro)Brandon Bucossi leads his herd, 45-strong, across LaBounty Road toward the barn for evening milking on Thursday. (Herald / Tim Calabro)About 4:30 p.m. one May afternoon a year ago, a sight was seen on LaBounty Road in Randolph that hadn’t been seen for 11 years. Traffic stopped on the gravel road to allow a herd of Jersey milk cows, 60 of them, to cross, headed from the pasture to the barn.

At the same time, a half-dozen neighbors gathered as witnesses, all of them smiling broadly at what appeared to be a kind of miracle: The LaBounty dairy farm, founded in 1909, was back in business, thanks to a cheerful lad of 20, a recent graduate of Vermont Technical College’s agriculture program.

In the months that followed, Jerseys would not only cross the road, they would spread out on the scenic pastures that peer across the valley to Hebard Hill and Randolph Center. They would keep the land in productive use, chomping on grass in the pasture and hay from the 60 acres of hayfield, while fertilizing those same fields with their manure.

Every morning and evening they would produce hundreds of gallons of protein-rich milk for New Englanders.

At a time when the decline of dairy farming is a regular topic of conversation, Brandon Bucossi, a native of Vernon and a 2009 graduate of Vermont Tech, had done the seemingly impossible. With the essential help and support from Kermit LaBounty, he had started on what he hopes will be a lifetime of farming.

Not Alone

Bucossi and LaBounty, however, were not alone in working a miracle. Just 10 miles directly east, on high pastures east of Route 14 in Brookfield, his good friend and classmate from Vermont Tech, Joe Angell, was doing the same thing, again with the heartfelt support of a longtime Vermont dairyman.

Angell, who grew up on the Randolph dairy farm of his parents, Tim and Janet Angell, purchased the 50-cow Jersey herd at the Wes Snow dairy farm. Like Bucossi, he also leased the barn and some of the land at advantageous rates that would allow him to pay over time from the proceeds of the monthly milk check.

How unusual is it that two new dairy operators would start up within one year and 10 miles of each other?

Very unusual. Kermit LaBounty said he was told by an Agrimark representative that only three young people started in farming in all of New England last year.

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross hopes it’s part of a trend.

What’s so exciting is the interest of young people in agriculture generally, finding ways to get into farming, trying it in different ways,” he said. “It’s a culture that’s emerging, and making a difference.”

Why did it happen here?

Impact of Vermont Tech

The influence of the Vermont Tech agriculture under Chris Dutton and, formerly, Cal Blessing is clearly a key.

When I came here, my number-one goal was to find ways to get new farmers,” Dutton. “From a very personal point of view, it’s what makes Vermont, Vermont.”

Dutton’s most creative step was to create an “incubator” at the John Osha farm that will help graduates build equity while actually running a farm. That program graduates its second young farmer this year.

My greatest pride is students who feel confident to take the big step right off,” Dutton said. “It’s very exciting.”

Cal Blessing, though retired from Vermont Tech, isn’t retired from helping young farmers. A retired veterinarian as well as a teacher, he’s given hours of free assistance to both Angell and Bucossi.

Bucossi was especially grateful, because transporting a herd to a new farm is stressful to the animals—the first-year attrition rate can be 30%. Blessing was invaluable in helping his herd get established in the reproductive and milk cycles that make cows profitable, he said.

To be able to get to help some young people is a joy to me,” Blessing responded. “Their enthusiasm is contagious. It’s pretty rare, and to have two of them right here is outstanding. And they’re doing well. They’re disciplined, and they’re working hard.”

In fact, both Angell and Bucossi seem about as happy as can be, and the economics are working out so far. Whereas in 2009, milk prices were at rock bottom, they have been high for the last year and predictions are cautiously optimistic for the next couple of years, allowing both to turn a profit and make good payments on their investments.

Another reason farm start-ups have been possible here is that the Randolph area has “a nice support system,” according to Sarah Isham, an agricultural loan officer with the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) who helped arrange financing for Joe Angell.

There are a lot of dairy farms here, there’s VTC, there’s a ready market for milk, there are equipment and feed dealers,” she noted. “The infrastructure is in place.”

Unusual Opportunity

Both Isham and Blessing, however, said the biggest factor in the two farm start-ups, besides the young farmers themselves, is the willingness of two established farmers, LaBouty and Snow, to work with them and lease their farms and barns at reasonable prices.

It’s unusual to have an opportunity like the Snows and Kermit provided,” Isham remarked. And it’s essential.

The greatest part of this story is that finally there are some older farmers in the state to help young people to assemble the capital to start,” Blessing said. New young farmers “couldn’t weather the economic storm without starting on established farms,” he said; but they can if they just have to buy the cows to start off.

A cow will pay for itself even in hard times,” he noted.

The bottom line is having farmers who are ready for retirement who, instead of thinking about their farms as real estate, are thinking about the legacy of the farm,” he continued.

If all three (including the new incubator graduate from Vermont Tech, Zack Feury) are successful models, it ought to foster some confidence in the lenders,” Blessing speculated. “But his is possible only because of the gracious support from these older farmers.

These kids have been enabled, and that’s rare.”

The crowd of neighbors who helped Brandon Bucossi’s Jerseys cross the road last year (including this writer), would agree, and add their enthusiastic approval.

 

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