Ph.D. student Matt Smith wanted to shake everyone’s hand in gratitude . . . but he couldn’t. That’s because his fingers were covered in poison ivy after handling a pile of wood chips that likely had a brush with the irritating vine. Instead, Smith offered his verbal thanks to the group of founding donors that helped establish the Organic Dairy Research Farm at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). At the dairy’s new, privately funded composting facility, Smith conducts his experiments to help farmers drive down energy costs and reduce environmental impacts at their own operations.
Smith’s research is just one of the many interdisciplinary projects at the organic dairy that confers practical benefits to producers in the region. And, at the gathering to celebrate the founding donors, it captured the interest of New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill who recognized that the system meets the heat and time standards for the Food Safety and Modernization Act as well as adding product value to farmers. Indeed, producers have already been asking for the composting facility’s design plans, along with the economic analysis of wood use, to create their own structures scaled appropriately for the size of their farms.
Doug Briggs, Lorraine Merrill, and Britt Lundgren listen as Jon Wraith welcomes the participants to the Founding Donors Celebration Day. (Photo Credit: Perry Smith, UNH Photo)
The celebration in honor of the founding donors took place in late May during which researchers like Smith – from COLSA and across the University – discussed their projects, made possible in large part by private support. Operated by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES), the University’s 300-acre Organic Dairy Research Farm was established in 2006 as an integrated ecosystem for studies that encompass all biological, physical, and human-related aspects of agriculture. The founding donors have enabled scientists from a variety of disciplines to leverage significant national grants and; therefore, their initial contributions continue to provide benefits that ripple out far beyond the bucolic fields of the organic farm and to all stakeholders of the sustainable dairy industry in the Northeast.
Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment John Aber and Dean of COLSA and Director of NHAES, Jon Wraith, welcomed the founding donors and emphasized the broad impacts of their gifts to the Organic Dairy Research Farm, faculty, students, producers, and community-at-large. Said Aber, “Ideas are ideas until somebody provides the resources to make them happen.” Wide-ranging research projects at the organic dairy – from closing the loop with energy-producing composting techniques to boosting the nutritional components and market value of organic milk – are conducted in response to the concerns of producers in the region.
While other academic institutions have been forced to sell their research farms in a flagging economy, Wraith stressed that the NHAES-operated facility in Lee remains an integral part of UNH’s Land Grant mission. The use of this well-appointed organic dairy farm makes it possible for scientists and students at the University to bring innovative solutions and a benchmark of quality products to producers and consumers. “Ours is a unique land grant mission. Here in New England, agriculture is more complicated and we have more integrated food systems,” said Wraith. “Because of that, our research farm is more responsive to the needs of our stakeholders.”
In addition to a tour of the farm’s composting facility, other presentations included discussions of supplementing pasture-fed cows with ground flaxseed to increase milk quality and reduce methane expenditure, the assessment of water and nutrient flux through the small creek at the edge of the pastures that takes up and effectively transforms the farm’s inputs to keep the water clean for the Lamprey River, an examination of how mixing cultivars buffers the plants against climate variability, studying the epidemiology and ecology of perennial ryegrass pathogens, and researching greenhouse gas emissions on the farm.
As Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, NH, Britt Lundgren enjoyed learning more about the current and forthcoming research at the Organic Dairy Research Farm. “This is a unique resource,” Lundgren said of the facility, which is the first of its kind in the nation. “There’s fantastic research going on that will be helpful to the producers we’re sourcing our milk from.” In addition to having funded the Stonyfield Barn at the Organic Dairy, the company is now aiding the research of Assistant Professor of Dairy Nutrition, André Brito, with the upcoming establishment of a feed storage and preparation area adjacent to the barn.
There are many ways to support the research, teaching, and outreach that takes place at the Organic Dairy and all of the other research farms at UNH that have a profound impact on our students, faculty, and the community-at-large. If you'd like to learn more about how you can contribute to our success, contact COLSA's Director of Development, Stephanie Gillen, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-862-2089.