Grass-based Beef Production in Vermont

 
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By Maggie Donin, Beginning Farmer Specialist

Who doesn’t love a good burger? It seems that in almost every restaurant in Chittenden County, I can buy a locally-sourced burger. But what’s the story behind that burger? Are local beef producers able to build successful businesses in Vermont? What’s the future of grass-based beef production in our state and beyond? Can Vermont compete with the national grass-based beef market? What are our state’s advantages and challenges?

These are important questions in Vermont right now. With more retiring or exiting dairy farmers in the state, more land will continue to come available. As conventional dairy prices remain low and the organic milk market continues to limit new producers from entering, how can farmers diversify or change production systems to be able to keep farming? Grass-based beef production is a natural fit for keeping that agricultural land in production, but to be a successful beef producer it takes skills and knowledge. Often these production models lack long-term financial viability. We work with a number of beef producers every year and we see how hard it is for these businesses to be profitable. An opportunity certainly exists to grow this sector of agricultural production in Vermont but we need more information and analysis in order to ensure the creation of successful grass-based beef enterprises.

That’s why, this fall, I’m traveling around the region with my co-worker, Sam Smith, and consultant Sarah Flack, talking to Vermont and New York beef producers. We’re interested in learning from producers who are utilizing best practices and financial recordkeeping in order to develop economic models that can be used to assess overall profitability and production efficiency. We hope this report will help current and aspiring producers understand the challenges to producing high quality grass-based beef in a way that is financially viable.

This winter, we will create a resource guide identifying best practices for production of grass-based beef in Vermont that includes financial templates at different production types and scales. Then we will share this information with producers and service providers, both statewide and nationwide, with a goal of improving the long-term success of the grass-based beef industry.

 

*This project is generously funded by the Sandy River Charitable Foundation and the Vermont Farm to Plate Network.

 
Abby Portman