Wednesday, December 28, 2011


    The late U.S. Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont served the State of Vermont for forty-five years in the U.S. Congress beginning in 1854.  This year he is being remembered for his leadership in the passage of
the historic Land Grant Act in 1862.   The material below was developed for a Farmers’ night presentation at the Vermont legislature on February 8th , 2012 in Montpelier.  The presentation is being  jointly sponsored by the Historic Morrill Homestead, the Vermont Historical Society, and the University of Vermont.

Background on Justin Morrill

My name is Justin Morrill.  I represented my beloved State of Vermont in the U.S. Congress for forty-five years, from 1854 until my passing in 1899, twelve in the U.S. House and the remainder in the U.S. Senate.  I am being honored on the 150th year since the passage of the Federal Land Grant Act that was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862 and was named after me.

Before I talk about the Act, and the significant work that went into getting it passed, I think you should know something about me and about the times that existed during my service representing our State.

I was born in Strafford, Vermont, a hill town down near the Connecticut River, in 1810, one of ten children.  My father and grandfather were local blacksmiths. When I was born, Washington had been dead for ten years and it was the beginning of a new Nation. While I wanted to go to College, my parents could not afford this education.  I went to our local school to the age of 14, and a little time at Thetford Academy.  I had a quest for knowledge and did spend much of my time collecting and reading books even though I was unable to go on for a more formal education.

I was fortunate to find a position working as a clerk in the local store in Strafford, the center of commerce in our small community.  Eventually I was made a partner in the store, and earned enough money to be able to retire after fifteen years to my local farm near the center of Town.  I was thirty-eight years old at the time of this retirement.  I must say, I was excited about this new venture due to my interest in farming, horticulture, and architecture.


I had a deep interest in both architecture and horticulture.  I collected and read a number of books on these subjects over the years, and was able to prepare plans for my home and for the land around my new house in Strafford.  For horticulture, I was interested in doing a lot of adaptability trials for a variety of tree and shrubs, some from Europe and others from the Orient.  There were not many research facilities at that time and I felt that my land could serve that purpose. 

I also prepared plans for my new home and I supervised its construction.  It was a 17-room house in Gothic Revival Style that was popular during the 1840’s and 1850’s.  If you have not visited my homestead, I hope you might find the time to do so!

Many of the books that I collected on a variety of subjects eventually became part of the Town Library.  It is a very extensive collection on various subjects.


I did not intend to go into public service.  I had not held any position besides being a local Justice of the Peace.  Anyhow, I was elected at the age of forty-six as a Whig.  I promised to oppose slavery, a key part of the Constitution of our State of Vermont.  In 1854 a Vermont Senate Report echoed Vermont’s constitution and questioned the Government forcing one people over another.  It is interesting that the State of Georgia Assembly passed a resolution after that suggesting that Vermont be towed out to sea.  It was a very interesting time in our Country.  In 1854, the year I was elected to Congress, the Missouri Compromise was repealed.  Up until that time, there was a balance between the number of slave states and non slave states admitted to the Union.  After this I changed my allegiance to the newly formed Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, and helped to establish it in the State of Vermont.   I entered Congress at a time of great stress and uncertainty in our country, the conflict between slavery and freedom.


Certainly from my own background and experience, I knew well the importance of education for people in our country.  There had been a lot of discussion on the subject over time, before I was elected.  Captain Alden Partridge, the founder of Norwich University and a former Commandant of West Point, had proposed a national system of higher education covering courses in farming, engineering, and business financed by the sale of Public Lands.  I had become a trustee of the institution in 1848.  Also, Illinois College Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner proposed providing liberal education to farmers, factory workers and others in 1850 through public lands appropriation.  The Illinois legislature sent the idea to Congress in 1853.

The need for such a system was real.  A College education in 1850 was primarily reserved for white men with money, and most studied theology, medicine, and law.    Also at this time, 80% of Americans lived in rural areas, and 60% of these were farmers.


When I first entered Congress, I proposed to the Committee of Agriculture that they establish one or more schools of agriculture based upon the Military Academy concept., this had also been a concept championed by others. While this idea had not gone anywhere, I again relied upon others like Turner of Illinois, Ezra Cornell, a New York farmer, and newspaper publisher Horace Greeley and others to help to support a land grant for the establishment of colleges for a practical education in the sciences and arts for the common people.   It was a five-year struggle.  The first Land Grant Bill passed the House and Senate by very slim margins, and was vetoed by President Buchanan who said the country was too poor and the law was unconstitutional.  I re-introduced it in 1861 in the new Congress.  It was at a time of great strife in the Country as the Southern States had formed the Confederacy, and they had armies in the field.  I saw the Land Grant Act as a law that could help repair the ravages of the war and thus safeguard our Country’s future.  It passed both houses of Congress by wide margins and was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862.

I want you to know that two months before signing this Act, President Lincoln approved the Homestead Act opening up public lands to western settlers, resulting in the appropriation of 70 million acres, and one day before he signed the transcendental railroad bill, giving them 130 million acres.  It was not too much to ask then for 17 million acres of land to go to the States (based on 30,000 to each member of Congress from each state), the proceeds to establish Land Grant Colleges in each State.  Those States that did not have public land received scripts that they could assign.


I am pleased that Vermont was one of the first three States to accept the land grant.  The Vermont legislature in 1863 passed a law providing a provision for one Land Grant Institution, by joining the University of Vermont with Middlebury and Norwich.  Several others and I strongly supported this joint structure.  It did not happen, as the trustees of the various institutions did not embrace the concept.  When it did not happen, I offered a 5,000 dollar challenge grant if it was built in my town of Strafford.  That did not happen either, but the then private University of Vermont offered to become the Land Grant institution in our State.

It is important to recognize that the Land Grant concept was not established for the soul purpose of teaching agriculture.  The intent of the Act was to give an opportunity for those engaged in industrial pursuits some knowledge of the practical sciences related to agriculture and the mechanical arts.  It was not intended to be a technical college or technical institute.

I know that in 1890 the Vermont Grange opposed UVM continuing as the Land Grant and I was called upon to testify in support of the University.  I am pleased that with the further passage of the Hatch Act that created the Agricultural Experiment Stations in 1887, and 1914 Act creating the Extension Service, that the connection to rural Vermont and the farming community was further enhanced.


Many have honored me, and I am humbled.  There are many things I am proud of, and these include not only the Land Grant Act, but also the Tariff Act of 1861 that helped to finance the period of the Civil War and paying off the debt after.  I am also proud of the reconstruction of the Capital.  During my time I was able to push for the beautification of the Capital and the Capital grounds.  I am proud of the completion of the Washington Monument, the erection of the Library of Congress building, the reconstruction of the Capital, the establishment of Statuary Hall in the Capital, the fresco painting in the Capital by the great artist Constantino Brumdi.  My last speech in the Senate called for the creation of a separate building for the Supreme Court.  Every great nation, I believe, should have enduring architecture, and that is why I pushed for the beautification of Washington as an enduring place for our Country.  Yes, I was also involved in the passage of many laws, such as the anti-bigamy act that was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court, but the education of the common people, like myself, I consider my greatest accomplishment.

Since the passage of the Land Grant Act, 150 years ago, you have seen much success.  Today there are 105 Land Grant Institutions, and 20 million degrees have been granted since 1862.  3 million students attend a Land Grant Institution annually.  Land Grants have helped to transform American in both the arts and sciences.

Yes, I had seen a lot of changes during my forty-five years in Congress.  The United States had grown from 14 States to 45, from 4 million people to 75 million.  With the railroad, it was possible to go from New York to San Francisco in six days. I saw the reconstruction of a shattered Union.

Throughout all of these events, serving the people of my beloved State of Vermont in Washington for forty-five years was my greatest honor.


Saturday, October 29, 2011


At the 1st Annual Farm-To-Plate Network Gathering at Lake Morey Inn on October 3rd and 4th of 2011, I was asked to address the above subject.  While the flood of 1927 is considered by many to be the greatest natural disaster in Vermont in the last 100 years, the recent storm called Irene created great damages to farms, buildings, businesses, bridges and highways, and travel.  It is difficult to draw comparisons, as when individuals’ lives and livelihoods are disrupted, it does not matter if it is 1927 or 2011.  Nevertheless, we can learn from the past as well as from current events, and this is the purpose of this comparison.


In previous blog postings I have covered the history of Vermont agriculture from the settlements that began after the French and Indian War.  From the early period when the settlers were subsistence farmers, to the growth of cities and towns and early commercial agriculture, Vermont agriculture was always in a condition of change.  Vermont farmers were diversified farmers from the beginning, and adjusted their production over the years according to the needs of nearby and regional markets.  Waterborne transportation was important, on both Lake Champlain and, with the connection to the rest of the U.S., through the Champlain Canal, and also down the Connecticut River through the locks to Hartford, Connecticut. Until the beginning of the railroads after the late 1840’s this was the main means of transporting Vermont’s products to market.


Vermont was primarily an agricultural state with about thirty percent of its population of over three hundred and fifty thousand engaged in farming or related industries.  Of the then twenty-seven thousand farms in the State, over one half received their income from dairy farming.  After the early 1900’s, Vermont farmers had become major suppliers of milk to regional markets, with eighty-five percent of the milk produced going out of state, with railroads being the major means of transportation. For example, fifty percent of Boston’s milk came from Vermont.  Vermont had the highest level of dairy production per capita of any state, and was the most dairy dependent.  Also, since the demise of the merino sheep industry in the 1850’s, dairy production had further migrated to the better river valley lands.

Much has been written about this period (see references). There was not any advance warning system like today, nor any long-range radar, cell phones, TV, instant messaging or facebook.  Not all rural towns had electricity.  It had been a very wet October in Vermont.  On November 2, 3,and 4th, two great storms collided over the state.  One came from the Gulf of Mexico and the other from the Great Lakes, dropping up to nine inches of water on a already water drenched land mass in a forty-five hour period.  In one comparison, it was said that it was like “one cubic mile of the Atlantic Ocean being deposited on the State.”  According to records from that time, “in a single day, Vermont was deprived of all modern conveniences; mail, telegraph, telephones, lights, gas, piped water, highways, railroad connections.  The State had been set back a Century.” (See Vermont of Today by Arthur Stone).

There are many tragic stories from this period, and stories of heroism too.  Neighbors helped neighbors, communities helped other communities, and strangers helped those in need.  President Coolidge dispatched his Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover to the State, where he made the statement “I have seen the worst of Vermont but the best of its people.” Federal assistance was requested and provided.  The Red Cross took full responsibility for finding housing and medical relief.  Some eight thousand Vermonters were provided with food, shelter and medical relief.  Over one million dollars came in from contributors in other states.  New England banks pledged one million dollars in capital stock to guarantee low interest loans to farms, businesses, and other industries.  The State legislature appropriated eight million for two hundred miles of new roads.  It is said that Vermont officials did not hesitate to cut red tape to deal with immediate needs.


The Flood created a spirited sense of partnership at all levels within Vermont. While work was immediate to repair infrastructure, there was a yearning for developing a vision and plans for the future, to use all the positive energy to move Vermont forward.  This was to build upon the strengths of the past, but with an enlightened plan. “The great flood of November 1927, and the magnificent response to the call for concerted effort awakened in Vermonters a fuller sense of their powers and gave them a new impulse which will be felt for years to come.” (Country Life Commission Report). Thus in the spring of 1928, just six months after the flood, the Vermont Commission on Country Life was organized.  Chaired by Ex Governor Weeks (who had been raised on a Salisbury dairy farm and was Governor during the flood), it was the first time a group of Vermonters formally assessed the State of the State and planned for the future.  Funded by the Social Science Research Council and the Rockefeller Foundation, it was a plan for rural rejuvenation and development in Vermont, thus a blueprint for the future.  Its Executive Director was Henry C. Taylor, one of the noted national agricultural economists of the time, and later to become the first Executive Director of the Farm Foundation.  Some three hundred Vermonters were asked to participate in the effort over a three-year period. (My wife’s grandfather, Dr. E.H. Bancroft chaired the dairy committee).  It was a very thorough and comprehensive assessment of all aspects of Vermont: people, soils and climate, agriculture, forestry and the woodworking industry, summer residents and tourism, fish, game and the preservation of wild life, land utilization, rural home and community life, recreation, medical facilities for rural people, education facilities for rural people, the care of those in need, rural government, and other topics.  The report set the agenda for the next few decades.


What then U.S. Secretary of Commerce Hoover said about Vermont in 1927 is true today as well.  “I have seen some of the worst of Vermont, but the best of its people.”  The response at all levels to the damages caused by Irene was immediate, with help being provided to those in need.  The stories of heroic actions are known, people risking their own lives to help.  In agriculture, land was flooded and many crops were destroyed, and in a few cases animals were lost. The response from many was immediate: The Governor, like his predecessor, Governor Weeks in 1927, requested federal assistance.  Unlike 1927, procedures exist today for requesting disaster declarations from the federal level, and a very extensive network of agencies, organizations and others exist to provide assistance to those in need too.


There is a so-called “Renaissance of the Past” going on in local and regional food systems today as consumers develop an interest in knowing where their food comes from.  In Vermont this is being expressed in many ways.  These include but are not limited to: the growth of artesian and other specialist products such as cheeses, expansion of farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture (CSA’s), new vineyards with specialty wines and other spirits, the expansion of so called “food hubs” within the State, increased sale of local produced foods to institutions, more farm raised beef and other animal meats, increased vegetable production, pick your own fruit operations, a well known farm to school program, expanding maple operations, and other emerging products.  These enterprises come from existing farmers as well as a new generation of farmers. While dairy still represents over seventy-five percent of the gross revenue to agriculture, there is an increased degree of diversification taking place within Vermont.
This “new” diversification is reminiscent of the kind of farming our ancestors practiced.

Like the period following 1927 Flood, Vermonters want a vision for the future, something that can inspire them.  In agriculture it is fortunate that a lot of work has been taking place over the past to address longer-term needs for an economically viable agriculture sector within a working landscape.  The Farm to Plate assessment has identified a number of specific needs in its ten-year plan or vision for the future.  Likewise, the Working Landscape Council has developed a five point action plan for the future that if implemented would create jobs related to agriculture and forestry that are so important to what Vermont is known for.  Both plans require bold policy leadership going forward.  They both recognize that a majority of Vermonters surveyed want a Vermont that is economically viable and sustainable, with agriculture and forestry at its core.  As Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross stated at the Farm to Plate Fairlee Conference, “it will take capital, collaboration, and the willingness of all to roll up our sleeves for these common objectives.”  2011 is not 1927, but as President Coolidge stated when he returned to Vermont in 1928, “Vermont is a State I Love.”  To deal with the future, we too must understand the past.

Note:  It was just over two years ago that National Geographic rated Vermont as the number five place in the World to visit and the number one place in the United States to visit.  They attributed this to our landscape and quaint villages, and to the fact that there is a plan for the future.  Thus, it is time that we Vermonters collectively do something similar to what was done in 1928; develop a vision and a plan for Vermont’s future coming out of the period of Irene.


See information on Farm to Plate
See Working Landscape Action Plan at:


It is a time of significant change in Vermont agriculture.  The interest in food systems has created an excitement at many levels within the State.  While dairy still represents the major agricultural enterprise, and is subject to farm gate pricing challenges, there is still recognition that the State’s dairy sector is the anchor of the Vermont’s agriculture and working landscape while maple is the soul.  All types of agricultural production are important just as it always has been. The ingredients for success have been studied at many levels.  As mentioned in my blog posting “Tipping Points”, some of the leaders in agriculture in 1872 recognized the importance of the growing markets of the east to the economic health of Vermont’s agriculture.  They said, after witnessing the loss of the Merino sheep industry, the butter market, and the beef trade due to competition, that it was useless to compete with the West on a commodity basis. (“…. only those will prosper who use their minds in studying how to cater to the demands of this growing market and this changing state of things.”)  Catering to the local and regional markets with value added and other products that meet the needs of consumers is what will sustain Vermont agriculture longer term.  Many believe this is the case today. The Working Landscape five point action plan, as well as recommendations from the Farm-to-Plate assessment, provides some steps to take on investment, capital, infrastructure, and educational needs to achieve goals relative to a viable agricultural and forestry economy in Vermont.

References and Sources for this blog posting

  • Agriculture of Vermont, First Annual Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture of the State of Vermont, 1909.
  • Agriculture of Vermont, Fourteenth Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, State of Vermont, 1926-1928.
  • Chapter XI, “The Great Flood of 1927”, and Chapter XII, “How Vermont Came Back”, in The Vermont of Today, Vol. 1, by Arthur Stone, Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc. 1927.
  • Rural Vermont, A Program for the Future by Two Hundred Vermonters, The Vermont Commission on Country Life, Burlington, 1931.
  • New England Flood Disaster, November 1927, Official Report of the Relief Work, American National Red Cross, 1927.
  • 1927 Flood, Landscape Change Program, University of Vermont.
  • Vermont’s Greatest National Disaster, Vermont Historical Society.
  • Why Coolidge Said “I Love Vermont”, 2005-2009, Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 97, Plymouth, Vermont.
  • The Troubled Roar of the Water: Vermont in Flood and Recovery, 1927-1931, by Deborah Pickman Clifford and Nicholas R. Clifford.
  • “Vermont Commission on Country Life, 1931, in Vermont Today by Rutland Herald and Times Argus.
  • The 1927 Flood in Vermont and New England, November 3-7, 1927: A Historical and Pictorial Summary. Misinger, William Elliot.
  • A State of Nature: Readings in Harford History. Samuel B. Hand.
  • Doyle: A tale of two Vermont floods, by Opinion, September 12, 2011, in

Answer to Last Trivia Question:  When was the Vermont Department of Agriculture established?  A law was passed in 1908 that abolished the Board of Agriculture and replaced it with the position of Commissioner of Agriculture appointed by the Governor.  In his first Report (Annual Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture in 1909), Commissioner Orlando L. Martin recommended the abolishment of the Farmers’ Institutes that had been held by the Board of Agriculture, and in its place the establishment of Movable Schools of Agriculture such as have been adopted by some sister states.  Something of this sort, according to Commissioner Martin, was the First Annual Farmers’ Week held under the direction of the State Agricultural College and Commissioner of Agriculture, March 8-12, 1909.

Trivia Question:  Which counties in Vermont had the greatest hops production and in what years?

Edition No. 13, October 29, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Some say federal farm and agricultural policies reflect conditions and influences of the time.  Since the establishment of the New Deal programs of the 1930’s, there has been significant debate and many changes in the focus and direction of U.S. farm policy.
One effort to look back and forecast into the future took place in 1984 with the Farm Credit System.  With the debate now going on with the U.S. budget, and the pending farm bill, it is useful to speculate again about the direction of national agricultural policies.

Project 1995 was a national effort by Farm Credit System to look into the future relative to a number of subjects: cooperatives, rural America, finance, the farm sector, and agricultural policies.  A number of experts in the field, in and out of government, were interviewed in each area to get their perspective on the future.  Conditions at the time in the U.S. included high interest rates, high inflation, an overvalued dollar, and a high deficit.  The U.S. was engaged in a Cold War with the then U.S.S.R. The value of U.S. farm exports had grown from $6.7 billion in the 1970’s to $32 billion by 1979.  Farm program costs had reached $18.8 billion in 1983.

The Farm Credit System, “Government Policy Toward Agriculture and Finance in 1995”, June 1984:
This was a project that I was fortunate to have helped manage with the President of the then Springfield (MA) Farm Credit Banks. The study methodology involved the development of questions to help identify and analyze current and future trends.  These questions were discussed during in-depth interviews with about fifty national experts.  Among those interviewed were members of Congress, congressional aides, university professors, financial consultants, media experts, representatives of trade associations, and executive branch officials.   Those interviewed had a grasp on the past, and a perspective on the future.  Some notable individuals at the time included then Congressman Leon Panetta (now Secretary of Defense but then a member of the House Committee on Agriculture); Herman Tallmadge, former U.S. Senator from Georgia, former Governor, and former Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture; John Block and Richard Lyng, one then Secretary of Agriculture and the other to become Secretary of Agriculture; Earl Butz, former Secretary of Agriculture in the Nixon Administration; Don Paarlberg, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University and an official in U.S.D.A. during the Eisenhower Administration.

The Report noted, in its background statement, that prior to the New Deal, questions about farm policy were often indistinguishable from broader policy questions about the U.S. economy as a whole.  Some of the most prominent political issues for farmers in the mid nineteenth century concerned tariffs, the gold standard, corporate charters, monopolies and the commercial banking system.  The explicit and implicit goals of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 and later statutes were to: 1) increase productivity, 2) enhance farm income, 3) stabilize farm prices and supplies, 4) allow for orderly marketing, 5) protect the natural resource base, 6) ensure food security, 7) protect the health of the public, 8) preserve the family farm, and 9) promote agricultural exports.  The report also noted the many changes that had taken place in U.S. agriculture since the passage of the New Deal programs.  These included: 1) technology advances, 2) links with the general economy, 3) internationalization of U.S. agriculture, 4) structural changes in the farm sector, 5) increased farm program costs, and 6) decline in the farm population.

The extensive interviews conducted with these many individuals led to the following conclusions:

  • U.S. agriculture will consist of three distinct segments…large farms, small or part-time farms and a transitional middle group.
  • Government support programs will likely have some restrictions limiting the level of support.
  • The farm programs, which exist in 1995, will likely provide a “safety net” but the safety net will probably be set at relatively low levels.
  • U.S. agriculture and the abundance of food will continue to be taken for granted by Congress and the American public.
  • Congress will be more urban and less willing to grant agriculture special favors.
  • Congressional committees, other than the agriculture committees, will have a hand in developing legislation that affects agriculture.
  • The “farm bloc” will continue to be fragmented.
  • Nonfarm groups will become increasingly important in the agricultural policy making programs.
  • A long-term and comprehensive agriculture and food policy is urgently needed to balance supply and demand and to enhance marketing opportunities worldwide for U.S. agricultural products.

Many of those interviewed felt that the internationalization of U.S. agriculture exposes farmers to new sources of instability that cannot be solved by existing domestic farm programs or any other singular solution.  It is in that context that the many advocated the need for a long-term and comprehensive agriculture and food policy as noted above.

Farm policies reflect conditions at the time, and the influence of special interest groups.   Some experts contend that there are three distinct periods in federal agricultural policies (see Flinchbaugh and Knutson, Choices Magazine):  These are 1) the price support era of the 1930-1960’s, 2) the income support era of the 1970-1990’s, and 3) the market oriented era of the l990’s to the present.  In an effort to maintain support from more urban members of Congress, new titles and programs have been added over time.  Examples include the food stamp program in 1961; conservation provisions and land retirement in 1985; renewal energy in 2002; and specialty crops in 2007.  Note in 1930, 21.5% of the workforce was engaged in or employed in agriculture, and the agriculture GDP was 7.7%; in 2002, 1.9% was employed and the GDP was .7%.

Since the 2002 Farm Bill became legislation, the political environment has changed in Washington.  The continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have commanded billions of dollars, and the costs of many mandatory spending programs have increased dramatically.  Congress is divided among partisan lines, and compromise seems an elusive goal to many.  It is in this context that Congress developed a “grand plan” to address the federal deficit.  The special congressional committee of twelve is asked to cut the federal budget by $1.5 trillion, and reach agreement by November 2011.  If they are unable to do this, automatic sequestration is to take place in the amount of $1.2 trillion, evenly split between domestic and defense spending.

What are some of the choices going forward for agricultural policies?  It is important to understand the USDA program costs.  Approximately 74% of spending is for nutrition assistance; 13% for farm and commodity programs, and 7% for conservation and forestry.  Of the total USDA budget, $121 billion (81%) is for mandatory programs, and $24 billion (19%) is for discretionary programs.  Mandatory programs include nutrition assistance, farm commodity programs, and crop insurance; export promotion programs, and a number of conservation programs.  Discretionary includes WIC (women, infants, and children nutrition), rural development loans and grants, research and education, soil and water technical assistance, animal and plant health, management of National Forests, wild land fire, and other Forest Service activities, and domestic and international marketing assistance.  Thirty-seven programs now in the Farm Bill lose their baseline funding in 2011.

It is difficult to project the future at this time relative to possible budget changes and the impact on Vermont.  Priorities have included nutritional assistance (13.6 % of Vermonter’s are food insecure, and one of eight receive 3squarevt (food stamps)), soil and land conservation, economic development, food safety and animal health, food security (local and regional food systems), value added agriculture product development and marketing, education, and research to name but a few.  Many of these various priorities of the past will likely see reduced federal support.

Both efforts are complementary:  one, Farm to Plate (see Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund at, with a list of strategic goals for the future of agriculture and food systems in Vermont, and the other, with an Action Plan to maintain and encourage a working landscape in the State (see Vermont Council on Rural Development at  Both recognize the need for significant capital investment going forward in order to achieve articulated goals, and to ensure policy changes at the State level, as well as collaboration at all levels.

While exciting things are taking place in agriculture and food systems in Vermont, dairy farming represents the major economic force and has the greatest impact on agricultural land use.  It is in this context that there has been much discussion over the years about the future of agriculture.  (See my blog posting of June 14th, Tipping Point, or Events or Conditions that Led to Changes in Vermont Agriculture Over Time and the Dairy Sector Today).  This blog posting listed some of the significant actions that have been identified from past studies and discussions to address the dairy industry’s future in Vermont.  Some of the specific actions needed to address the above include: 1) risk management strategies to include on the farm diversification, 2) new food product innovations, 3) strategies to grow the milk supply, 4) increased collaboration with educational and research institutions to include UVM’s food system’s spire of excellence, 5) farm incubators to train a new generation of farmers, and 6) use of dairy profitability and farm viability teams.


It was after the 1927 flood that the “Report Rural Vermont, A Program for the Future” was completed by the Vermont Commission on Country Life.  The Report noted in its introduction that “whatever may have been the misgivings when the great flood of November 1927, and the magnificent response to the call for concerted effort awakened in Vermonters a fuller sense of their power and gave them a new impulse which will be felt through the years.  Fortunate it was that the work of the Commission on Country Life synchronized with this new impulse.”

The recent flood has again demonstrated the magnificent response at all levels in Vermont, and has again awakened a fuller sense of power to address challenges. The two initiatives mentioned above, Farm to Plate and the Working Landscape Action Plan, have laid out objectives going forward for farms, forestry, and food systems and thus a working landscape so important to Vermont’s past, present, and future.  Like the Country Life Commission Report of 1932, these plans are synchronized with this new impulse for positive response in the future.


  • Project 1995, “Government Policy Toward Agriculture and Finance in 1995”, The Farm Credit System, June 1984.
  • Project 1995, “The Nature and Role of Cooperatives and Agribusiness in 1995, The Farm Credit System”, June 1984.
  • The 1985 Farm Bill and Future Natural Resource Policy Education, by Richard Barrows, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy, by Carolyn Dimitri, Anne Effland, and Neilson Conklin, USDA ERS, Electronic Information Bulletin No. 3, June 2005.
  • Farm Subsidy Tradition and Modern Agricultural Realities, by Daniel A. Sumner, Director, University of California Agricultural Issues Center.
  • Agricultural Policy Outlook: Looking Back Focuses the Road Ahead, by Barry Flinchbaugh and Ron Knutson, in Choices, The Magazine of Food, Farm, and Resource Issues, 4th Quarter 2004.
  • The Grand Bargain of U.S. Farm Policy: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, by Stephanie Mercier, U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, AAEA Annual Meeting, Long Beach, July 2006.
  • Growing Pressures on Farm Policy, by J. Corey Miller, Mississippi State University, in Regulation, Winter 2004-5.
  • FY 2012 Budget Summary and Annual Performance Plan, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Economic Effects of U.S. Dairy Policy and Alternative Approaches to Milk Policy, USDA, Report to Congress, July 2004.
  • The Hagstrom Report, Stabenow, Roberts, Investigating Farm Program Cuts, August 25, 2011.
  • The Environment of the Next Farm Bill Debate, by Steven L. Klose, Choices Magazine.
  • Deficit Reduction has Serious Implications for Future of U.S. Agriculture, American Farmland Trust, August 10, 2011.
  • Farm Bill: Biofuels, Trade; Agriculture Economy; Animal Agriculture; and Climate, in
  • Farm Safety Net Programs: Issues for the Next Farm Bill, by Dennis A. Shields, Jim Monke, Randy Schnepf, Congressional Research Service, September 10, 2010.
  • Downsizing the Federal Government, by Chris Edwards, CATO Institute, July 2009.
  • The 2012 Farm Bill: An Opportunity to Support Farmers and Promote Public Health, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, August 2010.
  • Don’t End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them, by Mark Bittman, N.Y. Times Op-Ed, Monday September 5, 2011.

LAST TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the first Vermont Secretary of Agriculture who promoted tourism?

Answer:  The first promotion of agricultural tourism was by Victor Spear, Statistical Secretary to the Vermont Board of Agriculture.  In 1893 he stated “Now there is no crop more profitable than this crop from the city, and it is one that comes directly to the farmer, and he should encourage and promote this visiting from our city cousins.”  He also stated in 1894 “It needs no argument to prove the importance of this industry to the State.  It is doubtful if any agricultural product, except the dairy product, is bringing as much money to the State at the present time as our summer visitors, and even our dairy product would find there a close rival in point of profit.” His enthusiasm, vision, and leadership led to the publication, A LIST OF DESIRABLE FARMS AND SUMMER HOMES IN VERMONT written in 1895.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  What was the year that the Vermont Department of Agriculture was established?

Edition 12, September 8, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011


This blog posting can not adequately cover all the research and other reports that have been written over many years on agricultural education in the United States, and in Vermont.  From the Colonial period on there has been an increased attention to education in a country that was largely agrarian in the beginning.  Much of the early influence for agricultural teaching and research came from European models of agricultural societies and agricultural teaching institutes.  The push for public education in agriculture and the sciences occurred much before Justin Morrill promoted the historic Land Grant Act.  Changes in agriculture, in rural communities, in farm and other agricultural organizations, in society, and in financial support over time have changed the nature of agricultural education and the demand for it. 


In the United States there was a vast expansion of agriculture after the American Revolution.  European influences on our education system are well documented, and especially as it relates to agriculture and the sciences.  According to documents (See History of Agricultural Education in the United States), “18th Century Europe was marked by the establishment of a number of agricultural societies and schools in connection with which agriculture was taught and practiced.”  It was natural then, that many of these societies in the United States were modeled after those in Europe.  For example, Ben Franklin in 1744 established the American Philosophical Society and the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1785.  Similar societies were established in other States:  Hallowell, Maine in 1787; New Jersey 1790; New York 1792; Massachusetts 1792; Connecticut 1794; and in 1819-1820 in all counties in New Hampshire. The interest in these agricultural societies flourished after the formation of the Berkshire Agricultural Society in Massachusetts (see Growing A Nation, the Story of American Agriculture), and by 1860 there were 941 of these societies in the Untied States. While many of these societies were noted for their educational activities associated with county fairs, they also exerted a very strong influence on agricultural polices and agricultural education within the United States during this time.

According to documents, these local and country agricultural societies continued to be organized and spread over the country with the Westward settlement.  New England had several agricultural societies, including many in Vermont (originators of county fairs).  A U.S. Agricultural Society was organized in 1852, and a Vermont Agricultural Society around 1850 (former Governor Fredrick Holbrook of Brattleboro was a founder and first President from 1850-1858).  As noted before, these agricultural societies provided educational opportunities for farmers and their families, and promoted the teaching of agriculture in schools.  These societies also encouraged agricultural industries and had forums for the exchange of ideas, the by-product being the county fairs, a concept again adopted from Europe. They were also influential in establishing State Board of Agriculture in many of the States.  For example, the first State Board of Agriculture was established in New York in 1819, New Hampshire in 1820, and in Massachusetts in 1852.  Vermont established a Board of Agriculture, Manufacturing, Mining, and Statistics in 1870 by an act of the State Legislature (see last blog posting on Tipping Points). 


The need for public education at the College level in agriculture and the sciences was not a new concept.  As early as 1787, it is stated that George Washington proposed a national public university for agriculture and the sciences.  Several of the private colleges and Universities such as Yale, Harvard, and Amherst had agricultural science courses.  Prior to the Land Grant Act, there were several petitions to Congress for the creation of public colleges for agricultural instruction (see History of Agricultural Education in U.S.). In 1838 there was a proposal to use the James Smithson’s Grant (Founder of Smithsonian Institution) to establish a national agricultural college.  One of our own early Vermont educational leaders, Alden Partridge, founder of Norwich University, in 1841 proposed to Congress a national system of colleges combining arts, sciences, and practical studies including agriculture, supported by the sale of public lands (see Robert Sinclair).   The Morrill Land Grant Act then was the culmination of a very long and arduous attempt to create public educational institutions for agriculture and the sciences.  Morrill’s first attempt, per a Congressional Resolution in 1856, was for the creation of one or more national agricultural schools like the military service academies (see History of Agriculture Education in the U.S.).  Morrill used his influence and great ability to move along a concept that had been generated by others over a long period of time, and the historic land grant act was passed in 1862.  President Abraham Lincoln signed it, at that time. (President Buchanan had vetoed it earlier).

The Land Grant Act of 1862 was considered a historic achievement that changed the course of agriculture in the United States. “Andrew White, for many years the President of Cornell University and later Minister to Germany rated Senator Justin Morrill’s work very high.  He stated that it was his opinion, that the Land Grant Act deserves to be ranked…. with those of Hamilton in advocating the U.S. Constitution, and of Jefferson in acquiring Louisiana, and of Clay in giving us a truly American Policy.”(See Justin Smith Morrill by Parker).


Vermont was early in recognizing the need for proper education, and in 1840 the Vermont Committee on Education reported in favor of facilities for education for mechanics and the farmer (see William Belmont Parker).   Following the trend elsewhere, county agricultural societies were established like the Berkshire Agricultural Society that was established in 1811 (Berkshire, Ma).  Addison County (1843), Lamoille County (1847), and others were established at the county level within Vermont.  These county societies provided the forums through fairs for education by means of livestock and equipment displays and demonstrations for farmers and their families. They also became a voice for the farm community in the State, prior to the Grange and Farm Bureau.  A State Agricultural Society, as noted, was organized in 1850.  It became a voice for the creation of the State Board of Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Mining in 1870, the forerunner to the State Department of Agriculture in 1909.

Education for farmers was an important objective. In reading the Agricultural Reports of the State Board of Agriculture for Vermont it is evident that this was achieved by holding “Institutes” in various counties each year across the State.  For example in the period 1883-84, the Board held forty-seven meetings.  These early farmers’ institutes were said to be “patented after teachers’ institutions and were chiefly organized and promoted by various state and county agricultural societies.” These farmer institutes were the forerunner of the Extension Service, and declined after the passage of the Smith-Lever Act (that authorized the Extension Service) in 1914 (see A History of Farmers Institutes).


With the passage of the Land Grant Act, the Vermont Legislature passed legislation in 1863 that attempted to unite three Vermont educational institutions into a Land Grant College.  These three were the then private University of Vermont, Norwich University, and Middlebury College.  As there was not a unified position from the three colleges to this proposal, the initiative failed.  (Justin Morrill supported this unified proposal, and when it failed suggested a new Land Grant to be located in his hometown of Strafford, Vermont, with a personal five thousand dollar challenge grant).

The University of Vermont became the Land Grant, but it was an alliance not fully supported by the Vermont farm community.  In 1890 the Vermont State Grange argued that the College of Agriculture could not do its best work when connected to the University of Vermont.  The Grange demanded that the State legislature dissolve the partnership between the University and the College of Agriculture, saying that Land Grant funds had been used for other purposes other than agricultural education.  Furthermore, UVM had not granted a single diploma to an agricultural student in the twenty-five years since the University became a Land Grant institution. (See The Grange in Vermont by Horton and Stillwell).  A bill was introduced in the Vermont legislature to create the Vermont State Agricultural and Mechanical College, separate from the University of Vermont.

Hearings in the Vermont Legislature were held on the proposal put forth by the Grange.  Senator Justin Morrill was brought in to testify in support of UVM as the Land Grant Institution.  According to records, a compromise was achieved with the State Agricultural Society and the Grange.  A new group of nine trustees would be appointed by the Governor, with two each being proposed by the State Agricultural Society, the State Grange, and the Dairyman’s Association (See The Grange of Vermont).  Nevertheless, it still remained a questionable alliance with the Vermont farm community, and in 1912 the State created a Commission to investigate the educational system and conditions in Vermont, the Carnegie Foundation Survey.  Its report stated “that the situation in which the College of Agriculture finds itself, the lack of equipment, the empirical quality of its courses, and the failure to connect with industries of the State, is the result of a policy of the Administration for which the trustees are responsible.  In conclusion, the Foundation stated that it is our experience of fifty years in agricultural education that a trade school will not grow in a University atmosphere” (See The Grange of Vermont).


T.G. Bronson of Hardwick, a noted Jersey breeder and then Chair of the Vermont House Agriculture Committee, was father of a bill creating the State School of Agriculture in Randolph in 1910. (The Vermont Dairymen’s Association had called for the State’s support of a secondary school of agriculture in 1908). One had been created earlier when Theodore Vail, President of AT &T endowed a school of agriculture in conjunction with Lyndon Institute for practical training in agriculture.  This institute was turned over to the State in 1915, and agriculture was dropped from its courses in 1921.  It is interesting that in the Report Rural Vermont, A Program for the future, the Vermont Commission on Country Life of 1931, it is stated “that a former state superintendent of education was wont to say (before the establishment of the State School of Agriculture) that if a Vermont lad wished to secure training in agriculture within state borders and was not fitted to enter the College of Agriculture it was necessary for him to commit a crime.  He then would be placed in the Industrial School at Vergennes—then called the Reform School—where secondary school agriculture was being taught, the only place in the state where at that time it was being taught.”


Even though UVM had received the Land Grant designation, and a compromise was reached in 1890 relative to the makeup of the Board of Trustees, there still remained a questionable alliance with rural Vermont and the farm community.   According to Robert Sinclair (See the University of Vermont, the First Two Hundred Years), “decades of effort, distinguished by leadership of Dean Joseph Hills and Dean Joseph Carrigan, were still required to bridge the gap between rural Vermonters, suspicious of book farming, and the University of Vermont’s tradition of classical learning. By 1900, when Hills received the title of Dean, thirty-five years after the formation of UVM and the State Agriculture College, the State had a School of Agriculture in substance as well as in name, but it had taken a major threat from the legislature to separate the College from the University before UVM was willing to honor its commitment.”  Dean Hills, according to Sinclair, recognized the importance of the College of Agriculture’s connection to rural Vermont and the farm community. Prior to federal funding for county extension work (Smith Lever Act of 1914), Hills received State support to fund three agents to conduct relationship work.  The Extension Service, and its connection with the Experiment Station and University, became the key support network that built the partnership with the farm community that the College of Agriculture largely lacked but critically needed.   The county extension system reinforced and cemented the farm community and rural Vermont’s connection to the University of Vermont and the College of Agriculture.


Much had been accomplished in agricultural education in the first 50 years, since the passage of the Land Grant Act in 1862.  The Federal Hatch Act authorized the creation of State Experiment Stations, patented after those in Europe, the first one being organized in
Connecticut.  This was again a partnership with the state, and organized primarily to focus on the research needs of agriculture in the area.  The State Board of Agriculture advocated for the establishment of a Station in Vermont, connected to the College of Agriculture, and the legislature authorized its establishment in 1886.  The Federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914 authorized the establishment of the Extension Service, again a partnership with the State of Vermont and the College of Agriculture.  Further enhancement of agricultural education in public schools happened with the passage of the federal Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.  The State School of Agriculture was created at Randolph in 1910, in recognition of the needs for applied educational training.  UVM’s role as a Land Grant was questioned until the arrival of aggressive and committed leadership of Dean Hills and Carrigan, and the establishment of the Extension Service. 


A lot has changed, so the saying goes.  While there is a so-called renaissance in agriculture in Vermont, there is also an increased interest in and attention to agricultural education, at all levels.  New support organizations are being established from time to time, to address producer concerns.  Farm to School programs, food hubs, Farm to Plate initiates inspire a younger generation of existing and potential farmers. Programs at private colleges as well as State Colleges and the University College of Agriculture continue to attract new entrants interested in agriculture, the practical or applied, and the scientific.

In light of these needs and the costs associated with education and research, the role of the Land Grant is being challenged both in Vermont as well as in other States.   Some have suggested (see the Land Grant Institution in the 21st Century by Michael Martin) that the Land Grants must address three questions: 1) what can Land Grant colleges do best in light of 21st Century realities of costs and funding; 2) how can they best create partnerships and collaborative alliances; and 3) how can the public be persuaded that these investments are worthy of support?

A study funded by the Vermont Department of Education in 2010 (See Growing Jobs Vermont Style), recommended a number of options, going forward, to address agricultural educational needs in Vermont.  Some of the suggestions include having public and private institutions, to include the community college, partnering around a food based mission; clustering educational hubs around the Career Centers; having a curriculum on sustainable agriculture for High Schools such as the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems has done at the University of Wisconsin; providing internships; increasing the collaborative model like that established with the 2 plus 2 program; having a middle college such as in Europe for an associate degree; and expanding life-long learning opportunities and establishing certificate programs..   While many of these are already being implemented or discussed, it will take continued enlightened leadership at all levels to “break down silos” around new initiatives to include collaborative models.


It is an exciting time in Vermont.  There continues to be growth in value added agriculture with new initiatives and with products from the land and animals.  Vermont is becoming known for its food systems.  There has also been an expansion of educational opportunities in agriculture at all levels to include farm to school programs, business incubators, farm viability, food hubs, technical training, and other venues to include the Colleges (public and private), and the University.  Vermont Technical College has developed and is offering a Bachelor of Science Program in diversified agriculture. The University of Vermont has selected Food Systems as one of its “Spires of Excellence”(See Fogel, Knodell, and Grasso memo to faculty, staff, and students of April 16th, 2010).  This is an extraordinary opportunity for the University and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to build those collaborative models with VTC and others institutions in order to have a vibrant and sustainable model for education and research and educational outreach in Vermont.  Food Systems do touch every part of our State and its people, and success requires the engagement of many critical partners, both private and public. Many have argued the status quo approach to education and research is not sustainable.  Changes are needed, and new paradigms of collaboration must be explored.

Next year, 2012, is the one hundred and fifty year anniversary of the historic passage and signing of the Land Grant Act in 1862.  It could be another lasting tribute to the memory of Vermont’s late Senator Justin Morrill if a functional and operative collaborative educational and research model around food systems in Vermont could be announced at that time.  It should be a model that involves many partners, public and private, and other Colleges and Institutions.  It is a wonderful opportunity for such a celebration, the one hundred fifty years since the passage, and it should not be lost.


  • The Vermont of Today by Arthur F. Stone, Vol. 1 and II, Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc. NY 1929.
  • The Grange in Vermont by Guy B. Horton and Henry A. Stoddard, and Harold J. R. Stillwell, The Crowles Press, St. Johnsbury, 1968
  • Justin Smith Morrill by William Belmont Parket, Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1924
  • “Agricultural Education and Extension in Vermont” by Robert Sinclair in The University of Vermont, The First Two Hundred Years by Robert D. Daniels, Senior Edition, UVM, 1991.
  • A History of Agricultural Education in the United States, 1785-1925, Alfred Charles True, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1929.
  • Address to Vt. State Agricultural Society and Wool Growers’ Association at its Annual Fair at Burlington, Sept. 16, 1869 by Honorable Luke P. Poland,
  • Growing a Nation, The Story of American Agriculture,
  • The U.S. Agricultural Society, 1852-60, Agricultural History 1937 by Agricultural History Society
  • New York Times, Sept. 5, 1866, “Fair of New England and the Vermont Agricultural Society.”
  • Address to the New England Agricultural Society by John A. Andrew, Governor of Massachusetts, at Hampden Park, Springfield, Ma. Sept. 9, 1864.
  • Agricultural Societies What They Are and What They Have Done, by William Brewer in Connecticut Board of Agricultural Annual Report, 1880-1886.
  • A History of Farmer Institutes by Jeffrey W. Moss and Cynthia B. Lass, from Agricultural History, Vol. 62, No. 2, Spring 1988, Agricultural History Society.
  • Growing Jobs Vermont Style: Skills and Knowledge for Vermont’s “Sustainable Food System Cluster” and Natural Resources, May 2010 for the Vermont Department of Education by Regional Technology Strategies Inc. (Stuart Rosenfeld).
  • The Role of the Land Grant Institution in the 21st Century, August 2004, James E. Sherwood, Dean, University Extension, UC Berkeley.
  • The Land Grant University in the 21st Century by Michael V. Martin, Journal of Agriculture and Applied Economics, August 2001.
  • The Cultivator, A Monthly Journal; Devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, New Series, Vol. IV, Albany, NY, 1847
  • “How to Make College Cheaper by Schumpeter, in the Economist”, July 9-15, 2011.
  • Rural Vermont, A Program for the Future, The Vermont Commission on Country Life, Burlington, 1931.
  • Berkshire Agricultural Society in Encyclopedia of American Education, March 16, 2011.
  • Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Justin S. Morrill, February 22, 1899, delivered in the Senate and House of Representatives, Fifty-Fifth Congress, Third Session, Government Printing Office, D.C. 1899.
  • Transdisciplinary Research Initiative-The Spires of Excellence, communication to UVM Faculty, Staff, and Students, Office of the President, April 16, 2010
  • History of Vermont, Vol. Four, by Walter Hill Crockett, The Century History Company, N.Y., 1921.
  • Eighth Vermont Agricultural Report, State Board of Agriculture, 1883-84.

ANSWER TO LAST TRIVIA QUESTION:  Question:  How long did Justin Morrill serve as a Member of Congress, and what are some other things he accomplished besides passage of the Land Grant Act?

Answer:  Justin Morrill served as a member of the U.S. Congress from 1854 until 1898, thirty-four years.  His desire was to see Washington as one of the most beautiful capitals of the world.  He was largely responsible for the erection of the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress building.  He also was responsible for funds to hire Frederick Law Olmstead, the great landscape gardener, to improve the grounds of the Capital.  He is also known for the Tariff Act that helped to finance the North in the Civil War.

NEXT BLOG POSTING:  Historical significance of agriculture’s contribution to tourism in Vermont

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who was the first Commissioner of Agriculture for Vermont to promote agricultural tourism?

Edition No. 11, July 30, 2012

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Vermont agriculture and land use related to farming has changed significantly over time.   What appears clear from this brief analysis of the past is that Vermont has never been immune to international and national events, or economic conditions elsewhere.  Through the years, farmers have had to adapt even when, in some cases, actions were taken by policy officials to forestall or prevent negative impacts. Today, it can be argued, Vermont agriculture continues to go through major transformations.  One of the most significant adaptations might be called a “renaissance of the past” with an increased interest in local foods.  This has resulted in the growth of farmers markets, CSA’s (community supported agriculture), artesian cheese production on farms, and other new enterprises.  (Diversified agriculture has always been an important part of the working landscape in Vermont).  Still, dairy farming is the anchor for Vermont’s agriculture and the many related support industries that exist in the State.  As this transformation continues to take place, we ask what is the likely future for dairy farming and what does the future hold for dairy cooperatives that market most of the milk? This transformational change continues to have an impact on the working landscape as it is known or perceived.


From the beginning of the early settlements after the French and Indian War in the region now known as Vermont, events and other economic influences have brought about changes in agriculture and land use.  The early settlers came to Vermont searching for new productive soils and opportunities.  While they were subsistence farmers with many skills, they benefited from the commercial sale of potash and pearlash (from clearing the forests) in demand in England at the time.  As cities and towns grew, these same farmers supplied nearby communities with many products from their farms.  They did this in exchange for goods that they needed themselves and could not produce.  Waterpower, and the growth of waterborne transportation again helped to transform Vermont agriculture.  While it created new markets in nearby cities like Boston, New York, Albany, and Montreal, it opened up new competition from products being brought into Vermont.  It also made Vermont more dependent upon these products from other regions.  Even though the railroads further opened up new year-round marketing opportunities, this new form of transportation also brought increased competition from the West.  Vermont farmers had to adapt to these changes, as they did in the progression from being the sheep capital of the world to butter, and then to being a fluid milk supplier to regional markets beginning in the late 1800’s and continuing to this day.   The changes did not take place quickly, and there was resistance from many, but it happened nevertheless.  The sheep industry declined due to the loss of protective tariffs and with competition from lower cost producing areas in the West; the same happened with grains, beef, butter, hops, apples and other products.  When many farmers began to specialize in fluid milk production due to demand from the nearby cities like Boston, farmer cooperatives became important in bargaining for fair pricing for their members.  Federal actions relative to dairy price supports and parity pricing could not forestall the pressure for change and the eventual beginning of the deregulation of the dairy industry in the early 1980’s.  The westward movement of milk production in the United States (lower cost of production), combined with pricing deregulation, and increased connections with world markets, has resulted in deep and prolonged pricing cycles that continue to put Vermont and other Northeast dairy farmers at financial risk.


The State Act passed in 1870 (An Act Establishing a Board of Agriculture, Manufacturing, Mining and Statistics) appears to be the first organized attempt of public policy collaboration to address agricultural issues within the State.  This Board, the predecessor to the State Department of Agriculture that was established in 1909, consisted of the Governor as Chair, the President of the State Agriculture College, and six other individuals appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.  While the Board was only required to hold two meetings per year (one business meeting and one public meeting), it undertook during its existence a very aggressive schedule of sessions around the State, working with the then County Agricultural Societies, Dairymen’s clubs and town Agricultural and Horticultural societies.  It’s objective was to secure some uniform and systematic plan of work regarding agriculture throughout the State of Vermont. It was this Board that recommended the establishment of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Vermont, for example.


  • In a paper entitled “The Farmer’s Future”, by Rev. G. F. Wright of Bakersfield delivered at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture in St. Albans on March 6 and 7th, 1872, he stated that “… it is useless for the Vermont farmer to compete with those of the West in raising those few staples of product that can be naturally raised in the west, and that will bear storing and transportation without risk of injury, and without too much expense.”  He went on to say “that the Vermont farmer has a substantial hold on the future.  His soil, his climate, his abundance of pure water, his proximity to markets of the growing cities and villages, give him unrivaled facilities for success….   Only those will prosper who use their minds in studying how to cater to the demands of this growing market and this changing state of things.”    Others expressed similar views.
  • G.G. Small, Esq. of Morrisville stated to the Board (see 1873-1874 Biennial Report of the Board) that, “Vermont as a State is well adapted to butter making.  We cannot compete with the West in beef, pork, wool or grain, and not much longer in butter unless we are making a superior product.”
  • M. O. Howe of Fayetteville in the report of the State Board of Agriculture, 1875-1876, stated that, “it is the value of the products, not the quantity, that indicates the profits of agriculture.  There will continue to be the difference of freight and commissions between the markets of the East and the West.”
  • Some seven years later, Lyman W. Peet of Cornwall, Vermont in a paper presented to the State Board of Agriculture in 1883-84 entitled “Eastern and Western Farming”, stated that “only by the use of greater skill and capital by which production shall be cheapened with a quality so superior as to command the highest price in the market, can we hope successfully to meet Western competition.
  • In the Tenth Report of the Board of Agriculture in 1888-1889 a writer stated that “the selling price of all agricultural commodities tends to approach the lowest cost of production, and the West with cheap feed can produce at less cost than New England.”
  • An author in the 15th and 16th Report of the Board of Agriculture for 1894-1895 stated that, “our own state has seen one industry after another go down under the fierce competition of cheap western land.  Our sheep, beef, and grain production have all been borne down through this cause, and today our dairymen are manfully contesting the ground with these same forces.”

These individuals, like some before and many after them, were visionaries.  They had seen change, had been part of it, and recognized the strengths and competitive advantages of farming in Vermont. As noted above, an important advantage to the Vermont farmer was being near emerging markets, and growing and producing products of the highest quality to meet nearby consumer needs.  Even later, after the creation of the State Department of Agriculture, there were similar views.  Then Commissioner of Agriculture E.S. Brigham in his annual report stated, “The products that belong in the East are those that are adapted to our soil and climate and are needed in large market centers.”(Fifth annual report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1913).


Numerous public policies and programs at the federal and state level have been implemented over time to assist farmers. These policies and programs have addressed education (Land Grant College, Vermont Technical College, vocational education), research (Experiment Station); outreach in education (UVM Extension Service); soil, water and land conservation (USDA Soil Conservation Service, Conservation Districts, Agency of Agriculture); purchase of development rights,(Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and Vermont Land Trust), crop insurance, cooperative marketing (Capper-Volstead Act and growth of farmer cooperatives), tariff protections (limitations on import of dairy and other products to U.S.), market orders and orderly marketing, organic standards, disaster assistance, taxation (income and property), electricity(rural electric), energy development (methane digesters and new farm based energy crops), communications (rural telephone system), credit(USDA Farm Service, Farm Credit, and Vermont Agricultural Credit Corp.), farm viability, new product and market development (USDA Rural Development), state and regional marketing, food and product safety, and farmland protection (Act 250 with prime and statewide soils), to mention but a few.  Attempts have also been made by policy officials to protect farmers from negative pricing and resulting impacts. Some examples from the past include fighting for higher tariffs on wool (1820’s through 1830’s and later); railroad freight rates (interstate commerce); laws to outlaw the coloring of margarine (1900’s); work to pass laws for market orders (1930’s); minimum parity pricing for dairy (1949); and more recently the Northeast dairy compact and the MILC or milk income loss compensation program.    


Others in the past were not so sanguine about the future of Vermont agriculture, particularly dairy. An editorial in one of the State papers back in 1881-1882 (see Seventh State Board of Agriculture Report) addressed competition from the West. After noting that the wheat growing region was gradually moving westward, and the low rates of transportation enabled even the far west to compete with New England in the eastern markets, the writer says “dairying is about all there is left to the farmers of Vermont, and the west will eventually wrest all the profits of that industry from his hands.”  Note:  In fact most of the growth in U.S. milk production in the last several years has occurred in the West and the Mountain States. (From 2002-2007 California’s production was up by 25%, Upper West by 33%, South West by 35%.  The Northeast, which has twenty percent of the U.S milk production, declined by 1 %. (Source: USDA).  Vermont only consumes about five percent of the fluid milk that is produced in the State, and its milk supply represents less than 2 percent of U.S milk production.


One of the most frustrating yet stimulating jobs as Secretary of Agriculture for Vermont was trying to figure out how to deal with a declining dairy sector, in collaboration with others.  Many before have faced the same challenge.  Even though the decline in the number of dairy farms has been taking place over time, there is a certain critical mass of milk production necessary for supplying existing plants and for luring processing firms to the State. As I was told when a major milk processor left Vermont, they are looking to locate in areas where milk supply is growing and not declining.  The early Vermonters recognized the State’s competitive advantages (grow grass well for livestock, and near large and growing markets), and disadvantages (competition with West and other regions with commodity products).

There have been numerous studies of and discussions about the Vermont dairy industry over the recent past.  These have included the Agriculture Focus Group Report to the Governor’s Commission on The Economic Future of Vermont, November, 1989; the Vermont Agricultural Viability Council Final Report in January 2003; A Final Decision and Report on the Proceedings of the Vermont Milk Commission in January 15, 2008; Seeking to Ensure the Future Viability of Vermont’s Dairy Industry, Report of the Thirty-Third Grafton Conference, The Windham Foundation, Grafton, Vermont, March 6-7, 2008, and December 15-16, 2008; Recommendations by independent business advisory group on dairy to the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, October 19, 2010; and more recently the Farm to Plate strategic plan.  There are common themes in all of these studies and reports on actions that should be taken to encourage a growing dairy sector within the State.  Some of the actions recommended include the need for:

  • Risk mitigation strategies:  As milk pricing has become more volatile, farmers need new and various forms of risk mitigation for pricing.  This will become more important as a result of pending federal budgetary reductions in federal farm programs.  Mitigation takes many forms to include product diversification, methane digesters, futures pricing and options, price margin insurance, rotational grazing, organic production, on-farm processing, and other initiatives.
  • New product innovation:  Markets and consumer needs are constantly changing.  In a paper by USDA Rural Development, Research Report 206, May 2005 “Dairy Cooperative Growth Challenges: Technology, Ingredients (Proteins) and Equity Financing” the author states that “in the future driven by technology, cooperatives face many challenges to include need for more research and development, more aggressive product development and marketing; new manufacturing processing and technology, and equity financing to fuel these changes.” Note: Vermont dairy cooperatives are critical in the marketing and balancing of milk supplies, but lack the necessary capital for research and development (R&D) of new products and their marketing.  O-AT-KA dairy cooperative in New York is looked at as an example of the type of facility and the type of research and development in new products that should be coming from Vermont, with its brand recognition.  The current approach to new product development and marketing by Vermont dairy cooperatives will possibly lead to more fracturing of the milk supply and the dairy industry in the state. (Loss of additional farms, more on the farm specialty product production, movement to organic production).  New forms of capital other than from their farmer members are possible and should be aggressively explored to include the EB5 program.
  • Strategies or incentives to grow the milk supply (milk volume and farm numbers):  Dairy cooperatives market most of the milk within the U.S. and within Vermont, and thus growth strategies remain important.  Wisconsin has been successful in growing its dairy industry, even during trying economic times.  “Wisconsin dairy plants invested $1.24 billion in equipment and facilities between 2004-2009.”    The State of Wisconsin invested aggressively in this process as well.  They have discovered what others have known for some time, that manufacturing facilities are drawn to regions were there is a growing dairy sector.  If Vermont wants to grow its dairy sector, there is a need for aggressive cooperative strategies with farm organizations, educational institutions, land trusts, lending institutions, and others (this topic was discussed at the Grafton Conference, with a recommendation on the formation of incubators).  Wisconsin carried out these activities with the help of Grow Wisconsin Dairy Teams, the Dairy Business Innovation Center, and Wisconsin Dairy Farm Management Teams.  While Vermont has implemented many programs (farm viability, Agricultural Innovation Center, 25 x 25 energy initiative, dairy management teams, Keep Farms Local, methane digester development, Farm First, Farm Mitigation, agricultural land protection and purchase of development rights, current use taxation), it still lacks a strategy to build its milk supply even though ideas have been discussed in the past with cooperatives and others.  Vermont dairy cooperatives need to take a very active and aggressive leadership role in working to accomplish this task and they must not be perceived as passive participants in this effort.
  • Increased collaboration with the UVM’s Land Grant and Experiment Station: There is the need for increased collaboration with the new Food Systems Spire and the Dairy Center of Excellence at the University of Vermont.  Possibilities for research that can lead to greater value for dairy products in Vermont and for production efficiencies on the farm must be explored.  As the Land Grant works to continually define and refine its organic mission, there is an opportunity to develop collaborative partnerships. 
  • New incubators to assist in the transfer of farms to a new generation of farmers: Expand the incubator system for new dairy farmers with examples developed by Dr. Chris Dutton at Vermont Technical College, and others like those being used by Jasper Hill for new farmstead cheese producers, and the Vermont Land Trust.  There are many young people and current farmers interested in dairy farming.  While the cost of entry to farming today is high, incubator concepts are being tested as a way to provide training and eventual ownership for these new entrants.
  • Continued support for dairy profitability and farm viability teams to help farmers identify ways to address production efficiencies and diversification options. These programs are actively being used and should continue.
  • Support for key proposals from Farm to Plate and from the Working Lands initiatives:  These efforts could further help to develop the dairy industry and agriculture in Vermont.  Some of the proposed initiatives include a new capital development fund, and a working lands initiative that will encourage agricultural enterprise growth within the State. 

Dr. David Galton of Cornell University stated the challenge well in a presentation “A Perspective on the Northeast Dairy Industry.”   One of the clear challenges he presented in his presentation was the choice in the Northeast for building a greater supply of milk in order to be recognized as a growing competitive region, or losing the market to other areas. Without an aggressive strategy at all levels, the U.S. milk production will continue to shift to new and larger dairies in the Western states.  Technology such as ultra-filtration on large farms is lowering transportation and processing costs and thus making it possible to move milk longer distances.  Others have reached a similar conclusion (see Synergy LLC).  “The Northeast advantage is being close to markets, but this is tentative due to the development in transportation, packaging, and product formulation.  To stay competitive, the Northeast needs a higher level of farm management; capital for growth; vehicles for growth and transfer of assets; and tools for price volatility risk.”

There have been those who have compared the dairy sector in Vermont today to what happened with the loss of the Merino sheep industry in the 1800’s.   These similarities include the continuing westward migration of dairy production with very large dairy farms in several western states, an antiquated pricing system that results in wide pricing swings when national production greatly exceeds supply with influences from international markets, lower costs of production on many western farms with subsidized water and power, a tariff system that helps protect against large imports from other countries that has been subject of WTO and bi-lateral trade negotiations to allow freer trade from lower cost of production countries like New Zealand, and dependence on Congress for changes to provide more economic equality and opportunities for Northeast dairy farmers and those in other parts of the United States. While there may be some similarities in this regard, I submit that differences do exist today.  These differences include an increased interest in local and regional food production, the need to know where and how our food is produced, increased costs of transportation in bringing products from more distant markets, and the recognition that value-added product production with goods that meet consumer needs is the future.  All of this leads to greater diversification on the farm.  This recognition for value-added products has resulted in the growth of farm-based and other specialty cheese and product production.  As history has demonstrated, Vermont is a state that also benefits from livestock agriculture that can convert grass to meat or milk.  This is just one of the state’s strengths.

If our dairy farms are to survive, it will take aggressive and committed leadership with collaborative strategies to deal with these changes.  Vermont must demonstrate that it can grow its dairy industry.  To do so, dairy farmers, even new entrants to farming, must have confidence relative to pricing and must find ways to mitigate risks though diversification and other strategies.  As Dr. Galton at Cornell stated in his presentation, “…the choices are to grow or to see the loss of markets to other regions”.  While changes in federal dairy policy are warranted and strongly encouraged, Vermont dairy farmers cannot bank on these for their individual financial success going forward.  The outcome of these policies is always unknown just as it was when the sheep industry fought for the continuation of higher import tariffs back in the 1800’s.  If we want the agricultural sector in Vermont to prosper in the future we must look inward and find ways to build on our state’s strengths, as recognized by the early visionaries back in the 1800’s.


  • First Annual Report, Vermont State Board of Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Mining, 1872.
  • A Paper, “The Vermont Farmer’s Future”, by Rev. G. F. Wright of Bakersfield, Vermont, presented to the State Board of Agriculture at a meeting in St. Albans, March 6-7th, 1872.
  • A Paper, “Eastern and Western Farming”, by Lyman W. Peet of Cornwall, Vermont.  See Eight Report of State Board of Agriculture, 1883-1884.
  • New England Grades and Standards Act, 1927, see Biannual Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1926-1928.
  • A Detailed Survey of Leading Markets for Vermont Products, see Eight Annual Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1916.
  • Agriculture Focus Group, Report to Governor’s Commission on The Economic Future of Vermont, November 1989.
  • The Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact Public Hearings Report, N.Y. State Legislative Commission on Dairy Industry Development, June 1990
  • Vermont Agriculture Viability Council Final Report, Vermont Council of Rural Development, January 2003.
  • Vermont Farmstead Cheese Marketing Study, January-March 2006, Prepared for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.
  • Future Structure of the Dairy Industry; Historical Trends, Projections and Issues, by Eddy LaDue et. al, Cornell Program on Agriculture and Small Business Finance, Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, June 2003, R.B. 2003-01.
  • The Impact of Globalization on the U.S. Dairy Industry: Threats, Opportunities, and Implications, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, August 2009.
  • See Synergy LLC
  • A Final Decision and Report on the Proceedings of the Vermont Milk Commission, January 15, 2008.
  • Dairy Cooperative Growth Challenges: Technology, Ingredients (Proteins), and Equity Financing, USDA Rural Development, Research Report 206, May 2005.
  • Dairy Cooperatives Bulletin: Structural Change and Operations, by Robert Crop, University of Wisconsin, Center for Cooperatives, Bulletin No. 4, October 2002.
  • New Strategies for Mobilizing Capital in Agricultural Cooperatives, in FAO Corporate Document Repository, Economic and Social Development Department.
  • Dairy Cooperatives and Their Role in the United States, by Robert Jacobsen and Robert Cropp, Dairy Markets and Policy Issues and Options, Cornell University, August 1995.
  • Remarks to the New England Dairy Promotion Board by Roger Allbee, Nov. 19, 2010.
  • Seeking to Ensure the Future Viability of Vermont’s Dairy Industry, Report of the Thirty-Third Grafton Conference, The Windham Foundation, Grafton, Vermont, March 6-7, 2008, and December 15-16, 2008.
  • “Wisconsin Facing a Dairy Deficit,” by Ann Marie Ames, April 25, 2011, in, May 27, 2011.
  • “Vermont Dairy Sector: Is There a Sustainable Future for the 800 lb. Gorilla?”, A paper by Dr. Robert Parsons, Vol. 1, No. 4, Opportunities for Agriculture, Working Paper Series, UVM Center for Rural Studies.
  • “Trends in the U.S. Dairy Industry”, by Joe Horner, Dairy Economist, Commercial Agricultural Program, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.
  • “Upstate Niagara”, by James Dudlicek, in Dairy Facts Corporate Profile, August 2008.
  • “A Perspective on the Northeast Dairy Industry”, a presentation by David Galton, Cornell University.
  • See “Farm to Plate”, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
  • See “The Working Landscape Initiative”, the Vermont Council on Rural Development

ANSWER TO LAST BLOG POSTING TRIVIA QUESTION:  The first Chair of the State Board of Agriculture in 1872 was the Governor of the State of Vermont, John W. Steward.  Matthew Buckham, President of the State Agricultural College, and six other individuals that he appointed with confirmation by the State Senate assisted him in this effort.

NEXT BLOG POSTING:  A Historical Perspective on Agricultural Education in Vermont

Trivia Question:  How long did Justin Morill serve as a Member of Congress, and what are some of the things he accomplished besides passage of the Land Grant Act?

Edition No. 10, June 14, 2011