Farmers are always facing change. Change is challenging. From wild weather swings to global market forces, farmers are always riding stormy seas.

Change was the primary theme recently at a Dairy Summit in Jay. The two-day summit brought together more than 240 people from Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and New England. All those attending, including more than 100 dairy farmers, were intentional in their desire to make positive changes to the industry.

Through collaboration and creative change, farmers are developing strategies and ideas for future work at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. Farmers want help showing their farms to the public and policymakers. They believe we all need to do a better job telling what’s happening on their farms through authentic relationships. The Agency will embark on getting more people, including lawmakers and regulators, to see their businesses this summer and fall.

Developing new dairy products for consumers was also a major theme at the summit. Farmers are committed to connecting with their customers, but need help with product development. It’s a crowded field, a crowded shelf at the supermarket, with endless consumer choices. We heard quite plainly the Agency needs to lead with innovation. The Agency, along with federal and private partners, will expand its work developing marketing, education and product-development resources for farmers and dairy processors.

Dairy farmers also told us they believe they can help Vermont’s environment by building on cutting-edge approaches to managing their soil. The Agency and its partners will look at “gold standard” environmental efforts on farmland. This approach could lead to farmers receiving payments for managing their ecosystems and stewarding their land in the face of climate change.

More agriculture education, whole milk in schools and a campaign that focuses on how important dairy is to Vermont’s economy are other priorities for farmers. The Agency will be working with a host of partners on these issues. To lead the effort, dairy farmers asked us to create a dairy advisory panel to facilitate the conversation on their suggestions and challenges. We will do so.

Farmers also told us to keep working with Washington on dairy policy and prices. The Vermont Milk Commission has proposed a growth management plan. We heard from farmers they want the Agency to pursue this important, nationwide discussion with Congress.

These are just a few outcomes of the Dairy Summit. Like Vermont’s farmers, we are open to new ideas, change and a commitment to improve the backbone of Vermont: Agriculture.

Anson Tebbetts is Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets secretary.

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