OFRF Board Member Heather Darby Receives USDA OREI Grant

Until recently, organic milk was one of the fastest growing sectors in organic agriculture. However; with prices declining, interest in transitioning to grass-fed production methods is increasing. Expansion in this market has been particularly significant in the Northeast where farmers face challenging climate conditions that complicate cropping of traditional feed crops such as corn silage and therefore encourage more grass-based systems.

This expansion, now estimated to be over 300 grass-fed dairy farms, has outpaced research, leading to knowledge gaps for both farmers and technical service providers.

Heather Darby, an Agronomic and Soils Specialist for the University of Vermont, organic farmer, and OFRF board member, has received a $1.5M grant from USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to help fill in those gaps. This new multi-year research project, titled Advancing Grass-Fed Dairy: A Whole Systems Approach to Enhancing Productivity, Quality, and Far Viability in the U.S., seeks to identify critical components of grass-fed dairy management that support high quality milk production, herd health, environmental health, and farm economic viability, while contributing to a vibrant grass-fed dairy market that meets the needs and preferences of consumers.

Heather was raised on a dairy farm in Alburg, Vermont and is now the 7th generation farming this land. She operates a diversified certified organic farm and custom grazing service for local farms, supporting 80 heads of certified organic cattle during the grazing season. She also serves on OFRF’s Board of Directors and is Chair of the Research and Education Committee.

OFRF helped Heather pursue her passion by providing a grant to conduct research on soil organic matter and plant health when she was pursuing her PhD at Oregon State. It’s nice to see things come full circle. Congratulations Heather!