GEORGIA — Thanks to a $40,000 Dairy Improvement Grant Award administered by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and funded through Commonwealth Dairy of southern Vermont, the Sizen Family Farm is going to have a whole lot more milk.

The Sizens will take down their old barn in two weeks, and when their new 30,000-square foot freestall barn, which will include three robotic milkers, is completed, the family expects to get 10 to 20 additional pounds of milk daily from each of its 175 cows, said Laura Sizen.

“We would like to see 85 to 90 (pounds per day),” Sizen said yesterday.

The plans for the new barn and milking technology were shown to the 40 or so people at the grant recipient announcement ceremony, held at the farm.

Farmers, their families, representatives from Housing Vermont, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, Commonwealth Dairy, LLC, Agency of Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross, Gov. Peter Shumlin, and plenty of media were in attendance yesterday talking about farming economic development, eating milk and cookies, and making friends with the Sizens’ interested cows.

The grant

The Sizen Family Farm was one of 17 Vermont awardees to receive a Dairy Improvement Grant Award for anywhere between $4,000 and $40,000 in infrastructure improvements. Eleven more farms in Franklin County, in addition to five farms in other parts of Vermont, will use the funding for projects such as fixing barn floors for safety, replacing milk tanks, barn upgrades or new barns all together, and putting in new water lines.

Like the Sizens, all of these farmers demonstrated they had a good business plan, goals to achieve, and financial need to carry out infrastructure improvements.

“We’ve been looking at upgrading or modernizing every couple of years,” said Sizen.

The grant awardees were chosen from 57 applicants to receive the approximately $400,000 in grants. This is the first year the Dairy Improvement Grant Award has been available, made possible by Commonwealth Dairy, a joint international yogurt company located in Brattleboro, and their use of new federal market tax credits.

According to Ian Hartman, outreach coordinator for the VHCB’s Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program, Commonwealth Dairy used these market tax credits to expand its operations, and also pledged to give five percent of company profits back to dairy farmers in Vermont.

“[The grant] is oriented towards increasing milk production as well as long term viability of the farm business,” said Hartman. VHCB is managing the grant program, which is available to any Vermont farmers providing dairy to Dairy Farmers of America or the St. Albans Co-op.

Hartman added that Housing Vermont, Massachusetts Housing and Investment Corporation, and CEI Investment Corporation of Connecticut manage Commonwealth Dairy’s tax credits.

Dairy, present and future

At the end of yesterday’s announcement ceremony, everyone gathered to hear several speakers emphasize the promising nature of dairy farming in Vermont and the grant program that can help the industry move forward.

According to Chuck Ross, the state’s agriculture secretary, farmers’ willingness to expand and update their technology makes Vermont an exciting place for agriculture.

“It takes all of us moving forward everyday,” Ross said. “It doesn’t just happen – it starts with the farmer.”

Gov. Shumlin spoke about what programs, such as the Dairy Improvement Grant Award, can do for the state.

“Farmers in Franklin County and all across Vermont are benefited from these grants and Commonwealth [Dairy’s] partnership,” Shumlin said. “This is just the kind of company we want in the state.”

He said of the funding the Sizen Family Farm’s received, “This is one of 17 grants that is going to make a really huge difference.”

Shumlin added, “It’s all investments in the future.”

The Dairy Improvement Grant Award will be available for a second round, which will be announced in September. Applications will be due in December, and the new grant recipients will be awarded in February.

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