Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, an innovative dairy farmer training program that began as a GrassWorks initiative, is now an independent 501(c)3 organization and its National Apprenticeship, the first accredited career track for farming in the nation, now operates in multiple states.
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is dedicated to providing a guided pathway to independent dairy farm ownership, developing grazing careers, and strengthening the economic and environmental well-being of rural communities and the dairy industry.
DGA accomplishes this mission by:
- Linking current and aspiring graziers in the transfer of farms and graziers skills and knowledge.
- Developing alliances with like-minded agricultural, environmental, and consumer groups.
- Providing opportunities for farmers and their customers to invest in the next generation of grazing farmers.
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is an accredited National Apprenticeship registered with the Employment and Training Administration, United States Department of Labor. Originating in Wisconsin, where it was developed by and for farmers to address farm loss, DGA grew out of a long history of peer-to-peer education networks among dairy graziers in the state. Pasture walks, field days, local and statewide grazing conferences, and individual mentoring relationships, as well as technical assistance funded by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative and the Natural Resources Conservation Services, nurtured a robust grazing community, supported the development of GrassWorks (a statewide producer-run organization), and created the conditions for this innovative step in farmer education.
In 2010, a group of dairy graziers who were GrassWorks members developed the idea of formalizing farmer-centered education using the model of Apprenticeship to link current and aspiring dairy producers and provide a structure of support for the transfer of knowledge, skills, and farms to the next generation. Like Apprenticeships in other industries, it would combine on-the-job training with related classroom instruction and place experienced Masters at the center of the education process.
A comprehensive formal curriculum in managed-grazing dairy production was then developed through a partnership between GrassWorks, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and the Wisconsin Technical College System with financial support from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship was formally established in June of 2011. Entrants to the program could progress through the program as Apprentices, Journey Dairy Graziers, and finally Masters themselves capable of not only owning and operating a managed-grazing dairy farm but also training new Apprentices. By the end of 2012, 25 farmers had been approved as Master Dairy Graziers, nearly 100 people had applied to become an Apprentice, and the first four participants had graduated to Journey Dairy Grazier status.
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship has since become an independent 501(c)3 organization and its National Apprenticeship, the first institutionally supported and accredited career track for farming in the nation, now operates in multiple states.