Wood family into dairy for the long run

SHOREHAM — The Wood family in Shoreham later this month will add another honor to a growing list of conservation awards they’ve received for their dairy farm.
In a ceremony at the farm on June 26, the Lake Champlain Basin Program will award Gail and Loren Wood and their four grown children the title of LCBP Vermont Farm for 2010.
Each year, the organization recognizes one farm from Vermont, one from New York, and one from Quebec for work done to preserve farmland and eliminate runoff in the Lake Champlain watershed. This year they settled on Woodnotch Farm, with close to 300 milking cows and 1,500 acres of land centered around the homestead off Route 22A near the Orwell line. The farm also received the title of state Conservation Farm of the Year in 2009.
“We’ve chosen (Woodnotch Farm) because of the mix of environmental strategies and their presence in the community,” said Colleen Hickey, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
Woodnotch Farm makes the third farm in Addison County to be recognized by the LCBP since the award’s inception in 2005  — Gosliga Farm in Addison and Monument Farms in Weybridge have also been honored.
Hickey cited the conservation work the Wood family has done to prevent erosion and runoff, especially in the area surrounding a brook on the property that runs into Lake Champlain. According to the nomination for the award submitted by the Otter Creek Natural Resources Conservation District, the Woods led the move to conserve farmland in the county, with 1,250 acres of their property conserved. They have also created walkways so that heifers do not walk through a brook that meanders through the property, and they have created a buffer zone and shade by planting trees in the low-lying area surrounding the brook. Hickey said the family has planted some 36,000 trees in the area of the brook.
Preserving that pastoral landscape and the cleanliness of the farm has been a priority for the Wood family during their years in the dairy business.
“I told the boys whatever we do, if it doesn’t say ‘Drink milk,’ we don’t do it,” said Loren Wood.
Over the years, that has meant anything from adding containers for recycling alongside the trash bins on the farm to adding a tunnel system to pump liquid manure to a pit a mile from the main farm buildings, where it’s more accessible to fertilize the fields there. This way, said Loren, the manure doesn’t have to travel that mile on a truck, wasting fuel and risking spills.
The Woods also recently replaced the lighting and fans in their barns with energy-efficient models with the help of Efficiency Vermont.
On the West side of the farm, Loren pointed out a lush green meadow facing Lake Champlain. The meadow, he said, used to be the release area for a culvert under the road, and no matter how much the soil was replenished, it would wash out ever year. With the help of a grant, the family installed a pipe that carries the water further down the hill to a basin, and the whole field is now open to agricultural use.
“With some cost-sharing, $2,000 or $3,000 can make a huge difference,” Wood said.
In all of these instances, he said, conservation just makes sense — not just from the environmental perspective, but from the business side as well.
“The dairying business has gotten so that efficiency is the key word,” Wood said.
The Woods came to Vermont from New Hampshire in 1972, when Leslie and Alberta Wood, Loren’s father and mother, purchased the first parcel of Shoreham land. They planned to expand their dairy business from a milking herd of 23 so that Loren could join in as well.
Over the years, the farm has continued to expand and thrive, as Gail and Loren’s four sons — Lee, Leslie, Lance and L.J. — have joined the family business.
Still, said Loren, the past couple of years have been far from easy as milk prices across the country plummeted to record lows, and the family struggled to pay debts on the farm.
“I’d never missed (payments) years before that. I was in trouble,” said Wood.
Though prices dipped close to $10 per hundredweight (cwt) in the worst months of 2009, the family, which sells its milk to the Agrimark cooperative, is now pulling in $21 to $22 per cwt.
And the Woods supplement the milk from their herd of Holsteins with some Jersey cows, which Loren Wood said raises the milkfat and fetches them a higher price for the some 6.5 million to 7 million pounds of milk the farm produces each year.
Loren still worries — rising grain and fuel prices threaten the farm’s bottom line. But his sons also run a custom harvesting business, which brings in some extra money, and the women in the family all have jobs off of the farm as well.
But the family plans to continue addressing erosion, runoff and other environmental threats on their land, for the sake of the business and the future of their land.
“If you can save a gallon of fuel or an ounce of soil, you’ve got to do it,” said Wood.
Hickey, from the LCBP, said this sort of sentiment is one of the things that netted the family the award. Their involvement in the community was also a factor — Loren served 13 years on the Shoreham Elementary School board, and Gail is the agriculture representative to the Shoreham Emergency Planning Committee, and is a lister for the town.
“They are a strong voice for agriculture,” said Hickey.
“The push for the award is really to recognize the great management practices on farms,” she added. “They’re not only helping to preserve their own land, but the environment around them, above and beyond what is required by law.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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