Joe Tomandl III is a Wisconsin dairy farmer who also serves as the Executive Director for Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA). DGA was founded in 2010 when GrassWorks, Inc., a producer organization, and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development combined forces to address the alarming fact that the state loses approximately 500 dairy farms every year. DGA aims to reverse this trend by matching Master Dairy Graziers with Dairy Grazing Apprentices.
The development and success of DGA under Joe’s directorship is inspiring. DGA is now an independent nonprofit organization and its two-year educational program is the first accredited National Apprenticeship under the U.S. Department of Labor for farming in the nation. DGA currently has 63 approved Masters and 22 placed Apprentices in five states. Joe is working with farmers and key organizations to expand DGA into three additional states. More than 100 candidates have applied for placement, and DGA has graduated nine Apprentices, eight of whom are currently renting, managing and/or moving into ownership of their own farms.
“I hope that the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship will provide a pathway to independent dairy farm ownership allowing the next generation of entrepreneurs to step up and steward our land and provide safe, healthy and adequate food for generations to come,” says Joe. “We are building community pride around making our land and food a priority rather than something to which we are entitled. As a result, we’re creating a resilient and robust agriculture industry that is able to meet changing consumer, economic and environmental trends.”
Joe and his wife have purchased a neighbor’s farm as a way to expand their dairy. This 200-cow satellite farm is now being managed by Joe’s first Apprentice, and his current Apprentice works on the 145-cow main farm, which is transitioning to organic.
Both Joe and DGA utilize managed grazing where land is planted with perennial forages and livestock are rotated through paddocks that are allowed to rest and regrow. Managed grazing reduces the use of off-farm inputs, improves animal health, restores soil and water resources, protects critical habitat and produces high-quality milk for conventional and value-added markets.
“Agriculture is the backbone of rural communities and the foundation of our country. It’s important that our general population understands where our food comes from, and our duty to protect the environment,” says Joe. “Through the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, I see an opportunity to contribute to the task of keeping both our communities and environment strong.”
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