One of New England’s leading dairy cooperatives has tripled farmer participation in Manomet’s Vital Capital Index for Dairy Agriculture.
The Vital Capital Index (VCI™) is a tool to assist dairy farmers in identifying opportunities to improve agricultural stewardship. Developed by Manomet, the VCI™ addresses the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable agriculture. The tool consists of four levels of indicators that focus on farmer awareness, farm practices, performance, and sustainability.
Manomet’s long-time partner in this project is the Agri-Mark dairy cooperative, representing dairy farmers from all six New England states and New York. Agri-Mark is best known for its flagship brand of Cabot © cheese and dairy products.
“Agri-Mark and Cabot recognize the value of the VCI™,” said Andy Whitman, director of Manomet’s Sustainable Economies Program. “It helps the cooperative and its farmers address supply chain pressures and inquiries regarding the sustainability of their products. In addition, it invites dialogue with local, state, and regional stakeholders concerning the benefits and impacts of dairy agriculture.”
Development of the tool began after Agri-Mark approached Manomet for assistance in addressing issues of farm sustainability and communication of stewardship to its farmer members. Working together, Manomet and Cabot imagined several key elements of the VCI™: a tool grounded in sustainability’s triple bottom-line; a tool offering insights for management of key impacts on vital resources; a tool offering farmers a pathway to a richer vocabulary for conversations about sustainability with key stakeholders. The Innovation for Dairy Agriculture also played an instrumental role providing essential support in the early phases.
VCI™ was developed in consultation with dairy farmers and industry professionals. To a degree unique among other efforts, VCI™ has incorporated farmer feedback and piloting at all levels of development.
Agri-Mark’s Director of Sustainability, Jed Davis, helped identify the tool’s key topics and advise on the current structure and presentation of the tool’s content. Gabe Clark field-tested early versions of the VCI™ for Manomet on farms across the U.S. Bill Baue and Mark McElroy, two leading sustainability experts, contributed input based on their experience with sustainability metrics. Manomet has aligned and coordinated its program with several related efforts, notably the work of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
According to Whitman, the noteworthy increase in farmer participation came after recent VCI™ improvements, including the release of VCI™ 3.0, and new goals set by Agri-Mark in an effort to address supply chain inquiries.
“Once we had streamlined the enhanced VCI™, Agri-Mark has pursued a goal of 100% of their member farmers completing VCI™ Level 1 – the Awareness level – in the months ahead,” said Whitman. Currently more than two-thirds of Agri-Mark’s 1,200 farms are enrolled in the VCI™. Manomet plans to further engage dairy farms after the VCI™ online tool is fully developed.
– Liza LePage