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Bringing Farming Back To Life In New England

Bringing Farming Back To Life In New EnglandTufts veterinary expert George Saperstein says it’s not too late to revive animal agriculture in New England.

No. Grafton, Mass. [06.19.06] For New Englanders who have given up hope on the region's failing farming industry, Tufts' George Saperstein has a message: "It's not too late." In a recent New York Times opinion piece, he wrote that all it will take is "a little more optimism and some good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity" for local farmers to get back on their feet.

"Unfortunately, there's a sense among the agriculture community that it's too late to save our farms and that soon all our meat and dairy products will be trucked in from out of state," Saperstein wrote in the Times. But the chairman of the department of environmental and population health at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine disagrees. And he has some creative ideas about how to breathe life - and profits - into an industry that has been struggling to survive in New England for decades.

"Of the approximately 1,000 dairy farms in the state in the late 1970s, 169 remain," Saperstein noted in the Connecticut edition of the Times. Today, he added, there are efforts to reverse this trend. One example is Azuluna - a new line of products produced from a federally-funded project involving the Cummings School and several other New England colleges and universities. The collaboration, wrote Saperstein, will result in "livestock products produced by local farmers for local consumption."

"The goal is to give consumers the opportunity to support local agriculture directly with their food dollars while enjoying the best fruits of our farmers' labors," Saperstein wrote in the Times. "We are using production methods more typical of 1950 than 2006, getting the animals back outside grazing instead of cutting the feed and bringing it to them in the barn," he added. "These kinds of animal husbandry procedures from our grandparents' era create the highest-quality, best-tasting products on the market."

A good product, Saperstein wrote in the Times, will attract consumers.

"Making farming in New England profitable is the only way to make agriculture sustainable," he explained. "Consumers who care about the quality of food, the way animals are raised and the conservation of farmland have the power to bring farming back to life in this state."

Saperstein believes that state and local governments can help, too.

"While skyrocketing land values are an acute problem for farmers, the biggest threat to animal agriculture in Connecticut is not development, it's the loss of businesses like slaughterhouses, feed stores, milk processors, veterinarians, tractor dealers and refrigeration technicians that support agriculture," Saperstein wrote.

He pointed out that legislators can support the state's vocational agriculture education system, local planning and zoning boards accommodate businesses that directly support agriculture and the state can offer tax breaks to slaughterhouses and meat cutters.

With Azuluna pork currently being test marketed, Saperstein is hopeful that the tide is about to turn for New England farming industry.

"As these tests prove successful, we are recruiting New England farmers to adopt similar practices and earn premium prices for their products," Saperstein wrote. "We'll then encourage these high-quality producers to form a private cooperative and negotiate equitable prices with distributors, helping make agriculture in our region financially sustainable."

And making agriculture financially sustainable, he added, is the key to keeping the industry alive in New England.

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