After spending 20 years in the military, Andy Bures made the decision to purchase his parent’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. Andy’s parents were ready to retire from farming, and Andy, 1 of 11 siblings, didn’t want to see the family farm disappear. That was in 1999, and today, Andy is still happily farming with his wife, Stephanie. They own 150 acres and rent another 75 while milking about 44 cows. Their children are all currently off to college or enjoying careers elsewhere.
When asked about the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, Andy said, “I get satisfaction out of helping another family get into the farming way of life.” Andy’s role in the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is as a Master Dairy Grazier, meaning he has at least 5 years of grazing experience, but in Andy’s case, he actually has many, many more years under his belt.
The idea for the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program was thought up by Joe Tomandahl and a group of Wisconsin farmers who know very well that learning how to farm doesn’t just happen overnight, and with the number of family farmers in the U.S. decreasing, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
In 2009, this group of farmers began developing the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) program with support from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. The DGA is now an accredited two-year apprenticeship program that provides paid employment and comprehensive training to help aspiring farmers learn everything they need to know about dairy grazing.
Participants are required to complete 4000 hours of training. Over 3700 of the hours are spent getting their hands dirty by working side-by-side with their Master Dairy Grazier. The rest of the participant’s time is spent on classroom training. Graduating from the program gives participants the opportunity to advance into farm management, equity earning, farm start-up or farm transfer.
In March 2017, Andy finished up a two-year program with his apprentice, Brian, who moved his family from Iowa to farm for two years with Andy in Wisconsin. During that time, Brian worked side-by-side with Andy soaking up every bit of knowledge about farming that he could. Before coming to work alongside Andy, Brian had never even drove a tractor. With no previous farm experience, but a dream to own his own farm someday, Brian successfully completed the program. Brian and his family are now living on a farm in Wisconsin with potential plans to buy, while working for another dairy farmer near by.
After such success with Brian, Andy was eager to find another next generation dairy grazier to mentor and share his knowledge and skills with. “I get help, and I get to help someone get started in farming. Young people want to get into farming, but there is no way to do it if you don’t have family doing it or the apprenticeship,” said Andy.
The Master Dairy Grazier gets to interview and choose the apprentice that he or she feels would be a great two-year addition to their farm. As well, the apprentice has the same flexibility. One of the things Andy enjoyed about working with Brian was that Brian was new to farming but was as committed as ever. Andy sees the same drive in his new apprentice, Matt.
Matt and his wife, Tish, both grew up in Iowa, and they both have some farm experience. Matt’s grandparents sold their farm while Matt was still in high school, as well as his dad’s uncle. Matt, too young at the time to purchase a farm but knowing he wanted to be a dairy farmer someday, never gave up hope.
After 20 years in the military, Matt bought land in Kansas with hopes of starting a dairy farm, but when he tried to get financial backing, he was told by the USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA) that he didn’t have enough experience in agriculture for a farm loan. But, Matt still never gave up. He spent another 4 years in the military, and with every new location, he sought out the dairy farms in the area and worked for them on the weekends to gain more experience.
Matt did his research and came across the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship. Along with providing hours of farm experience, the DGA also helps aspiring dairy farmers get financial support. So, he applied. Matt received calls from 5 other Master Dairy Graziers, but happily choose The Bures Family Farm. He said, “the other guys were going in a different direction with farming.” The other farms were large in size with the actual farmer/owner far removed from the dairy operation. He would have spent a lot of hours working with the hired farm hands versus the actual owner of the farm. Whereas with Andy being a small farmer, Matt said that Andy wasn't only running his farm from a business perspective but also out there milking the cows and scrapping manure.
June 15, 2017 was when Matt first started his two-year program on the Bures Family Farm. After completing the program, Matt and Tish plan to stay in the area long term or at least until their youngest child, 1 of 5, graduates from high school. But, their ultimate goal is to purchase their very own dairy farm.
Andy sees hope for family farms as younger generations become more aware of where their food comes from, and he has faith that, with this program, more individuals will get involved in farming.
This program has graduated 15 apprentices, has 35 active master-apprentice pairs, and 175 apprentice candidates seeking to be hired by a Master Dairy Grazier in nine states. If you are interested in becoming a Master Dairy Grazier or an apprentice, visit the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship website at www.dga-national.org to learn more about the program.