Charles G. Schwab
Excellence in Public Service
Professor of Animal and Nutritional Sciences
College of Life Sciences and Agriculture
Right: Chuck Schwab at the UNH Organic Dairy with several of its Jersey cows.
"Organic farming depends less on trying to direct what happens than on promoting what wants to happen."
In 1979, Jim and Ellen Putnam relocated their dairy farm in Piermont, N.H., to four miles across town. “My family’s farm used to be the first one you saw coming in to Piermont,” says Putnam. “Now Ellen and I are on the last farm you see going out.”
The move may have been short, but when the Putnams later decided to convert their herd of 40 Holstein and Jersey cows from traditional to organic dairy cows, their learning curve seemed endless. “The transition was hard,” recalls Putnam. “Everyday operations such as managing cropland and pastures without chemicals, buying feed from local farmers, and recycling were completely new to us.”
Dairies are a $ 51 million industry for the state, according to the N.H. Department of Agriculture, but nearly all operate traditionally, e.g., depending on imported feed and chemical fertilizers. Organic farms, such as the Putnam’s, form a tiny vanguard. (Vermont, by contrast, has dozens dotting its hilly landscape.) This may change—if Animal and Nutritional Sciences Professor Chuck Schwab and his UNH colleagues have their way.
Schwab is a leader of the $ 1.5 million, 30-acre organic dairy farm located in Lee, N.H. Funded through numerous private sources, including organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farms, the farm serves as regional center of excellence for the study of dairy production and crop management.
“There is an unprecedented demand for organic dairy products and a need for more information about organic, ecologically based farming practices,” says Schwab, who worked on his family’s farm in Wisconsin nearly every day of his life until he went off to graduate school at age 23. “The UNH farm will bring together all who have a stake in the success of organics—farmers, veterinarians, educators, students, and anybody interested in sustainable farming practices.”
For three decades, his research has been at the forefront of determining the amino acid requirements of dairy cattle. Studying how cows digest protein in their food, Schwab’s research has focused on defining the cattle’s amino acid requirements. His findings have led to better nutritional models that improve the efficiency of conversion of feed protein to milk protein, while reducing nitrogen in animal waste. His contributions now widely guide development of nutritional models used by feed companies and nutrition consultants.
Schwab has managed to teach courses in animal nutrition nearly every semester of his 30-year tenure at UNH. And he coordinates the extensive farm operations for his department. In 1982, he envisioned a program that would provide dozens of students each year with the opportunity to manage a live dairy herd. In 1987, he helped UNH realize the vision by bringing the Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management, or CREAM, to campus.
“I’m really a farmer at heart,” says Schwab, “one who does research to help producers. My genuine interest is providing useful knowledge and solutions to producers.”
And all the producers seem to either know Schwab or to have heard him speak at one of 90 or so conferences and workshops he’s done during the past 10 years. He is the founder and now executive director of the Feed Analysis Consortium, a national organization comprising all of the interests of the animal and feed industries—from farmers to nutritional scientists. In 2005, the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) formally thanked him for his “tireless and unselfish” transfer of knowledge by giving him the AFIA Award for Excellence in Dairy Cattle Nutrition Research.
Like the producers Schwab loves to serve, the organic dairy farm will require long-term cultivation. Notes Schwab: “Organic farming depends less on trying to direct what happens than on promoting what wants to happen.”
Putnam, who also serves on the UNH farm’s advisory board, reports that sweating out the switch to organics has only just begun to pay off. “The cows are less stressed because we don’t push them like we used to. They have 120 acres of organic pasture, where they spend most of their time,” Putnam says. “And, we’re starting to see our prices climb,” he adds, somewhat guardedly, as though not to jinx things. “But, the learning never stops.”