Regularly assembling a dairy farm's trusted advisors collectively known as a Dairy Profit Team (DPT) is paying off in big ways in New York.
The teams that include crop consultants, nutritionists, veterinarians, loan officers, Cornell Cooperative Extension educators, herd managers, and family members help farm owners improve efficiencies, increase milk production, add premium milk income, reduce expenses and cow losses, and stay in farming altogether.
Dairy Still in Business in Chautauqua County
In Kennedy, NY, Eric Vanstrom expected to be out of farming in 2010, but Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County Educators Ginny Carlberg and Lisa Kempisty convinced him to start a Dairy Profit Team, and in September 2012 Vanstrom, who milks 76 cows with another 100 heifers and dry cows on 145 acres, had enjoyed quality milk checks for nearly two years.
"When my team first met in early 2010, I was spending tons of money on feed, the cows were stressed, and milk production was down. My team identified areas to work on step-by-step. At first, little improvements like building new feed bunks had the biggest impact," Vanstrom says. "The cows ate more and better and began making more milk."
Vanstrom says constructing a new 48-stall barn made a 100 percent difference: "cow comfort increased, the rolling herd average increased by 2 lbs. of milk/day/cow, while somatic cell count fell, and we earned a Super Milk Award."
Vanstrom's DPT that now meets three times a year is brainstorming opportunities more than problem solving. Vanstrom will soon complete an 11-acre expansion purchase and is considering buying another milking herd.
Internal Growth in Lewis County
When Conway Farms in Turin, NY, started its Dairy Profit Team in 2009, 180 cows produced an average of 17,000 lbs/cow/year. Today, a herd of 285 averages 26,500 lb/cow, with an enviable somatic cell count of 100,000-180,000.
Father Randy and sons Derek and Jake Conway considered team input about hiring help to handle the milking and concentrating their time on herd health, breeding, and internal growth. After the Team reviewed the purchase cost of a new $250,000 milking parlor, the Conways themselves built a swing-16 that handles 100 cows/hour for just $60,000. Improved calf health is the result of the Team-approved purchase of a neighboring farm to relieve overcrowding and support internal herd growth.
Milk Gain and More Heifers in Wyoming County
At Stony Meadows Farm in the Town of Middlebury, team-based decision-making led the Wayne and Linda Smith family to enter a five-year agreement for forage production by a neighboring farm. The Smiths sold their tillage and harvesting equipment, and focused on dairy herd management. Improving bedding practices and barn ventilation keeps milk production steady in spite of weather conditions. Overall, the changes produced an average of 8 lbs. of milk production/cow/day.
In Orangeville, Robert, Doug and Mary Ann Calkins' Dairy Profit Teamwork cost-effectively improved breeding and internal growth programs by matching bull-mother cows to less expensive young sires and reserving more expensive purchased semen for more frequent heifer-mother cows.
NY's Teams Started in Jefferson County
New York's Dairy Profit Teams were sparked by the participation of dairymen Ron Robbins and Doug Shelmidine and Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator Jay Matteson in the Northeast Dairy Leadership Initiative.
Matteson says, "We picked up on Pennsylvania's success using advisory teams to grow the dairy industry there and thought it was worth a try, so we applied for and received New York Farm Viability Institute funding ($115,000) to start Dairy Profit Teams here."
Dave and Lisa Magos of Morning Star Farms, Henderson, were among the Jefferson County farmers who piloted New York's Dairy Profit Teams in 2007. The Magos' cows and crops were spread over 1,400 acres stretching seven miles from the home farm. Team discussions convinced even the banker that a new 110x184 freestall barn and two 28x60 calf barns were needed a $450,000 investment in the farm's future.
"We wanted to get all our assets home.' We were making do with existing, sub-standard housing, thinking we could not afford anything else. The team agreed building was the best plan," Dave says. "We quickly saw payback in the vastly improved condition of the animals. The cows are healthier and happier. The calves are growing better. The decision to build reduced our fuel costs, travel time, and equipment stress over the road, and increased our labor efficiency and time management."
Younger Generation Joins Farm Business in Madison County
"We started a team to evaluate options for dealing with an old milking facility," says Rick Carrier at ABC Farms in Canastota, Madison County. "I wanted to build or remodel at the home farm. The team suggested relocating or leasing, my least favorite choice, but when we looked at the numbers the opportunity showed itself. We leased a building with less capital outlay and less risk, and have grown the herd by 200 cows in four years," Carrier says.
The farm is extending its lease, and finalizing an LLC that will bring Carrier's two oldest children into the business as managers.
"We were one of the original Dairy Profit Teams in Madison County and now Team 2.0' is looking at more opportunities to improve milk production and profitability," Carrier says.
Dairy Profit Teams Spark Field Crop and Vegetable Profit Teams
The success of the Dairy Profit Teams has led to the NYFVI-funded start-up of Field Crop Profit Teams in 2012, and Matteson is adapting the profit team model for a commercial vegetable grower in Jefferson County.
"Successful Dairy Profit Teams statewide are a model for other farms searching for ways to improve the efficiency and profitability of their operations. We hope others will follow suit and aggregate their professional and on-farm resources to support short-term problem solving and long-term opportunity harvesting for dairy and all types of agricultural businesses," said NYFVI Managing Director David Grusenmeyer.
Ag Chair Praises Teams and Institute
"I couldn't be happier to see that Dairy Profit Teams are still helping our state's farmers face the many challenges this profession presents," said State Senator Patty Ritchie, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "I fought to fully restore funding to the Farm Viability Institute two years in a row because I know it supports programs like the Dairy Profit Teams, which are helping our state's farmers succeed each and every day. Agriculture is our state's economic cornerstone and programs like this help farmers boost their bottom line, grow their business, increase their profits and contribute to making our entire economy much stronger."
Dairy owners, agricultural professionals and Extension educators interested in starting Dairy Profit Teams in their area may contact the New York Farm Viability Institute for resources, including how to information for structuring a team and a Dairy Profit Team Facilitator's Guide. For additional information, contact Grusenmeyer at 315-453-3823 x104, firstname.lastname@example.org.