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New York Farm Viability Institute Continues to Help Organic Dairies Achieve Their Goals

By Tessa Buratto
New York’s dairy industry ranks third in the nation with over 600,000 milking cows. Among the large and small 5,150 dairies scattered throughout the state, almost 500 are organic. The New York Farm Viability Institute values the diversity of dairy producers in NY and aims to fund grant projects that will benefit the overall improvement and continuation of the entire dairy industry. Since the establishment of the NYFVI agriculture grant program, The Organic Dairy Task Force has been included in the proposal review process to create a well-rounded Dairy Opportunity and Barrier Analysis team. As a result of NYFVI organic dairy grants awarded over the years there have been many accomplishments helping the industry remain prosperous and sustainable.
In the most recent grant application round the NYFVI was able to fund the Organic Dairy Initiative program for the next 2 years. The program’s overall goal is to help the roughly 460 organic dairies in New York achieve success. Success can be measured and defined in many ways, but as Fay Benson, project manager for the New York Organic Dairy Initiative explains, the program’s success is determined by individual farm needs and the resulting outcomes. The program strives to assist organic dairies reach their fullest potential by determining long term strategies to deal with issues such as organic transition/certification, market demand, farm practices, business management, and more.
One of the Initiative’s project goals is to conduct a minimum of 7 “Managing For Success” (MFS) meetings throughout the state. The curriculum for MFS has been in use by Cornell Cooperative Extension for many years. It helps farmers understand business principles, their management style and adapt their farming methods to work cohesively and efficiently. Participants can then better approach how to identify and plan long term goals and supporting objectives to help attain completion. The MFS for organic dairies is somewhat untypical as it includes looking at the farm’s holistic goals, including the family and the community as influential factors and impacts. Part of the curriculum also looks at the difference in time management on an organic dairy. Without the quick fixes such as antibiotics or other animal treatments not allowed by the organic standards it’s important for the farmer to spend more time on preventing problems. The same is true for farm crop problems, where herbicides and chemical fertilizers are not used the organic farmer spends more time on prevention. The organic farming style takes time and well thought through plans to be a successful business.
Candor Farmers use Managing For Success Course to Plan Farm Changes
This past March, Ben and Kate Whittemore of Candor, NY attended the 2 day Tioga County MFS meetings.

Ben farming.


Their herd has grown quickly the past 3 years since they built a new composted pack barn, and are currently milking around 120 certified organic cows. This past year’s drought magnified their lack of forage and grain production. This shortage caused a huge profit loss during the winter as they had to purchase off-farm organic feed sources. At the MFS meetings they brainstormed with other producers how to best address the shortage and prevent it from happening again. Thanks to the help and input of other organic dairy farmers, they have decided to add additional farming acreage and hire someone with experience in growing organic corn and other crops to feed their herd.
Fay worked with Jim Grace of Grace Ag Consulting to put the Whittemore’s plan into a business analysis tool to estimate costs and returns of the farm management changes. Now the Whittemores have a planned target goal to reach, and plan to continue using financial tools available from the NYFVI funded program to further track their progress toward success.
Benson says the organic dairy project will be conducted in at least 6 other locations across the state. If you are interested in having it in your county, contact your Cornell Cooperative Extension office and inform them of your interest.
For more information directed toward organic dairies in New York contact Fay Benson at 607-753-5213 or by email to afb3@cornell.edu. For the Organic Dairy Initiative’s web site go to http://www.cuaes.cornell.edu/cals/cuaes/organic/projects/dairy/dairy-initiative/index.cfm.

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