Dairy Profit Team a necessary part of running a farm

According to an old adage, “two heads are better than one.”

When dairy farmers are trying to tackle an important issue, they need advice and wisdom from as many heads as they can muster. Creating a Dairy Profit Team funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute can be just the right move.

David White, of Cabhi Farm in Clymer, has a NYFVI-funded Dairy Profit Team for his dairy, where he currently milks 210 cows and is raising 200 young stock. White’s team members have helped him sort out some problems that have led to his making more milk and, in the long run, more money.

“We were able to draw people in and they’re able to ask the right questions and bring out different ideas,” White said.

A Dairy Profit Team usually includes a group of people who work with a farmer on a regular basis, such as a veterinarian, nutritionist and extension agent. Instead of discussing a problem with each of these people individually, the farmer brings them together in one place to evaluate the situation and hash out a solution that incorporates all of their areas of expertise.

“It helps to bring all the parties together, sit and discuss the problem, explore new approaches and understand all the different perspectives,” said Joan Petzen, of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, New York’s largest dairy county.

Petzen began working with Dairy Profit Teams in 2008, when the New York Farm Viability Institute started a pilot program in Wyoming County.

“Five farms started teams at that time and two continue to meet today,” Petzen said. “The NY Farm Viability grants help pay the initial team consulting costs, and once a team has been running for a while, the team begins to pay for itself.”

Lisa Kempisty, extension agent with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County, has worked with the Cabhi Farm team for years. Cabhi Farm partners David White and his brother Doug currently run the farm, relying also on David’s son Greg and on their dad, who like most “retired” dairymen still puts in a full day of work on the farm.

Kempisty said melding the multiple generations is one of the issues she, the Whites and the Dairy Profit Team have worked on.

“There are different personalities and we continue to build on the communication between them,” Kempisty said. “In addition, we bring in all the different agribusiness professionals to get more ideas on what to do at the farm.”

White said his Dairy Profit Team first worked on a flooring issue in his barn. Cows were slipping and injuring themselves, resulting in a high culling rate and lost production, White explained. The team “came in and we all talked it over and found our floors needed to be re-grooved.”

Now his Dairy Profit Team is working on where and how to build new calf and heifer housing. “We know we need to make some improvements there to generate more milk in the future,” White said.

“The bottom line is to work with the team to increase the productivity and profitability of the dairy business,” Kempisty said.

And even though milk prices now are relatively high (Statistical Uniform Price for April 2014 for much of Upstate New York averaging $24.57 per cwt), it still pays to have a Dairy Profit Team.

“The team can help farmers address the operation of the farm at any time,” Petzen said. When milk prices are good and a farmer has some cash flexibility, a team can help identify the best place to invest in long-range improvements. “For instance,” says Petzen, “they can help a farm with specific issues, such as milk quality concerns or capital improvement planning.”

White said dairy farmers always are busy, with animals to be fed, machinery to be fixed and crops to be planted or harvested. Sitting down with a Dairy Profit Team may seem like one unneeded chore.

But it’s not.

“You have to find time to do it,” he said. “It’s an important part of running the farm.”

The NY Farm Viability Institute is currently offering grants to help start Dairy Profit Teams. Information is available at www.NYFVI.org or by calling 315-453-3823.