Organic Dairy Short Course for Ag Professionals

Final Report for ENC06-091

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $66,250.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Meg Moynihan
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
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Project Information


This project developed, delivered, and evaluated a professional development training module called “Organic Dairy 101: A Workshop for Agricultural Professionals” at four locations in Minnesota and three in Wisconsin, training a total of 174 dairy and agriculture professionals. Two complementary training events reached 66 additional veterinary students and veterinary professionals in Wisconsin. Evaluation indicted a high level of participant satisfaction with the training, progress toward short and intermediate goals, and interest in further organic dairy training. Workshop topics that interested participants the most were veterinary strategies, farmer experiences/insights, and certification requirements.

[PLEASE NOTE: this reporting system permits text only. For a copy of this report that includes charts and graphs, contact [email protected]]

Project Objectives:

This project made measurable made progress toward desired outputs and outcomes identified in our proposal:

1. Six daylong trainings; four in Minnesota and two in Wisconsin
2. 180 participants who have a better understanding of the principles and opportunities in organic dairy farming, and who are more able and receptive to working with transitioning and organic producers.
3. New peer relationships among attendees, among presenters, among planners and implementers of the training program and the agencies/institutions they represent.
4. Stronger relationships and more interaction between and among the SFA “alternative” MDI team and regional teams elsewhere in the state.
5. Reference cards containing concise resource material indexed by topic for participants to use on the job and share with colleagues.
6. Stronger relationships among MN and WI team members.


This project built on an Organic Short Course for Ag Professionals PDP series funded by NCR-SARE and delivered in 2003 and 2004. In follow-up evaluations after exposure to basic organic agriculture concepts and practices, 86% of participants indicated they would be very likely to attend an intermediate course

Dairy is still one of the fastest growing organic categories in the U.S. Based on a survey of manufacturers, the Organic Trade Association predicted this category would grow 15.3 percent per year between 2004 and 2008 (Blank, 2004). Sales grew by 20% in 2003, 24% in 2004, 24%, in 2005, 25% in 2006, and 13% in 2008 ( Grocery stores in the Midwest and other parts of the country experienced lengthy organic milk shortages in Spring, 2006, and press coverage increased awareness about the demand and concomitant opportunity for dairy farms (McKinney, 2006).

The strong market demand for organic dairy and the increasing number of successful organic dairy farms in Minnesota and neighboring states have prompted increasing interest in this system by graziers and conventional producers. In 2003, the USDA Economic Research Service ranked Wisconsin #1 and Minnesota #4 in number of organic dairy farms and dairy cows in the U.S. With a combined total of 30,100 organic dairy cows between the two states, Wisconsin and Minnesota accounted for 40% of all organic dairy cows in the nation—an increase of 130% between 2001 and 2003. (Miller et al., 2005; USDA, 2005)

In responses to a 2005 random survey of 900 licensed Minnesota dairy farms conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota, almost half of respondents (44%) said they were interested in learning about organic, had thought about transitioning, were in the process of transitioning, or were already certified organic. The challenges they perceived included:

*animal health 50.8%
*feed issues 39.5%
*economics 32.3%
*milk quality 12.8%
*production 11.8%.

While transitioning and organic dairy producers need informed dairy advisors and services, much as conventional producers do, organic dairy expertise is hard to come by. One Wisconsin organic dairy farmer shared the experience of having to teach his veterinarian how he can and can’t treat organic cattle. Dairy service providers have, by and large, not been exposed to organic dairy practices and concepts and, in addition to being unfamiliar with organic standards and effective practices, may be uncomfortable with the viability of organic farming.

Our project team estimated that we would be able to successfully recruit a minimum of 30 professionals to each of six training workshops, for a total enrollment of 180 agricultural professionals.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Joe Borgerding
  • Mary Jo Forbord
  • Dennis Johnson
  • Bob Mueller
  • Laura Paine
  • Elaine Santi
  • Jeff Winkleman, DVM

Education & Outreach Initiatives




In year one of the project, we finalized subcontracts between SARE and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA, the SARE PDP grant recipient), between the MDA and two sub-subcontractors [Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA) and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP)], and between MDA and project steering team members (three farmers and one veterinarian). As in the past, the administrative requirements of completing these subcontracts took more time and effort than anticipated, particularly the contract between the two state agencies, each intent on doing things its own way.

Target audiences:

Veterinary students
Agriculture writers
Crop consultants – coops
Dairy inspectors
Dairy plant field reps
Farm management instructors
Feed dealers
EQA technicians
Educational leaders (i.e., University administrators)
DHIA technicians and field reps
AI industry

Our project team met twice in person several times by conference call during this planning phase. At the face-to-face meetings, all members got to know each other better, refreshed their understanding of project’s purpose and desired outcomes, generated list of target short course audiences, designed a schedule of short courses, brainstormed a list of possible speakers, and developed the idea of creating an organic dairy farm “photo bank” that could be used by farmer presenters. Workshop content was carefully designed to meet short and intermediate desired outcomes.

The Wisconsin state team leader, Laura Paine, traveled to Minnesota twice to meet with the larger planning group. Although our expectation that several members from the Wisconsin team would participate was not realized, Laura’s participation contributed to a feeling among the project team that this was, in fact, a two-state project. PI Meg Moynihan, Laura Paine, and Minnesota state team leader Mary Jo Forbord used e-mail to stay in touch with each other and share information about approaches and progress in both states.

In year two, the Wisconsin and Minnesota workshop efforts proceeded largely independently. Each state developed and used its own standard agenda, featuring local farmer presenters and, often, different technical presenters (Appendices 1 and 2). The larger planning group met by phone to debrief the first training events and discuss adjustments (speaker preparation, pacing, order of presentations, etc.) After that call, the state teams largely worked within their own states to carry off the remainder of the trainings. Occasionally, the WI and MN planning team leaders and the PI swapped ideas and information by phone or by e-mail. The PI was substantially more involved with planning, publicity, and delivery of the Minnesota sessions. She attended the session held in Loyal, WI.

The Wisconsin state-level planning team consisted of Laura Paine, Jody Padgham (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services), Pamela Ruegg (Univ. of Wisconsin Extension milk quality specialist), Guy Jordarski, DVM (veterinarian in private practice), Jim Goodman (organic dairy farmer). The Wisconsin team reported they were especially pleased with the positive reception they got from the University of Wisconsin Vet school, which offered to provide refreshments for an evening session focused on the interests of veterinary students.

In Minnesota, the SFA convened separate local planning teams for each individual workshop. For each location, the principal host was a regional dairy development team. Mary Jo Forbord worked with these teams arrange training logistics (locations and meals), target publicity, and identify local dairy farmer speakers, strengthening the SFA’s relationships with these regional entities.

Organizers in both states charged participants a $30 registration fee, both to ensure participant commitment and to pay for the cost of food and any unanticipated expenses incurred. In Minnesota, the PI secured approval to offer continuing education units (CEUs) from the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists, University of Minnesota Extension, and the Minnesota Department of Health – Section of Environmental Health. In Wisconsin, veterinary CEUs were offered.


Publicity efforts targeted industry groups, dairy plant field representatives, state and federal officials (MN Board of Animal Health, MN Department of Agriculture dairy inspectors, FSA, NRCS) rural and farm publications (Dairy Star, The Country Today, Hoard’s Dairyman), dairy and large animal veterinarians, student veterinary clubs, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists, farm management and extension educators, and SARE PDP coordinators.

In 2008, Minnesota held four workshops in predetermined locations of the state: St Cloud (Central Minnesota’s dairy belt), Marshall (Southwest), Rochester (Southeast) and McIntosh (Northwest). Each location used the same basic agenda (Appendix 1) and local planning groups largely determined the presenter lineup for their own locations.

Wisconsin’s original plan was to conduct two workshops at different sites in Wisconsin to provide training for veterinarians on organic dairy practices. The Wisconsin effort met and exceeded that goal, offering three “Organic Dairy 101” sessions in Madison (South Central), LaCrosse, (Western) and Loyal (Central). Wisconsin also used a boilerplate agenda at all sites, with some variation in presenters (Appendix 2).

In addition, Wisconsin held two special workshops—a “mini” workshop for 20 students at the University of Wisconsin Vet School and, in response to workshop participant requests, an additional treatment-focused workshop featuring veterinarians Hue Karreman and Guy Jodarski that was attended by 46 veterinarians and other dairy professionals (12 of whom had attended the one of the introductory 101 level workshops and were seeking more in-depth knowledge).

Attendees in Wisconsin received copies of the presenters’ talks, plus a copy of the book entitled Organic Dairy Farming: A Resource for Farmers. In Minnesota, attendees received a summary card of recommended references (Appendix 3).

The Wisconsin and Minnesota teams collaborated to identify key evaluation questions in an end-of-day written survey to measure progress toward short term desired outcomes. These surveys were administered in all locations. The data are presented in the Results and Discussion section of this report.

In November (six to nine months after the individual workshops) a free Internet-based survey tool called Survey Monkey ( was used to measure lasting impressions and progress toward intermediate desired outcomes. The survey consisted of 10 questions; Minnesota and Wisconsin surveys were administered and tallied separately. We sent links to the surveys in a cover e-mail to all Minnesota and Wisconsin Organic Dairy 101 workshop attendees who had provided an e-mail address (attendees at the Wisconsin vet school and follow-up intermediate sessions were not surveyed). We mailed a survey with stamped return envelope to all other registrants and entered those responses manually. A total of 37 individuals completed the “Minnesota” survey while 27 completed the "Wisconsin” survey.

Outreach and Publications

None apart from publicity to promote the workshop events. The workshops themselves were the delivery/outreach products.

Outcomes and impacts:
Results & Discussion

In total, 174 individuals received Dairy 101 training. Additional sessions provided training to 46 veterinarians and 20 veterinary students others in Wisconsin. Formal and informal feedback from project team members and workshop participants indicate that the workshop format and content were well received, that the information was valuable to those who attended, and that the value lasted after the end of the daylong workshop.

Widely distributed promotion and advertising drew a diverse array of participants (Table 1). Nearly every Minnesota location counted feed dealers, MN Department of Agriculture, DHIA, veterinarians, lenders, educators, NRCS and FSA staff, and dairy processors, and other affiliations among the participants. Each participant in Minnesota received a certificate of attendance that also contained information about how to secure CEUs from their own professional associations (Appendix 4). We do not have information about how many participants followed up to secure the credits. Wisconsin reported providing 45 certificates (worth 5 credits) for the 101 workshops and an additional 35 certificates for the in-depth workshop, which was approved for 6 credits.

Wisconsin was successful in attracting, a large number of veterinarians to each of its sessions. Feed dealers, processors, and extension personnel (some from Missouri as a result of contact with state PDP coordinators) also attended. In Minnesota, although we had outreach assistance from the state PDP coordinator, only the Rochester event drew extension educators as participants.

Table 1: Event Attendance and Attendee Affiliations

1/17/08 Saint Cloud, 51 participants -
Feed dealers, MN Department of Agriculture, DHIA, Veterinary, Lender, Educator, Certifiers, NRCS , Dairy processors (Land O Lakes and Dean Foods (2), Other.

2/5/08 Marshall, MN, 17 participants -
Feed dealers, Veterinary, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, State Board of Animal Health, DHIA, NRCS, Other

2/6/08 Madison, WI, 20 participants -
Veterinarians, dairy processors, feed dealers, educators, others

2/22/08 LaCrosse, WI 16 participants -
Veterinarians, educators, extension, others

3/13/09 Loyal, WI], 30 participants -
Veterinarians, extension (WI and MO), feed dealers, dairy processors

3/25/08 Rochester, 30 participants -
Extension, Veterinary, DHIA, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, NRCS, Educators, Dairy Processors

3/27/09 McIntotsh, 10 participants -
NRCS, FSA, North Dakota Department of Agriculture, DHIA, organic inspector, others

Table 2. “Bonus” Wisconsin Sessions
2/25/08 Madison (UW Vet School) 20 participants
Evening Session for students

12/4-5/08 Madison, 46 participants - Intermediate session: “Treating the Organic Dairy Cow” featuring presenter Hue Karreman

We used two evaluation strategies to measure progress toward our desired outcomes: an end-of-day survey (short term) and a follow-up survey six to nine months later (long term). It is important to remember that the Minnesota and Wisconsin workshops had slightly different orientations. The Minnesota workshops aimed to provide a broad organic dairy orientation to a wide variety of agriculture professionals, whereas the Wisconsin team elected to focus on meeting the interests and needs of veterinarians. Since the audiences and approaches were different, we are reporting participant feedback for each state (but not each location) for reasons of differentiation, not for the purpose of comparison.

We measured progress toward the short term goals using the end of day survey instrument that asked participants to self evaluate their change in knowledge and attitude using a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). Feedback from participants in both states indicated they gained awareness of federal rules governing dairy, increased their awareness of health and veterinary strategies that are permitted and not permitted, and gained a deeper understanding of dairy farmer motivations in choosing to farm organically.

Table 3 reflects self-assessed before/after understanding and magnitude of change for several specific desired outcomes. In Wisconsin, 16% of participants said their knowledge of organic before the course had been high (rated it a 4 or 5). In Minnesota, the number was 31%. In Wisconsin “after” familiarity soared -- 67% rated familiarity with organic after the workshop as “high.” Unfortunately, the same question was not asked on the Minnesota instrument.

Table 3 (abridged). Progress toward specific short term outcomes (scale 1-low to 5- high)

ST-2: …are aware that federal rules govern organic dairy farming. (MN change-1.57 WI change-1.55)

ST-3: …are aware of health and veterinary strategies that are permitted and not permitted. (composite of 2-3 separate questions) (MN change-1.49 WI change-1.75)

ST-6: …understand dairy producer motivations for transitioning to organic and the challenges they face. (MN change-1.46 WI change-0.86)

Level of familiarity with organic practices before and after today’s session WI change 1.46

In general, end of day responses from attendees in both states indicated that both the Wisconsin and Minnesota workshops provided a large quantity of high quality information to attendees (Fig. 1).

Data from Fig 1: Top box scores (4 or 5)

Quantity/Volume of Information Learned Today
MN: 84% WI: 60%

Quality of Information Learned Today
MN: 91% WI: 83%

Likelihood of Recommending Course to a Colleague
MN: 85% WI: not asked

The end-of-day instrument measured increases in the knowledge, understanding and attitudes of participants for a number of specific workshop topics (Fig 2).

Data from Fig 2: End-of-day Self Assessed Change in Ability to Answer Client Questions
(how well could you answer before vs. after the course)

What is the Federal Organic Rule?
MN: 1.57 WI: 1.55

How do farmers/ processors get certified organic? MN: 1.59 WI: 1.11

Does organic require more than not using antiobiotics/synthetics? MN: 1.2

What motivates farmers to switch to organic?
MN: 1.46 WI: 0.86

Does organic dairy farming "work"?
MN: 1.52 WI: not asked

How do organic farmers keep cows healthy?
MN: 1.64 WI: 1.55

What veterinary treatments are allowed for organic cattle?
MN: 1.63 WI: 1.95

What is the market outlook for organic dairy?
MN: 1.25 WI: 0.87

Laura Paine noted that data from Wisconsin’s end-of-day evaluations showed that veterinarians were most interested in detailed, specific information on organic treatment of dairy cows. They also reported increased levels of understanding about how organic dairy farms keep their cows healthy (top box score rose from 18% before the workshop to 71% after). Understanding of treatments allowed under organic production increased dramatically (top box score rose from 21% to 81%).

Minnesota participants rated the farmer presentation panels as the most useful session in the workshop. The overview and livestock health sessions followed. In Wisconsin, the farmer panel was also the runaway participant favorite, livestock health tools ran a close second, followed by certification information.

The follow-up survey conducted in November provided information about which short term outcomes had “stuck” as well as information about progress toward intermediate desired outcomes—what lasting changes in attitude and knowledge occurred, and whether participant behavior has changed since attending one of the workshops.

Responses indicate that many impacts of the workshop persisted over time. (It’s interesting to see that in both states, participants remember their “before” knowledge as lower than they rated it on the actual day of training (Fig 3.). For all Minnesota’s self-effacing claims about modesty, it is a little odd that although Wisconsin has far more organic dairy operations than Minnesota, fewer of the Wisconsin participants rated their prior knowledge “high!”

Fig. 3 Level of Familiarity with Organic Dairy Topics before Training and Now (Top Box scores - % responding 4 or 5)

WI Before training 16% WI Before 8%
WI After training 67% WI After 48%

MN Before training 31% MN After not asked
MN After training 26% MN After 60%

Intermediate goal 1: …accept that organic is a viable dairy production system.

The number of participants who agreed that “Organic can be a viable dairy production system” increased about 20% in both states (Fig 5.). While we would like to credit the workshop with this attitudinal change, it is possible that some have had subsequent reinforcing interactions with organic dairy farmers or other organic dairy professionals.

Fig. 5 Follow up survey: Agree that "Organic dairy farming can be a viable production system" -- % responding 4 or 5 (scale 1=low to 5=high)

WI before: 44% WI after: 64%

MN before: 46% MN after: 65%

Intermediate goals 2 and 3: …share knowledge and interact about organic dairy with peers and colleagues and …begin to interact with and provide appropriate technical assistance or information to organic and transitioning dairy producers or refer them to appropriate sources:

Figure 6 shows that most participants did something as a result of the training. Nearly all said they had told colleagues or clients about attending the workshop, which we interpret as a strong measure of the workshops’ professional credibility. Between 30-40% said they had since learned about organic dairies they weren’t aware of previously.

Fig 6. Follow-up Survey: Professional Activity Since the Training

Have worked with organic dairy farmers since the workshop
WI: 78% MN: 70%

Learned about dairies weren't aware of previously
WI: 37% MN: 41%

Told colleagues they had attended the workshop
WI: 96% MN: 100%

Nearly 80% of Wisconsin respondents had worked with organic dairy farmers since the workshop (median number of organic dairy farmers they’d worked with was 3). Just over 70% of Minnesota respondents had worked with organic dairy farmers since the workshop (median number 2.5). In addition, veterinarian Guy Jodarski, one of the Wisconsin presenters, reported that he’s fielded calls from several of the participants since the workshops suggesting that now that attendees know where additional resources are, at least some will begin to seek them out.

Since one of our goals for the training was to inform attendees about resources they could turn to after the workshop finished, we asked “If somebody approached you today with a question about organic dairy farming that you weren’t sure how to answer, what is the first place you would turn for information?”

Wisconsin respondents mentioned (in order of frequency):
organic dairy buyers and their producer relations staff,
books (some mentioned specific titles),
conference notes,
nonprofit organizations like MOSES,
certifiers, and
the Internet.

Minnesotans mentioned, (also in order of frequency):
Minnesota Department of Agriculture,
organic dairy farmers,
nonprofit education organizations like MOSES and Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota,
University of Minnesota and UMN Extension,
the Internet, and certifiers, along with a few others.

When we asked “If you wanted to get organic dairy information on a regular basis, which would be most convenient?” respondents from both states said they preferred web sites. In Wisconsin, newsletters ranked almost as high, followed by occasional direct e-mail updates. In Minnesota, opinions were more mixed. Almost half liked the idea of an e-mail listserv they could subscribe to, followed by newsletters and direct email updates. Farm papers ranked low for both states (13.9% in Minnesota and 15.4% in Wisconsin).

Intermediate goal 4: … increased interaction and collaboration among core and event team members occurs based on relationships built among project team members leads during this effort.

The Minnesota team reported that, “In addition to the MDI teams, a surprising number of farm business management instructors, who are part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system got helped with local planning of these events.” The Minnesota planners acknowledged all the state and local-level sponsors on brochures and publicity materials, assuming sharing credit would contribute to building inter-organizational trust.

Minnesota team leader Mary Jo Forbord made some important observations about the positive impact that involvement in this PDP has had on the relationship between the SFA and other regional MDI teams. "I think it helped legitimize our approach that we offered to be partners, we asked them to be partners to plan this event in their regions. Also, the caliber of people that we got to speak helped -- they were very noteworthy people that the people on MDI teams could respect." Mary Jo observed that the regional teams appreciated the opportunity to offer organic programming without having to dip into their own limited funding pool and sacrifice other ongoing educational efforts.

This project provided an impetus and a reason for PI Meg Moynihan and Wisconsin team leader Laura Paine to work together on another project. They delivered a joint presentation about state organic activities at the 2008 National Association of Agriculture Marketing Officials, where they mentioned the two-state collaboration on this short course. In addition, Minnesota and Wisconsin have begun to discuss whether there might be other areas of meaningful joint organic efforts.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Impact of the Results/Outcomes

As a result of this project, more than 200 current and future agriculture professionals are more informed about organic dairy legal requirements, production practices, performance, and farmer motivations and have increased confidence that organic dairy is a viable production strategy. At least three fourths of them are working with organic dairy farmers, and since the training about 40% have learned about organic dairies in their area that they weren’t aware of previously. More than 90 percent can identify sources of reliable information about organic dairy that they can draw on or refer clients to. The photo bank has already come in handy at least once— for a virtual tour of organic dairy farming shared with members of the American Dietetic Association and Midwest Dairy Association.


Future Recommendations

Many participants who responded to the follow-up survey said they want more information about organic dairy production. Minnesota respondents mentioned: soil, economics, feed/rations, milk composition, reliable information resources, how to find processors and markets, health topics, udder health, inspection/certification, and the impact of organic production on the carbon footprint of organic production. Many Wisconsin respondents mentioned livestock health and veterinary care, particularly wanting information about specific treatment options and protocols. They also mentioned udder health, dairy cattle nutrition, organic breeding and reproductive management, calf rearing, the carbon footprint of organic vs. conventional, veterinarian insights and experiences, certification and enforcement, transitioning CRP ground, selecting and implementing organic crop rotations, and a list of resources suitable for referral. Wisconsin already acted on some of these information needs with its intermediate level treatment-focussed workshop in December that attracted 12 individuals who had attended the introductory course and 34 others.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.