Tools for Teams: Improving the success of dairy farm teams to benefit farm performance

Final Report for ENE12-124

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2012: $96,133.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Lisa Holden
Penn State
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Project Information

Summary:

Dairy farm businesses work with a wide range of professionals, including crop consultants, bankers, veterinarians, extension personnel, and nutritionists.  One effective way to work with these advisors is through the use of a Dairy Advisory Team.  Dairy Advisory Teams are fairly common throughout the Northeast; however, many could benefit from more effective use of tools to achieve better results.  The goals of this project were to provide education and training on tools that can assist team members with meeting facilitation and data management, then assess the impact this training had at the farm level.

Five Tools for Teams workshops were held to provide in-person training on a variety of tools including:  meeting facilitation tools such as agendas and action plans; data management tools such as DHI reports, cash flow planning, and Monthly Monitor or Dairy Profit Analyzer, and long range planning and analysis tools such as the PA Dairy Tool and the Income Over Feed Cost Tool and electronic apps. Each participant received a toolbox with both hardcopy and electronic tools and a case study format was used.  Workshops were held in Vermont (1), New York (2), and Pennsylvania (2) with 73 participants attending the workshops.  Two webinar series were conducted as follow up to the workshops.  Topics for these sessions included both in-depth coverage of tools like DHI records and Dairy Profit Analyzer as well as team topics like Managing Conflict and Setting and Achieving Goals.  The webinar series had 196 live participants and 372 people accessed recordings of the webinars. Overall delivery of the workshops, quality of program materials, and information meeting participants’ needs were given excellent or good ratings by 96%, 100%, and 96% of participants who completed the survey, respectively.  For the webinar series, 97% of webinar participants who responded to a survey following the webinars rated the overall quality of the webinars as good or excellent on average.

 

Twenty-four workshop participants completed a follow-up survey and reported using 22 new tools with dairy farmers as a result of the workshops.    Data was also collected to determine the number of dairy herds and cows that workshop and webinar participants routinely work with – indicating the potential scale of influence of the project. Workshop participants reported working with 125 herds representing 40,575 cows, and webinar participants routinely worked with 813 herds with 146,300 cows. Workshop participants indicated that farms saw herd improvements as a result of using new tools, and these improvements would result in financial benefits from improved reproduction and milk quality.  Workshop participants listed several other improvements in their teamwork with dairy farmers as a result of the Tools for Teams workshop including: more productive use of data, shorter meetings that remain on-track, better communication among team members, improved follow-through of team members to items on an action plan, and reinforcement of the concept of keeping meetings as short as possible while still being productive.

Performance Target:

 

  • Develop a workshop curriculum for in the most effective use of a variety of on farm assessment tools that will be used to train 80 extension educators and agribusiness representatives working with 400 dairy farms.

 

  • Two hundred workshop invitations will be mailed to active team members in three states.

 

  • Eighty trainees will participate in workshops designed to create interest in understanding how to use tools on farm teams.

 

  • The 80 participants will use at least one tool with 5 or more of their team farms, milking approximately 34,000 cows, within six months of initial training.

 

  • At least 60 participants will take part in feedback sessions conducted through webinars and conference calls, and they will provide information about effective use of tools.

 

  • At least 50 participants will complete a final survey about the impact of the tool use on both the team and the farm performance.

 

Introduction:

Dairy advisory team use is widespread in the Northeast.  Survey data from the 2010 “Friday Facilitator Forum” webinars showed that while teams are able to set goals, developing monitoring systems to achieve those goals can be a weakness.  Good use of tools for meeting facilitation, data management and long range planning and analysis improves success by providing data critical for timely decision making and by enhancing skills of team members.  This regional project trained extension educators and agribusiness professionals to effectively use a variety of tools to improve team performance.  Participants attended workshops where they used a case study approach to work through several scenarios and learn how to better use tools with teams.  Following workshops, webinar series provided additional information about specific tools or team related topics and the opportunity for follow up discussion with instructors.  This two-stage approach to training allowed for use of tools from the workshops at the farm level and provided the needed feedback for effective and continued use.  Surveys were used for the workshops and webinars to determine appropriateness of materials and effectiveness of training, and a final survey was completed by about a third of project participants to document the use of tools and improvements seen at the farm level.   Positive benefits from the training were noted at the individual team and farms who had team members participate in training.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Karen Baase
  • Robert Goodling
  • Virginia Ishler
  • Tony Kitsos
  • Rebecca White

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

1. Develop a workshop curriculum for in the most effective use of a variety of on farm assessment tools that will be used to train 80 extension educators and agribusiness representatives working with 400 dairy farms.

Workshop curriculum was developed using a case-study based example and included training on ten tools:

 

    1. Income over feed cost

 

    1. Cash flow

 

    1. Meeting agendas

 

    1. Benchmarking

 

    1. Repro drill down

 

    1. Data analysis tools

 

    1. PA dairy tool

 

    1. Cornell University Dairy Farm Business Summary

 

    1. Dairy Profit Monitor

 

    1. An online job description generator.

 

 

The workshops were facilitated by faculty and staff from Penn State, Cornell, and University of Vermont.  Curriculum Development was completed in December 2012 and became part of a toolbox for participants that provided both hardcopy and electronic learning materials and templates.

 

2. Two hundred workshop invitations will be mailed to active team members in three states.

 

Penn State sent 2627 email newsletters that advertised the Tools for Teams workshops.  In addition, 440 email announcements were sent that specifically targeted constituents in the immediate area where a workshop was going to be held.  Cornell University contacted 485 people to announce the March 2013 workshop held in Morrisville, NY.  Cornell University also generated a postcard invitation for the Tools for Teams workshop held in November 2013 in Varysburg, NY.  This postcard was attached to an email that reached 264 people.  Advertising for the Vermont Tools for Teams workshop included 62 direct mailings/targeted emails originating from Penn State and the workshop was advertised through a University of Vermont dairy extension electronic newsletter that reached approximately 800 people.  Completed April 2013.

 

3. Eighty trainees will participate in workshops designed to create interest in understanding how to use tools on farm teams.

 

One workshop was held in Pennsylvania in December 2012 with 18 participants.  Four workshops were held in 2013: One in Pennsylvania, two in New York, and one in Vermont.  Total number of workshop participants in 2013 was 55, for a total of 73 participants.  Some workshop attendees were dairy extension personnel; others were agricultural banking professionals, dairy farmers, nutrition and whole-farm consultants, and veterinarians.  Tables 1 and 2 summarize survey data related to the workshops.  The targeted audience in the proposal was 80 participants, so 91% of the target audience was reached.  Completed April 2013

 

4. The 80 participants will use at least one tool with 5 or more of their team farms, milking approximately 34,000 cows, within six months of initial training.

 

Twenty-four workshop attendees completed the final survey.  Survey responses indicated that 22 new tools were being used on farms after workshop.  Examples of the new tools in use by the educators include:     It was not possible to get full details about which tools were being used on which farms; however, the educators using the tools reported working routinely with 125 herds with 40,575 cows.  Surveys completed October, 2014.

 

5. At least 60 participants will take part in feedback sessions conducted through webinars and conference calls, and they will provide information about effective use of tools.

 

The first series of webinars focused on farm financial issues and ran from May to July 2013 with a total of 5 sessions.  Topics included: strategies for successful communication during team meetings so that the important issues can be covered, using dairy profit monitor with teams, New York Farm Net program, benchmarking, and using DHI records to improve the bottom line.  The second webinar series focused on management issues and ran from March through June 2014 with a total of 7 sessions.  The topics included: progress monitoring and problem-solving, heifer raising, milk quality, reproduction, forage quality, succession planning, and dealing with difficult situations in team meetings.  Participants were encouraged to ask questions and interact with the presenters during the live version of these webinars.  Tables 3 and 4 summarize survey data related to the workshops.  In total, the webinar sessions were accessed by 196 live participants and 322 people via recording, greatly exceeding the target due to more participants joining the webinar sessions than attended the workshops.  Completed June 2014.

 

6. At least 50 participants will complete a final survey about the impact of the tool use on both the team and the farm performance.

 

Forty-six workshop participants were contacted and 24 agreed to complete the final survey, most by phone and some by email, representing one third of all workshop participants.  When contact via telephone proved to be challenging, an abbreviated version of the phone survey was emailed to participants requesting feedback.  Nineteen participants never responded to phone messages.  Three participants were no longer working at the job where they provided contact information.  The phone survey was drafted in such a way that would allow data to be gathered on a team-by-team or herd-by-herd basis.  This approach simply did not work in practice.  Data was gathered that reflected what new tools were being used after the workshop, but details on herd-by-herd basis were too cumbersome for those participating in the survey. Despite the lack of participation in final surveys, the data that was able to be gathered indicated that the workshops and webinars were quite effective in that tools were being used with teams on-farms and that improvements were being realized.  In hindsight, more detailed pre and post survey template by farm would be useful to extract the exact impact at the farm or team level.   Completed October 2014.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

Eighty team members will attend a training workshop and teach 400 dairy farmers who manage 34,000 cows how to use tools to improve: milk production, herd management, income over feed costs, cash flow planning, or whole herd profitability.

 

Out of the targeted 80 participants, 73 actually attended workshops.  Total number of dairy farmers impacted by having a team member attend the workshop was lower than anticipated (the 24 (30%) workshop participants reached for a phone survey were members of teams working with 125 dairy farmers and their herds ; the target was 400 farms).  .  The total number of cows in these 125 farmers’ herds was 40,575 cows and that number exceeded the targeted number of cows (34,000 cows). Several workshop participants do not work with any teams at the current time.  Some attendees were not part of any dairy advisory teams but attended the workshop so that they could network with individuals who are part of teams, while others attended in order to learn more about how teams could work

 

The follow-up survey from the first webinar series included questions about the numbers of herds and cows that the webinar participants contacts regularly.  Participants in the first webinar series reported they are regularly in contact with 813 herds containing 146,300 cows. The surveys for the second webinar series were formatted differently and did not collect the same information.  In total, data collected from participants of both webinar series indicated that participants regularly worked with 938 herds and 186,875 cows, indicating the potential scale of influence of the project.

 

Additionally, while not specific in total dollar impacts, the participants providing details about their use of farm assessment tools reported anecdotally that herd improvements did result at the farm level from use of the tools from this training project. These herd improvements would result in financial gain for the farmers.  Examples of potential financial improvements from the reported herd improvements are described in the next section.  By putting these tools in the hands of professionals working with teams, the impact of this training should extend well beyond the life of the project itself.

 

Those who were contacted for the phone survey had many positive comments about the workshop.

  • One workshop participant works with 78 herds in various roles. He said that instead of talking about the same thing for 6 meetings in a row, he is giving expectations of action & seeing changes happen as a result of implementing action plans.

 

  • A Cornell Cooperative Extension agent said that the workshop helped to revive his drive to make income over feed cost available to farms & help them realize the benefits of knowing IOFC for their herds. He has been calculating a lot of IOFC since the workshop.

 

  • A New York Farm Link agent feels that this workshop was a great overall approach to bring together meeting management and communication tools with data tools. He previously thought of these items separately, but the workshop helped him to realize how important it is to put them together.

 


Farmer adoption 

 

While many farms appreciate and embrace the concept of a team approach to problem-solving and herd management, there are still many farms that are reluctant to make this transition.  One of the Tools for Teams workshop participants was Dave Grusenmeyer, from the New York Farm Viability Institute.  There are farmer grants available through this institute to help dairy farms in New York start profit teams.  Unfortunately, only 29 new profit teams started during the first year this grant money was available and there was money to cover twice that many.  Problems with getting teams going include: (1) getting the word out, (2) strong milk price so farmers do not think they need to make any more money right now, and (3) a farmer attitude of “I do not have any problems, so I do not need a team”.  A lender who attended the workshop shared his thoughts related to farmer adoption of new tools: “It does not matter how many tools you have to offer herds, if you cannot get them to do something that they should have done 5 years ago, it is hard to throw something new at them.”

 

Jim Davis is a farmer who attended the workshop.  He has recently started having profit team meetings for his farm.  He said that the reason for starting the meetings is that his son has begun participating in decision-making on the farm and his son does not want to talk to all of the professionals individually.  They have been pleased with the profit team approach and it is helping them to make decisions about a herd expansion.  Their banker has not missed a single meeting & Mr. Davis appreciates that the banker is able to understand the month-to-month challenges the farm faces as a result of being present for the meetings.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

1. Develop a workshop curriculum for in the most effective use of a variety of on farm assessment tools that will be used to train 80 extension educators and agribusiness representatives working with 400 dairy farms.

Workshop curriculum was developed using a case-study based example and included training on ten tools:

 

    1. Income over feed cost

 

    1. Cash flow

 

    1. Meeting agendas

 

    1. Benchmarking

 

    1. Repro drill down

 

    1. Data analysis tools

 

    1. PA dairy tool

 

    1. Cornell University Dairy Farm Business Summary

 

    1. Dairy Profit Monitor

 

    1. An online job description generator.

 

 

The workshops were facilitated by faculty and staff from Penn State, Cornell, and University of Vermont.  Curriculum Development was completed in December 2012 and became part of a toolbox for participants that provided both hardcopy and electronic learning materials and templates.

 

2. Two hundred workshop invitations will be mailed to active team members in three states.

 

Penn State sent 2627 email newsletters that advertised the Tools for Teams workshops.  In addition, 440 email announcements were sent that specifically targeted constituents in the immediate area where a workshop was going to be held.  Cornell University contacted 485 people to announce the March 2013 workshop held in Morrisville, NY.  Cornell University also generated a postcard invitation for the Tools for Teams workshop held in November 2013 in Varysburg, NY.  This postcard was attached to an email that reached 264 people.  Advertising for the Vermont Tools for Teams workshop included 62 direct mailings/targeted emails originating from Penn State and the workshop was advertised through a University of Vermont dairy extension electronic newsletter that reached approximately 800 people.  Completed April 2013.

 

3. Eighty trainees will participate in workshops designed to create interest in understanding how to use tools on farm teams.

 

One workshop was held in Pennsylvania in December 2012 with 18 participants.  Four workshops were held in 2013: One in Pennsylvania, two in New York, and one in Vermont.  Total number of workshop participants in 2013 was 55, for a total of 73 participants.  Some workshop attendees were dairy extension personnel; others were agricultural banking professionals, dairy farmers, nutrition and whole-farm consultants, and veterinarians.  Tables 1 and 2 summarize survey data related to the workshops.  The targeted audience in the proposal was 80 participants, so 91% of the target audience was reached.  Completed April 2013

 

4. The 80 participants will use at least one tool with 5 or more of their team farms, milking approximately 34,000 cows, within six months of initial training.

 

Twenty-four workshop attendees completed the final survey.  Survey responses indicated that 22 new tools were being used on farms after workshop.  Examples of the new tools in use by the educators include:     It was not possible to get full details about which tools were being used on which farms; however, the educators using the tools reported working routinely with 125 herds with 40,575 cows.  Surveys completed October, 2014.

 

5. At least 60 participants will take part in feedback sessions conducted through webinars and conference calls, and they will provide information about effective use of tools.

 

The first series of webinars focused on farm financial issues and ran from May to July 2013 with a total of 5 sessions.  Topics included: strategies for successful communication during team meetings so that the important issues can be covered, using dairy profit monitor with teams, New York Farm Net program, benchmarking, and using DHI records to improve the bottom line.  The second webinar series focused on management issues and ran from March through June 2014 with a total of 7 sessions.  The topics included: progress monitoring and problem-solving, heifer raising, milk quality, reproduction, forage quality, succession planning, and dealing with difficult situations in team meetings.  Participants were encouraged to ask questions and interact with the presenters during the live version of these webinars.  Tables 3 and 4 summarize survey data related to the workshops.  In total, the webinar sessions were accessed by 196 live participants and 322 people via recording, greatly exceeding the target due to more participants joining the webinar sessions than attended the workshops.  Completed June 2014.

 

6. At least 50 participants will complete a final survey about the impact of the tool use on both the team and the farm performance.

 

Forty-six workshop participants were contacted and 24 agreed to complete the final survey, most by phone and some by email, representing one third of all workshop participants.  When contact via telephone proved to be challenging, an abbreviated version of the phone survey was emailed to participants requesting feedback.  Nineteen participants never responded to phone messages.  Three participants were no longer working at the job where they provided contact information.  The phone survey was drafted in such a way that would allow data to be gathered on a team-by-team or herd-by-herd basis.  This approach simply did not work in practice.  Data was gathered that reflected what new tools were being used after the workshop, but details on herd-by-herd basis were too cumbersome for those participating in the survey. Despite the lack of participation in final surveys, the data that was able to be gathered indicated that the workshops and webinars were quite effective in that tools were being used with teams on-farms and that improvements were being realized.  In hindsight, more detailed pre and post survey template by farm would be useful to extract the exact impact at the farm or team level.   Completed October 2014.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Gathering economic impact data was challenging.  The workshop participants who completed the final survey provided vague details about the financial impact of the tools.  One participant said that pregnancy rate improved significantly in a 700-cow herd after the workshop.  In order to put some financial value to that statement, data from Pecsok and others (1994) was used (every 1% increase in pregnancy rate above 13% is worth $16.60 per cow per year).  Assuming that the pregnancy rate increased from 13% to 20% in this 700-cow herd, there would be an increase of $116.20 per cow ($16.60 * 7% increase) and $81,340 on a herd basis.

 

Another participant said that the somatic cell count on a 600-cow herd had increased from 200,000 cells/ml to 400,000 cells/ml.  Following the workshop, the herd managers were able to get that number back down to 200,000 cells/ml.  According to https://nmconline.org/dhiscc.htm, there is a decrease in milk production of 200 pounds per cow per 305 days in first lactation animals and 400 pounds per cow per 305 days for second lactation animals for 200,000 cells/ml increase in SCC.  The improved milk production resulting from getting better control of the SCC would have a positive financial impact.  In addition, Land O Lakes gives a $0.40/cwt premium for ≤200,000 cells/ml and no premium for 400,000 cells/ml.  If this 600-cow herd was shipping 70 pounds per cow per day, that would be 12,600 cwt/month.  The monthly quality premium would be $5,040 for the lower SCC milk.  There are always losses to treatment costs and dumped milk when the SCC is higher.

 

Another participant said that one of their herds made “reproduction progress” after the workshop.  There were no other details shared; however, any increase in reproductive performance should result in some financial benefit.  An improved pregnancy rate implies that more cows get pregnant earlier in their lactations.  deVries and others listed two benefits of having cows pregnant earlier in their lactations: (1) cows spend more time in early lactation when milk production is higher, and (2) are at lower risk of being culled for reproductive reasons.  One other herd was reported to be “doing much better with getting heifers settled” as a result of implementing action plans after the Tools for Teams workshop.  A regional account manager for Genex reports that he is confident that herds are making more money as a result of better communication and increased accountability of profit team members.

 

de Vries, A., R. Giesy, L. Ely, A. de Araujo, A. Andreasen, B. Broaddus, S. Eubanks, D. Mayo, P. Miller, T.

 

Seawright, and C. Vann. 2003. Dairy Business Analysis Project: Financial Summary for 1995-2001.

 

UF/IFAS Extension Document DS174. Available on http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/DS174.

 

Pecsok, S. R., M. L. McGilliard, and R. L. Nebel. 1994. Conception rates: Derivation and estimates for

effects of estrus detection on cow profitability. Journal of

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.