Final Report for LNC90-028
In the winter of 1990, a conventional dairy/cash grain farm in Southeastern Wisconsin was leased to the Krusenbaum family. The new managers wanted to build a successful family farm operation, using practices that are as close to organic farming principles as possible. The underlying goal of this project is to ascertain if a low input farming approach is a viable entry strategy for a new farmer. To facilitate the study of this transition process, a team consisting of research and extension specialists at the University of Wisconsin, agronomists from the Michael Fields Institute (East Troy, WI), the crop/livestock agent from the Walworth County Extension Service, two established low input farming neighbors, and a crop consultant was formed. This report covers the first 36 months of operation (April 1, 1990 to March 31, 1993)
After three complete years of monitoring and part of a fourth year, we can tentatively conclude that a low crop production input approach is a workable entry strategy for a beginning farmer. By the end of 1992 the rolling herd average (RHA) had increased from 15,000 lbs/yr to 19,100 lbs/yr. Purchased feed costs ranged from $300 to $370/cow indicating that the farm is nearly self sufficient and producing high quality feed. Within the crop enterprises, hay production has remained near target levels (3.5 tdm/a) but corn yields have been disappointing (target 130 bu/a). While 1991 and 1992 were poor growing seasons in SE Wisconsin, the combinations of low soil fertility/nutrient availability, soil compaction and less than satisfactory weed control contributed to the lower yields. Net worth (Fair Market Value) of the farm has however, increased from $15,000 to $150,000. Estimated net farm income in 1992 was $31,000.
Highlights during the first three years have been the development of a crop rotation and farm conservation plan as well as the initiation of rotational grazing and an improved manure management system. Erosion losses on the steepest slopes are estimated to have decreased from 8 to 3.4 t/a/yr due to the installation of contour strips and a longer, sod based rotation. Nutrient monitoring has highlighted the problem of potassium deficiency on the farm and focused attention on urine trapping as manure leaves the barn and is stacked in windrows. Rotational grazing was successfully introduced on 34 acres in the summer of 1992 and was expanded to 62 acres in 1993 to address concerns of profitability and labor management.
Outreach activities have included three field days, numerous visits by interested individuals and small groups, three open meetings in Madison, and several newspaper articles that have been written focussing on the farm. Extension publications looking at the financial situation on the farm after four years, an analysis of the 1992 and 1993 labor diary and an economic analysis of the first two years of rotational grazing are being developed during the winter of 1994.
The Krusenbaum project has three objectives:
1. To describe the biological, chemical, physical, and financial effects of adopting organic production practices.
2. To chronicle the evolution of a set of coherent low input farm strategies to deal with the issues of crop rotation, soil erosion, nutrient management, animal husbandry, and debt management.
3. To develop educational materials that will help others evaluate alternative production strategies.
Typical of Wisconsin dairy farms, the Krusenbaums have a 48 cow herd on 240 acres of land (200a tillable, 10a woodlot, and 20a in permanent pasture). The rolling landscape is made up of glacial moraines, originally overlain with a 15 inch deep silt loam cap. The soils were formed under prairie vegetation and classified as typic hapludalfs. The predominant soil is a McHenry silt loam, with a yield potential of 120 bu/a of corn, and 4.6 t dm/a of alfalfa. Infrastructure on the farm, is again typical of dairies in the State. The stanchion barn now has 44 stalls, there are two silos (18′ x 60′ and 12′ x 45′) as well as several smaller grain bins and a grain dryer. Field machinery and estimated annual costs are listed in Tables 5 and 6. Manure management in 1990, 1991 and 1992 was a daily haul system to stacks near the fields where the manure was spread in the spring. A cement pad and urine holding tank were installed in the Fall of 1992 and spreading was switched to the fall, on old sod fields. In the Spring of 1992 rotational grazing was initiated on 34 acres and expanded to 62 acres in 1993. As with all farms, labor is an important constraint. The family consists of the husband, wife and two children (a two year old and a one year old). The Krusenbaums however, have been hosts to several European interns during the past three years.
Several instruments have been used to achieve the first two objectives of the project. A journal methodology which involves daily recording of agronomic activities, rainfall, and decision making has been developed and is used to provide information on key variables. Interviews with the Krusenbaums enriches this approach and is used extensively by the team rural sociologist to understand the reasons behind certain decisions and record the sources of new information. Consultation is the primary mode of interaction with the Krusenbaums in discussions regarding complex issues like weed control strategies, the design of a crop rotation, comparing alternative manure management strategies, or wrestling with the decision to initiate rotational grazing. Field sampling is the approach used in monitoring weed populations and species, earthworm numbers, and evolving soil fertility levels. Sampling takes place each spring (April 15 May 5) at 33 permanent sites which represent various cropping histories, rotations and soil types on the farm. Computer spreadsheets aid with general financial record keeping (AAIMS) and data compilation in the nutrient cycling study, as well as herd performance monitoring (DHIA).
Objective One: On Farm Monitoring
a. Herd Productivity:
The rolling herd average (RHA) has been increasing quickly from an initial level of approximately 15,000 lbs RHA (38 cow herd) to 19,100 RHA by the end of the third year (48 cow herd). We are expecting annual production levels to stabilize or increase at a slower rate in 1993 (see Figure 1). Reproduction management has also steadily improved and the average number of days open has dropped from 130 days to around 100 days. Purchased feed costs for the past two years have varied from $300 to $370/cow, indicating that the farm is nearly self sufficient and producing high quality feed. Typical purchased feed costs in Wisconsin for a herd at 18,000 lbs RHA is approximately $430/cow (State wide AAIMS 1991 data).
The introduction of rotational grazing in 1992 was highly successful. Estimated dry matter off take from the paddocks was higher than on the three cut hay fields (3.3 vs. 2.5 tdm/a) and the feed was of excellent quality (see Figure 2). Feed costs excluding self harvested forage per hundredweight equivalent of milk dropped dramatically from $7.11 in 1991 to $4.85 in 1992. This reduction was primarily due to the six months of rotational grazing on 35 acres.
Nutrient monitoring data mirrors the economic data and indicates that while herd consumption is increasing, so is nutrient self sufficiency. As can be seen on Table 1, while herd N, P and K intake has almost doubled over the three year period, on farm production has kept pace and actually increased in relative importance. The two primary reasons are the high quality of the rotationally grazed paddocks, and the decision to grow and feed sunflowers and soybeans.
Veterinary and medicine bills however, have been unexplainably high ($100 $120/cow). It is anticipated that as herd numbers and management become constant, this expense will drop to less than $80/cow. While neither the feed nor the medical program is purely organic, the Krusenbaums and the monitoring team are satisfied with the progress they are making toward developing an organic dairy. There is a growing realization that good herd management, as defined by the University specialists, and the precepts of organic dairying are more similar than different.
b. Field Productivity:
Applying organic principles to the crop enterprises has proven more difficult than to the dairy enterprise. Yields from the first three years of production are summarized on Table 2. Some of the difference between target yields and actual yields has been due to below average rainfall in 1991 and 1992. Availability of nutrients is, however, also an issue. For all practical purposes the farm went “cold turkey” with respect to added nutrients the first year. Only a little urea was purchased for the wheat (20 lb/a) and 86 tons of manure for part of the new oat/alfalfa seeding (10 t/a). In 1991 the farm had 743 tons of stacked manure for spring spreading on corn and 875 tons in 1992. The manure was applied at the rate of 25 t/a or at a lighter rate (10 t/a) and then topped up with urea (120 lb/a). Potash has also been applied at the rate of 160 lb/a to new seedings. Initial soil tests indicated that potassium would be an important consideration as 78% of the 33 monitoring stations registered low to very low in potassium (<90 ppm). On the other hand, as is typical for many dairy farms, all the stations were high to very high in phosphorous (x=175 ppm). Mild potassium and nitrogen deficiencies symptoms have been seen in the field during the first three seasons contributing to relatively slow plant growth, aggravating weed control problems.
In addition to a minimum of fertilizer, insecticides are not being used on the farm. Production losses have been modest due to the use of crop rotation on the corn acres and harvesting dates for leaf hopper on alfalfa. Weed control without chemicals however, has remained difficult. Foxtails, lambsquarter, pigweed and velvetleaf are the most common weeds. While actual yield losses due to weeds have been estimated at less than 10%, most row crops have been rotary hoed three times and cultivated twice. The time required for these activities has resulted in delayed hay harvesting and put additional stress on the farm family. In the Spring of 1994 the weed seed bank at the 33 permanent stations will be sampled to see if the potential for weed infestation has increased, decreased or remained the same since ending the use of herbicides in the Spring of 1990.
A component of the long term sustainability of the cropping system will be developing a nutrient equilibrium between crop off take and additions. The annual whole farm nutrient field balances are presented in Table 3. These budgets were built by measuring crop off take (and doing tissue analysis for N, P, K content), and measuring nutrient inputs (manure and fertilizer additions). In addition, biological nitrogen fixation was estimated as supplying 60% of the nitrogen in alfalfa protein removal and 40% of the nitrogen in the soybean off take. Finally, the amount of nitrogen estimated to be left in the root nodules following alfalfa is 130 lbs/a and 40 lbs/a following soybeans. The field budgets for 1991 and 1992 are nearly in equilibrium for phosphorus and potassium, indicating there would be little change in average soil test values. The apparent build up in nitrogen in 1992 of +14 lb/a is misleading. The budgets don’t include field losses of nutrients after application. Forty percent of the nitrogen added to the fields in 1992 was as manure from the pasturing animals where actual nitrogen volatilization losses would be high. In addition, on these mixed grass and alfalfa paddocks, it is unlikely that any of the “excess” nitrogen would get to the groundwater due to the high nitrogen demand and good rooting pattern under sod.
Another aspect of the field monitoring has been the study of the effect of adopting an organic production philosophy on long term soil fertility and structure parameters. Soil sampling for chemical characteristics (N, P, K, pH, O.M.) was conducted in the Spring of 1990 and 1991 and for physical characteristics (aggregate stability) in the Summer of 1992. Aggregate stability (percent water stable aggregates from the 1mm – 2mm size class) is a soil structural parameter which indicates the relative resistance of soil aggregates to break down into basic soil particles. The values for most soils on the Krusenbaum farm were low, and thus indicated generally poor soil structure in many of the fields. Aggregate stability was highest in permanent pastures and in the tilled fields there was a general trend of higher values with increased frequency of forages in the recent cropping sequence (Table 4). It was estimated that on certain parts of the farm, land that had been cleared of forest after World War II had already experienced the loss of more than 15 inches of top soil. Aside from these areas, the rest of the farm showed signs of moderate erosion, severe soil compaction along the headrows, and poor water run off management (inadequate grass waterways, lack of gutters on the barn and grass filter strips around the barnyard). Contour strips were installed on the steepest slopes, a sod based rotation was adopted for the entire farm, permanent sod headlands were established, grass waterways were widened and barnyard run off was directed to an area of permanent sod. In the Spring of 1994 soil samples will be taken again at all 34 permanent stations to monitor the changes that have occurred in soil chemical characteristics over the first four year period. Physical characteristics will again be measured in 1996.
c. Labor Monitoring:
In 1992 a labor diary was initiated. Dairy chore labor was 89.5 hr/cow. This does not include manure handling from the windrows (which was charged to the corn production activity 102 hrs), nor pasture management labor of 475 hours (this includes approximately 100 hours of fence building etc). Once the pasture management became routine it took between 4 and 10 hours a week (see Figure 3). The animals were moved two times each day. The heavy labor weeks in August were due to the time required to put up temporary fencing as the summer drought continued and the animals were grazed outside of the rotational grazing paddocks on hay fields. Typical of other dairy farms in Wisconsin the corn enterprise consumed 5.03 hr/a, the hay enterprise 7.5 hr/a, the soybean enterprise 3.27 hr/a, and the small grain enterprise (seeding year oats/alfalfa) 7.5 hr/a. The labor diary is being continued for a second year.
d. Decision diary:
The decision diary has been useful in evaluating the project team’s input into the decision making process on the farm. Analyses have been made over the past three years on nearly one hundred management decisions deemed to be “significant” for the farm (decisions that involved substantial financial outlay or labor time and/or impacted significantly on the farm’s conversion to organic status). Results indicate that the Krusenbaums have counted on the farmer members of the team for area specific decisions (e.g., machinery choices, cattle purchases), while the scientists’ input (Michael Fields Institute and UW Madison) has been mostly for larger systems analysis decisions. The major exception to this pattern was the set of decisions in 1991 1992 to shift to the rotational and seasonal grazing of the dairy herd. Other grass based dairy farmers were the primary consultants for these systems level decisions. It is interesting to note that on several occasions the farm family did not follow the team’s recommendations. The two most common reasons they gave were either the lack of available labor or that the recommendation would unacceptably delay their progress toward certified organic status. Issues of labor and family life style concerns played increasingly important roles in the Krusenbaum’s decision making during the three years under investigation. An important consequence of the grazing decisions was the effective termination of the farm’s cash grain enterprises.
e. Economic Monitoring:
This is discussed in Part 3.D (Economic Analysis).
Objective Two: Chronicle the Evolution of a Set of Coherent Low input Strategies
a. Developing a crop rotation:
Gradually the farm is developing a set of strategies to move in the direction of developing a profitable organic dairy. The two factors that dominated the design of a crop rotation were the herd feed needs and the farm landscape. Rather than keep the hilly areas attached to larger, level fields and therefore have no Highly Erodible Land (HEL), it was decided to put in contour strips (approximately 7 acres each) in these areas. These strips, plus the decrease in corn acres will reduce theoretical erosion rates (based on the Universal Soil Loss Equation) from 8t/a/yr to 3.4 t/a/yr. The downside of this decision is that now the SCS map of the farm includes HEL land and must follow a soil conserving rotation.
The three goals of the evolving crop rotation have been to meet the feed needs of the herd, having some cash crops to sell, and the use of few or no chemical inputs. A 7 phase rotation (o/a a a a c sb c) was planned for the 50 acres of “hill land” and an 8 phase rotation (o/a a a c sb c-(w/sb)-c), with more row crops, was initiated on the 150 acres of “flat land”. The biological principles underpinning the rotation are: 1) having cereals following legumes; 2) rotating deep rooted and shallow rooted crops to draw up leached nutrients; 3) alternating summer annuals with winter annuals to reduce weed pressure; and, 4) keeping the ground covered as much as possible to prevent erosion and build up earthworm numbers through the use of conservation tillage and cover crops. The success of the 1992 experiment with rotational grazing on 34 acres of sod has led to the decision to expand the area to 62 acres in 1993. As a result, the rotation has been simplified to a 5 phase program (o/a a c sb c) that will be run simultaneously on five hill fields (avg.= 8.8 a) and the five flat fields (avg.= 17.8 a). Fall seeded cover crops (vetch, red clover, wheat) will be planted into the soybeans, and experiments will continue with sunflowers, and spring barley plus red clover as future options in the cropping plan.
b. An evolving manure management plan:
The medium for nutrient cycling on the farm is manure. Developing a nutrient conservative, low cost, and low labor management strategy for this key input has been a struggle. The initial daily haul system to windrows and subsequent spring spreading on corn ground had several disadvantages. The daily haul system took a minimum of 45 minutes a day, transporting the very wet manure resulted in significant nutrient losses, and spring spreading delayed planting and caused severe soil compaction. At the end of 1992 a new manure management system was installed on the farm to address both nutrient and labor problems. The new system consists of a cement storage pad installed behind the dairy barn that holds up to 90 days of manure. The gutter cleaner was extended directly out of the barn to a height of 14 feet over the pad. A grated sump and pump system was installed to collect excess urine as the manure rises up the ramp and store this liquid in an above ground 11,000 gal metal tank (Total cost $13,000). Daily labor is greatly reduced since other chores can now be done while the gutter cleaners are working, and transporting time for the manure is concentrated in only a few days, when weather conditions are good. The manure is much drier when being moved and the manure tea (30 lb K2O/1000 gals; 20 lb available N/1000 gals) will be a potassium source for the alfalfa sod. Manure spreading from the windrows will also now be concentrated in the fall, on old alfalfa sod where soil compaction will not be a problem. This will free up time in the spring when other field chores must be done. It is expected then, that this system should partially mitigate the drudgery of barn chores, alleviate the spring labor bottleneck, reduce soil compaction, and improve potassium recycling. These issues will continue to be monitored in the future.
c. Debt management:
The Krusenbaums have resisted high interest unsecured loans such as accounts payable at vendors (18%) and have planned borrowing from agencies such as FmHa and the Commodity Credit Corporation (8.5% interest rates) to meet their capital needs. Also with the drop in milk prices in early 1991, the family decided to decrease their fixed costs per productive unit and increased their herd size from 37 to 48 cows. These decisions, plus the willingness to re evaluate their machinery purchases indicate a conservative and measured approach toward building up their business.
d. Animal feeding strategy:
The animal feeding strategy has been a management intensive “comprehensive topdressing” or “component feeding” program. Once maintenance needs are met with the forages (corn silage, alfalfa hay and haylage), additional energy, protein, salt and minerals, and vitamins are individually fed to the animals based on expected milk production. Due to the lack of an actual premium for organic milk and the difficulty in finding a processor that would guarantee the roasted beans to be the same beans delivered for processing, the family decided in 1991 to sell their soybean crop and buy cheaper cotton seed and soybean meal for the ration. From a financial point of view, this approach to feeding the herd has been quite successful. As was shown in Figure 1, the RHA is increasing and total feed costs per hundredweight in 1991 only represented 47% of the milk price. This is in the typical range of 40 50 percent.
In 1992 a major decision was taken to experiment with rotational grazing. The potential advantages of this system include:
1. the animals harvest most of their summer forage needs reducing the use and repair of tractors, haying equipment and mechanized feeding equipment;
2. if well managed, the animals get a very high quality spring and summer diet reducing the need for protein supplements;
3. herd health can be maintained and improved;
4. summer labor can be both reduced and becomes more pleasant as haying and feeding time is replaced by simply moving fences and cattle;
5. summer manure, instead of being “wasted” on a low feed value exercise pasture, is deposited over productive paddocks.
Some potential disadvantages were also obvious:
1. a new technology had to be learned by trial and error;
2. inclement weather could adversely affect paddock and herd productivity (hot weather would effect the animals’ appetites and productivity, wet weather would affect the longevity of the stand and animal health);
3. taking land out of the sod/grain crop rotation to put into permanent rotational grazing would further limit the potential to produce cash grain crops.(1) Basically it meant that the farm would only specialize in dairy production.
Note 1: For example, in the 1992 rotation plan there would be annually 114 acres in corn, soybeans and wheat. With the expansion to 62 acres of rotational grazing in 1993, the new rotation will only include 79 acres of corn and soybeans.
As reported earlier, the grazing experiment was a success. It took about 120 hours to install the fences and waterers and cost $3,000. Milk production remained high during the grazing months and feed costs per hundredweight equivalent of milk dropped dramatically from $7.11 in 1991 to $4.85 in 1992. Also in 1992 sunflowers were grown for the first time on a 3 acre plot. Due to their high oil content (45%), moderate protein content (20%), and palatability, they make an excellent homegrown feed supplement by providing a high level of energy while maintaining a favorable protein content in the ration. In 1992 the soybeans were not sold for cheaper cotton seed meal but “banked” at the local coop and re imported on to the farm as roasted beans. All three of these changes are making the farm more self sufficient in feed and permitting the Krusenbaums’ to approach their goal of organic certification.
In 1993 the area in grazing was increased to 62 acres and sunflowers were planted on 11 acres. The family intends to take further advantage of the rotational grazing concept and begin seasonal milking. They will initiate this system rapidly by auctioning off some of their out of phase animals in the winter of 1994 and have their herd calving in time for the pasture flush in April of 1994. Monitoring of these important changes in milk production strategy will continue.
Objective Three: The development of educational materials
Several approaches are being taken to inform the public about the results from this case study. Newspaper articles have been written, field days held and extension publications are being prepared. These are covered in more detail below under section 3.B (Dissemination of Findings) of this final report format.
At a general level, if the Krusenbaums are able to initiate a successful dairy using a low purchased input philosophy, this will serve as an encouragement to others to consider this approach. Since this strategy requires access to less capital, it is particularly attractive to both entry level farmers and lenders (FmHa, banks). More established farmers who are considering changes in their operation (e.g., build another silo or try rotational grazing) will also benefit from the data generated by this case study. Specific successes of the Krusenbaums in doing away with herbicides, insecticides, and improving manure management will be of interest to all dairymen. As a result, it is anticipated that many members of the farming community will benefit from the documented results on the Krusenbaum farm and the two newly developed spreadsheets. In addition, the development of educational materials for Soil Science classes on nutrient cycling on dairy farms and Agricultural Engineering classes on building a Farm Soil Conservation Plan will help train students in this type of whole farm planning. In time, as increasingly stringent legislation is enacted dealing with te use of agricultural chemicals and manure, and a premium is paid for organic milk, there will be increasing interest in the concrete, whole farm results of this study.
On the farm itself, a soil conservation plan has been implemented that will reduce erosion losses by 50% on the steepest slopes and improve water run off management on the entire farm. At a whole farm field level phosphorous and potassium inputs are nearly in balance with off take indicating that soil test levels will stabilize. The new manure management plan will reduce the danger of pollution as the manure will be only applied to sod ground and the separation of the solids and excess liquid will facilitate transportation. Economically, while not yet prospering, the Krusenbaum family is succeeding in establishing an organic dairy.
Our original hypothesis questioned whether an organic production philosophy was a viable alternative for an entry level dairy farmer. It appears that it, not only is a valid approach, but that in this case the farm has evolved into 100% dairy and abandoned the original plan which included sales of cash grain as well as dairy products. Although increased biological diversity has been an important concept in developing the organic strategy, shortages in labor, management time, and labor played an important role in the decision to reduce the enterprise diversity on this farm. With the introduction of rotational grazing reducing the land base for cash crops and seasonal dairying reducing the time available for planting, it is unlikely that cash crops will be an important source of income in the future. It would prove interesting for the team to work with an entering cash grain farmer and see if a cash grain cropping system could evolve that would be both profitable and organic in Southern Wisconsin and to determine the significance of organic market premiums on profitability.
Future investigations could move in at least two directions. The first would continue with the Krusenbaum farm and analyze the economic sustainability of an organic, mid sized pasture based dairy enterprise in coming times of either overall drops in the prices paid for conventional milk or the development of an organic milk market featuring premium prices. A second direction would be to shift attention from the Krusenbaum dairy farm to a beginning farm family employing an organic cash grain entry strategy in Southern Wisconsin. The monitoring and analytical models developed during the Krusenbaum study would greatly facilitate initiating this second study.
The net worth statement summarized in Table 7 gives a picture of the financial health of the Krusenbaum operation. Current assets grew to almost $47,000 in the winter of 1991 because the 1990 corn crop had not yet been sold (5400 bu). Current assets dropped by December of 1991 due to the poor production year and therefore a drop in inventory. By December of 1992 they were again at 1991 levels due to the unsold soybeans. Total assets, however, after three years of operation have risen to above $230,000. Current liabilities are at zero and most of the non current liabilities are in the form of a FmHa loan. Net worth has grown to $153,000(2) and net farm income in 1992 was a respectable $31,000. The Krusenbaums and team economists feel satisfied with the progress that has been made since 1990.
The annual reports of the project give an in depth analysis of each years economic situation. Appendix III A and B includes the 1992 financial monitoring report and a draft report on the economic impact of the first year of rotational grazing. Both these documents will be used in preparing extension publications during the winter of 1994.
Note 2: This is not the amount that would be available to the Krusenbaums should they decide to sell out. If they did sell out they would have selling costs and deferred income taxes. It is estimated this would reduce their net to $90,000.
Change in Practice/Operational Recommendations
These questions are difficult to answer since this has basically been a case study project. Nevertheless, a number of specific practices used on the farm are being studied by other farmers. The Krusenbaum farm hosted the Walworth County Holstein Association summer meeting in July 1992, and over 100 people looked at their new rotational grazing system. In addition several neighbors have come to the farm to see the manure pad and liquid storage system as a low cost way to improve manure management. Other innovations on the farm that are being discussed with other producers include the use of home grown sunflowers in the dairy ration and non chemical weed control with rotary hoeing and timely cultivations. The greatest public attention is due to the implementation of rotational grazing and planned transition to seasonal dairying. It should be remembered that this study addresses the first three years of conversion of this farm from conventional to organic management, and that some of the management and production problems encountered may be related primarily to the conversion period.
Jerry Doll Weed Extension Specialist, College of Agriculture UW Madison
I am convinced that over the past four years Alftrid has not lost more than 8-10% of his potential crop yields due to weed pressure. He gets his rotary hoeing done on time and the purchase of the guidance system has made his cultivations, especially on the contours very effective. I am very encouraged that a commercial dairy farm can successfully manage weeds without herbicides.
Gary Frank Farm Management Economist, College of Agriculture UW Madison
The Krusenbaum farm is developing into a successful dairy farm. 1990 was not a propitious year for starting a dairy farm but I feel the Krusenbaums are continuing to increase their ability to be in dairying for the long run.
Leonard Massie Agricultural Engineer, College of Agriculture UW Madison
I’ve seen the soil come alive under the four years of organic management by Altfrid and Sue Krusenbaum.
Bernie Klieber Cash grain farmer, Whitewater Wisconsin
I feel that the Krusenbaums have gown in stature in the community and a lot of people in SE Wisconsin are watching this experiment in organic farming and the introduction of rotational grazing. They are real ambassadors for a new ethic in farming. I also am pleased to see the College of Agriculture and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute coordinating this activity. I am proud that my College is reaching out and working with new partners to improve Wisconsin agriculture.
Jon Baldock President, AGSTAT Crop Consulting firm
By adopting sound crop rotations that match the landscape’s productive potential, farmers can reduce chemical purchases. The Krusenbaums are developing a very sustainable farming system. By participating in this project I will be better able to serve my clientele.
Lee Cunningham Agri business Extension Agent, Walworth County
Advising a farm family with a clear but non-conventional production philosophy has been a very rich challenge and I am pleased with their success. However, I continue to stress the need for them to search and find a value added market for the products they produce as this will help them stay financially sound. The field days we have held on their farm, and Altfrid’s contributions to field days on the Lakeland Agricultural Complex have helped me attain my goal of working with the entire community. This project has expanded the visibility of the UW Extension in Walworth County.
Ken Nordlund DVM, Associate Clinical Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, UW Madison
I have taken classes of senior veterinary students to the Krusenbaum farm for the past three years. The visits are part of a course called Dairy Herd Problem Identification. The Krusenbaum herd contrasts sharply with some of the other dairy herds studied in the course. Every year students who are skeptical or prejudiced against ideas of alternative production strategies come away from the Krusenbaum exposure with a very different and positive perspective. Altfrid and Sue are eloquent spokespersons and inspiring role models for an alternative approach to dairy farming and their farm has proven to be an invaluable teaching resource.
John Hall–Agronomist, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
The most significant impact of the Krusenbaum project has ben the unique learning experiment it offered to project participants. We have gained an increased understanding and appreciation for the complexity of farming and the diversity of issues farmers face when making decisions that shape their particular farm structure. Multidisciplinary teams and farmer partnerships are a valuable and necessary component of farming system research.
The project addressed and answered many of the questions beginning farmers might have who want to change or organic or more sustainable farming systems. The privilege of working with so many experts in their respective fields was an education for us and an opportunity to tie our conversion efforts into the broader sustainable farming community. We hope the team will be able to revisit the Krusenbaum farm to assess long term effects of the conversion on ecological, economic and social factors.
Number of growers/producers in attendance at:
Workshops (Winter meetings): 15
Field Days: 150
The project has held three field days and attendance was between 75 and 125 at each. Approximately half of the people attending are farmers and the remainder, people interested in learning more about organic farming principals (University staff, graduate students, urbanites).
Educational & Outreach Activities
The Krusenbaums have been interviewed and featured in a number of articles in a wide variety of newspapers (urban area dailies, local community and regional weeklies, and a College of Agriculture quarterly) as well as being the subject of a newsletter article (CIAS Connections, December, 1990). A CIAS Research Updates newsletter is in its final editing stages and a feature on the Krusenbaum farm is planned as part of a future DHIA quarterly newsletter. Also, three field days have been held at the farm (7/2/90; 5/23/91; 6/30/92) as well as three winter meetings in Madison. In addition to a farm tour and lunch, the field days have each included guest speakers addressing various issues of concern to the agricultural community (i.e., the effect of lower milk prices; IFMPO of the 1990 Farm Bill). Turnout has been excellent, averaging 75 125 people each time. In addition, the Krusenbaums themselves hosted a twilight meeting of the local Walworth County Holstein Association (7/11/92) in order to show their neighbors their new rotational grazing operation. Turnout was just over 100 people. Many farm visits and tours have been arranged for small groups of producers and researchers. References to the Krusenbaum project progress reports have been incorporated into workshops (Annual Urban-Rural Workshop) and conferences and the MFAI annual Research Reporting Day.
Recognition by agricultural leaders of Altfrid Krusenbaum’s abilities and publicity from this project has given him opportunities to have an impact on midwest agriculture. He gave a presentation at an Organic Growers Conference (Sparta, WI, March, 1993) and is presently serving on the University of Wisconsin Dairy 20/20 panel and the CIAS Grazing Systems Interest Group.
Extension publications looking at the financial situation on the farm after four years, an analysis of the 1992 and 1993 labor diary and an economic analysis of the first two years of rotational grazing will appear during the winter of 1994. A special study is also being prepared for the Department of Agricultural Economics series “Managing the Farm” on the implications for the complement of machinery required on a dairy farm once rotational grazing is introduced. Papers on the team model used in the Krusenbaum Project as well as the results from the nutrient cycling study are being submitted to professional journals.
Two case studies are also under development. One focuses on the design of a nutrient management strategy for the farm, and the other chronicles the steps in the implementation of a farm soil conservation plan. These are part of the LISA funded graduate student’s masters thesis (Harrison, 1993). It is anticipated that these will be used in an undergraduate capstone course that is being designed by the College of Agriculture. The Krusenbaum case study will also contribute significantly to an integrated series of case studies being assembled by the UW Madison’s Center For Integrated Agricultural Systems on grass based dairy alternatives.
In addition to the data generated by the project itself, working through various problems with the farmer has inspired the development of two computer software spreadsheets. In one case a crop rotation spreadsheet has been developed that allows farmers to compare alternative crop rotations. Rotation performance criteria, for example for dairy farmers includes estimating: (1) feed production for the herd; (2) soil erosion on the farm; (3) recommended fertilizer purchases; and, (4) rotation profitability (Baldock and Posner, 1992 and 1993). The other is a linear programming model for optimizing pasture management in a rotational grazing system. Required inputs include estimated pasture yields, animal mix and productivity, total pasture area, feed supplementation and prices and fence and labor costs (Vazquez and Smith, 1991).
Areas needing additional study
1. Potassium management remains a major problem on a dairy farm. Crops like alfalfa require high levels of soil potassium but the dairy cows require relatively little in their diet. Maintaining soil test levels without purchasing potassium fertilizers appears to be difficult.
2. Including soybeans in an organic dairy rotation greatly facilitates meeting the herd’s protein requirements. However, inadequate nitrogen availability for corn after soybeans and the potential for fall and spring erosion are severe limitations. The use of fall seeded cover crops (legumes and grasses), planted into the beans may be a partial solution.
3. Labor requirements seem to be the driving force behind most management decisions on the farm. Has rotational grazing improved the labor calendar? In the Spring of 1994 the farm will switch to seasonal dairying, how will this affect seasonal and annual labor needs.
4. Further analysis regarding the appropriate nature and sources of strategic information for beginning farmers.
5 Feasibility analysis of developing premium generating markets for organic dairy products in Southern Wisconsin, given the region’s proximity to metropolitan Chicago and Milwaukee.