- Animals: goats, sheep
- Animal Products: dairy
- Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, mentoring, workshop
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, value added
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, employment opportunities, sustainability measures
Chenango County dairy farmers have been experiencing many hardships, including low milk prices, devastating floods, a small labor pool and increasing transportation costs. Some of these problems have been going on for years, and has resulted in the loss of 22% of our dairy farms between 1997 and 2002 (Census of Agriculture data). These difficulties are at the forefront of our local community, as portrayed in a recent Norwich Evening Sun newspaper article: “The Lathrops said they’ve found ways to cut costs, such as fixing their own equipment, mixing their own feed, and working longer hours. But they’re also the first ones to admit that keeping the 48-hour clock is a pace they won’t be able to sustain permanently. “You’re going to get burned out,” he said.”(see complete article attached) Some of these issues cannot be controlled, but we aim to help dairy producers get top dollar for their product. Through dairy value-added products, such as cheese, ice cream and yogurt, dairies are able to more than double the value they would get for raw milk by being able to market it through other channels such as direct to consumer and in local and regional stores. The Expanding Value-Added Dairy Opportunities in Central New York project will focus on farmstead and small-scale cheese making as a way to increase profitability for area dairy farms. Cheese-making can be very profitable, but there are many risks involved. It takes commitment and experimentation to even think about getting started. The cheese making process itself takes hours of trial and error, as does selecting proper equipment, identifying recipes, processes and tools that will work well for the producer. The availability and cost of time and space at a dairy incubator or rented time at a creamery may be daunting for new producers, who need the help that these facilities provide to be successful. The individual farmer has to know what size equipment to purchase, what recipes to use, how to price their product, and how to start or expand marketing efforts, as well as know how to make cheese. These are new challenges to farmers who have been part of traditional dairy co-ops; and there is currently not much available information to help them get started.
Project objectives from proposal:
The Expanding Value-Added Dairy Opportunities will address these issues in 5 ways:
1. Fact Sheets: To help provide assistance to farmers newly interested in producing cheese we will produce a packet of cheese making fact sheets that will include: “How to get started in Cheese-Making,” “Cheese Making Tools and Equipment,” small-scale cheese maker case studies, sample budgets, sample cheese business plans and worksheets, and sample cheese marketing plans and worksheets. This packet will be available in .pdf format for interested parties to download free of charge. Hopefully, through reading and completing the worksheets, potential cheese makers will know whether they are willing to take the risk of investing in processing facility rental time or purchasing their own cheese-making equipment.
2. Introduction to Cheese Making: We will also host a daylong workshop “An Overview of Cheese-Making” for potential or current producers who are looking for information on cheese-making, business plans, marketing, and equipment. We will bring in experts to present information relevant to cheese-makers, and provide opportunities for participants to ask questions and discuss their plans.
3. Hands-on Cheese Making Workshops: Two hands-on cheese-making workshops will be held at the Morrisville State College Dairy Incubator and Evans Farmhouse Creamery. These three-day courses, presented by a professional cheese maker, go over the ins and outs of cheese making. Participants try their hand at creating soft and hard cheeses, review and practice with equipment and tools, and get a feel for the complex chemistry that is part of the cheese-making process. Past cheese-making courses sponsored by the Agricultural Development Council of Chenango County have included lectures in marketing, food and plant safety, packaging, and equipment purchasing schedules. Participants in these workshops have frequently identified the value of the sessions, especially in terms of understanding startup costs, equipment costs, the amount of labor required for a successful dairy value-added venture, need for business and marketing plans and more. Several “graduates” have gone on to make and sell cheese; others determined cheese making was not for them, before the large commitment of building a plant.
4. Mini-Grants: A mini-grant process will be set up for small-scale cheese makers in the greater Chenango Area, or people who have taken an ADC cheese-making class, to apply for funds to help with the costs of developing a business plan, marketing plans or products, or for rental time at a dairy incubator or creamery. All mini-grants will require a 100% match from the producer. These mini-grants are intended to help the small-scale cheese maker succeed in the long-term through thoughtful planning and quality products.
5. Participant Evaluation: The final element of our proposal will be to conduct a study of participants who have previously participated in one of our cheese making workshops. The ADC has been hosting workshops for two years, through previous grants, and has had over 75 participants in its classes. Students have come from throughout New York State, and many have traveled from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Virginia, Missouri and California. We would like to see if they feel the classes helped them and how far along they are with their cheese-making business. The results of the survey will help us sculpt the workshops we be will hosting with this grant, as well as help provide information for case studies and the other worksheets we are developing.