Greater impact of advisor-farmer interactions through improved tools for whole-farm evaluation

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $53,847.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Quirine Ketterings
Cornell University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed rations, manure management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, nutrient cycling, application rate management, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: indicators, carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: prevention
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil chemistry, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Economic and environmental sustainability of New York dairy farms can be improved if we could make more effective use of existing knowledge and had tools for evaluating farming practices and their impact on farm productivity, environmental footprint, and long-term sustainability. Until recently, we were limited in progress towards more effective whole farm analysis by the lack of standard methods for integrating farm records, identification of meaningful management indicators, and tools for assessments. Recent research resulted in the development of agricultural environmental indicators (AEIs) derived from existing farm records, which combined with soil testing and stalk nitrate testing (for corn), allowed for effective whole farm evaluation and troubleshooting. The AEIs and farm evaluation tools were pilot-tested on two large dairies and we are implementing and fine-tuning the evaluation process on four small dairies in an on-going NESARE-sponsored project (LNE08-271). With experience from these two projects and in collaboration with farm advisors currently involved in our statewide mass nutrient balance (MNB) project and NESARE project, we propose to develop and deliver a package of field-based tools that allow farm advisors to conduct whole farm analysis quickly and easily. Sixty farm advisors will be trained in the use of the evaluation tools and process and follow-up technical assistance will be provided. We will assess the impact of the new evaluation package on farm indicators and the quality of the advisor-farmer interaction. All materials developed during this project will be made available during trainings and via the web.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Fifteen farm advisors will adopt the use of the tools over two years.

    The use of the tools will create positive farmer-advisor communication of complex issues relating to nutrient use efficiency and environmental protection. The resulting advisor-farmer discussions will lead to agri-environmental evaluation of 30 dairy or cash-grain farms of which at least 10 farms will improve one of four farm agri-environmental measures: (1) mass nutrient balance, (2) farm operational density, (3) feed use efficiency, or (4) fertilizer imports, while 10 farms will improve two of the four indicators. In addition, curriculum will be developed to teach the use of whole farm agri-environmental indicators for improved farm management through collaborations with SUNY Alfred and SUNY Cobleskill.

    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.