A Diagnostic Team Approach to Enhancing Dairy Farm Sustainability
The goal of this two-year project was to implement a model for using diagnostic teams on dairy farms. The teams initially focused on two key areas -- reducing the incidence of mastitis and increasing income over feed costs. Thirteen teams per year (1996-1997 and 1997-1998) formed and provided information about their teams. About half the teams continued to function beyond the first year. Participants found that the teams can be useful for achieving farm goals in a timely fashion, promoting positive communication between farm advisors, solving on-farm problems more quickly and more completely, and planning for long-term sustainability of the farm operation. Similar work is being supported with a second SARE grant. See project ENE98-040.
1. Implement a model for forming diagnostic teams for farm-level problem solving of critical issues.
2. Improve team member skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and whole-farm planning.
3. Use farm-oriented diagnostic teams on participating dairy farms.
4. Evaluate the impact of the diagnostic teams and revise training manuals.
5. Disseminate information about the effectiveness of diagnostic teams through field days, pasture walks, and educational conferences.
6. Assist team members in forming new teams and expanding problem focus areas.
Positive on-farm changes varied by farm. Many of the changes included improvements in milk yield and quality, in communication among people, in facilities or feeding systems, and in staffing or job assignments. Many of the farms achieved short-term goals related to production, profitability or lifestyle while working with an advisory team. Eighteen of the 26 farms have expanded or were planning to expand their herds. Satisfaction with milk quality, income over feed costs and services provided to the farm increased with the use of the advisory team on most of the farms surveyed. More information about specific areas in the farm business was collected and shared with advisors as a result of forming advisor teams. More regular monitoring of key control points occurred with the use of advisory teams.
New information and ideas brought to the farm by advisors during team meetings were very valuable to farm managers according to survey information. An additional benefit of the approach was the completeness of the problem-solving and the timeliness of making improvements.
Not all of the teams were successful in achieving their goals, nor did all the teams continue to work for the entire project year. Two keys for maintaining successful teams were the presence of an off-farm coordinator and the team having a compelling reason to meet, often around some critical issue or change on the farm.
A website about Dairy Advisory Teams has been developed at www.dat.das.psu.edu.
Reported May 1999.