Multi Disciplinary Training on Pasture-Based Dairy Systems - A Sustainable Alternative for the Region
The objective of this program is to provide the impetus for the adoption of pasture-based dairy farming in the Mid-Atlantic region. To accomplish this there are three components:
1.) Knowledge will be gained about pasture based dairying practices at research stations and on dairy farms in Ireland and this knowledge will be adapted and implemented on farms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Extension educators, other professionals and farmers will learn new ideas and practices which can have positive impacts on work and quality of life for dairy farm families in the Southeast.
2.) Attitudes among agricultural professionals about the possibilities of pasture-based dairying will be changed. Participating professionals and farmers from the Mid-Atlantic region will be trained and will offer educational programs to provide information and support the adoption of sustainable pasture-based dairy production systems.
3.) Innovative farmers and advisors will meet on a regular basis to discuss sustainable alternative dairy management practices and solve problems.
Activities to date
In 1998, a group of 15 traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland on an intensive study tour of pasture-based dairy systems. This team-building experience included visits to 13 private farms. In addition, the group visited Greenmount College, Crossnacreevy Plant Testing Station, Hillsborough and Moorepark Research Centres. Evening programs included discussions with a Teagasc economist and with three consultants from Australia and New Zealand who were working in Ireland. Discussions centered around such issues as grazing management, extended grazing seasons, supplements for pastured cows, economics of pasture-based dairies, heifer rearing, reproduction of high genetic merit cattle, farmer discussion groups, social and public issues including animal welfare and environment. Participants sought knowledge applicable to dairying in the U.S. and returned to plan training sessions to share information from the Irish study tour.
Training sessions were held in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia during June and July of 1999 and over 130 individuals participated in the sessions including 38 presenters.
In addition to information from the Irish study tour, training sessions included economic summaries of pastured-based dairy farms, dairy grazier farm stories, and research data from the United States including data from two SARE projects from SC and NC. The training focused on pasture-based dairy production systems and on the economics of such dairy businesses. Each session was conducted over a 3-day period and included several exercises, presentations, and extensive discussion. Six pasture-based dairy farms served as hosts for field demonstrations. A major part of the training included work groups where participants were to design a dairy system and required to provide detailed economic plans and projected expenses and incomes. A resource notebook included materials on grazing systems and economics. A highlight of each session was a farmer panel featuring five to seven successful dairy graziers from several states.
Other training opportunities supported from these funds have included a mid-winter traveling discussion group of dairy graziers with on-farm critiques in VA, NC, and SC.
A presentation on the training program was provided at the SARE PDP annual workshop in January, 2000. A regional Mid-Atlantic Dairy Grazing 3-day workshop and field day was supported in VA in July, 2000 featuring one of the Irish consultants, who also visited 12 dairy graziers in NC and VA. There were over 200 participants from several states. Seven people toured NY, PA, and MD dairy grazing farms and a PA field day in August, 2000.
Those training opportunities have provided excellent networking opportunities for participants. We have made major progress on the first two objectives: many professionals with dairy interest now have increased knowledge and awareness of pasture-based dairy systems and it appears that there is increased interest and a more positive attitude toward such systems.
In the final year of the project, plans include working to facilitate additional discussion groups for dairy graziers and a Southern dairy pasture tour is being planned for March, 2001 for dairy farmers, and various dairy-interest professionals.