Development of a Dairy Farm Sustainability Checksheet and Establishment of Distance Education Program for Training CES and NRCS Personnel to Work with Dairy Farmers
In this integrated management systems training project, NCAT/ATTRA has collaborated with personnel within the Arkansas CES, NRCS, farmers and the University of TN Middle TN Experiment Station. The goal is to train educators and key producers through an interactive partnership designed to share and improve skills and resources useful in monitoring sustainability and making recommendations for farms primarily involved in
dairy production. The group has developed a sustainable dairy farm checksheet, which ia available through ATTRA (www.attra.org). Options of training for educators through the use of videoconferencing are being explored. A listserv has also been created for interested dairy producers and educators.
Through the design, evaluation and subsequent use of a dairy farm sustainability checksheet, educators and producers will learn what to consider in assessing a dairy farm (cattle, sheep or goats) with an emphasis on whole farm planning and forage systems.
Through the use of well-planned demonstrations, farm visits and workshop attendance, educators and farmers will learn the complex (biological, financial and social) interrelationships that must be considered in order to increase the sustainability of family dairy farms.
Through training in the use of distance learning techniques, 50 educators and producers will learn an appropriate technology they can use on their farms and in future programs that will save time and money.
The dairy farm sustainability checksheet has been developed and is available by calling ATTRA (1-800-346-9140) or through the website (www.attra.org). The document is 22 pages of questions to allow a farmer to assess the sustainability of his/her operation. There are segments of the checksheet that pertain to direct marketing as well as to dairy sheep and goats.
The other major part of this project is on a related area, the use of videoconferencing equipment and software. Cameras, speakers, software and other related items have been installed on eleven computers. We have had several test meetings using this technology and have seen that there are problems with connections, especially when connecting using modem lines. As phone lines and other modes of internet service evolve, this technology will improve and be of more use. We continue to work on connections, and will use this project to learn how to use the technology for other uses.
A listserv for dairy farmers and educators has been established. The intent is to establish an opportunity for discussion on topics related to dairy farm sustainability. This listserv has not been as popular as one established for grazing management.
The University of Tennessee Middle Tennessee Experiment Station has established a demonstration in grass-based dairying. They are in their third year of production and are comparing one portion of their dairy herd on a pasture system to the other portion of their herd in a conventional confinement system.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The dairy farm sustainability checksheet is a tool that educators can use in working with farmers, particularly if the educator is limited in dairy experience. An abbreviated form of the checksheet is needed for beginning discussions with producers. While videoconferencing is a method to use for educational purposes, the technology needs to be developed more before becoming a viable option.