Developing Sound Financial Data for the GrassRoots Discussion Group

Project Overview

FNC06-645
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $3,840.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: economic/marketing

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Pro-Grass-Tinators is a group of grazing dairymen from all over the United States that uses the Dairy Farm Business Summary financial information from Cornell University as a discussion tool at their quarterly meetings. GrassRoots is a group of grazing dairymen from three Midwestern states, IN, MI, and OH, that does the same thing. GrassRoots was patterned after Pro-Grass-Tinators. The Cornell University farm management staff has developed a web-based data entry project that allows farmers to enter their complete, yearly income and expense figures, plus inventories via their own computer.

    The quarterly meetings focus on a farm visit/pasture walk at one of the member’s farms. Grazing management, dairy herd management and financial data are discussed throughout the pasture walk and the evaluation of the farm business. All participants believe in the importance of farm financial data. At the winter meeting, the previous year’s financial data is summarized and discussed. Members’ total farm data is ranked according to Return on Assets so that each member can see his financial position relative to all the others in twelve categories. A second set of comparisons ranks six farm management factors individually. Discussion revolves around these two comparative summaries.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    Goals:

    • GrassRoots will meet four times per year.
    • The group will develop comradery and trust within GrassRoots. Some mentoring has already occurred; this will be encouraged and strengthened.
    • GrassRoots will hire a facilitator to keep the group on track and to supervise data entry activities.
    • Any member of GrassRoots who speaks at a conference, field day, or pasture walk will use the group’s collective numbers as resource material.
    • Each member will encourage other grazing dairymen to form Farmer to Farmer Listening Groups that focus on grazing management, dairy herd management, and financial records.

    Process: A coordinator/facilitator was hired to coordinate the details of each meeting and to supervise the entry of financial data by each member. He is the local link to the Cornell University computer program and the farm management staff. One of his goals is get each member to the level where he is needed very little by each tenured member.

    Each GrassRoots member was encouraged to discuss the group’s purposes, procedures and results with any prospective participant or group.

    A one-page leaflet that discusses Farmer to Farmer Listening Groups was developed and given to eight hundred five (805) attendees of the Northern Indiana Grazing Conference. [Editors’s Note: see the leaflet at the end of this report.]

    PEOPLE
    • Dave Forgey spoke to four groups that had a total of 309 in attendance.
    • Steve Hooley talked to several dairymen in his county. He sits on the steering committee of the Northern Indiana grazing Conference and strongly suggested the inclusion of farm records in the program. The committee did not accept the suggestion, but the seed has been planted for future conferences.
    • The LaGrange County SWCD copied the Farmer to Farmer Listening Group leaflet and inserted it into the registration packets.
    • Two GrassRoots members were invited to a national committee meeting of dairy producers. They shared information about the recordkeeping system at Cornell University, our group and how it uses the data of its members, plus the group’s pasture walks/farm tours. This committee was looking for a source of dairy farm record data as part of its total mission.
    • Jason Karszes of the Cornell University farm management staff was present at a winter meeting to discuss the group’s numbers and to answer questions about the data entry system.

    RESULTS
    One member was added to the GrassRoots group, and he submitted data for 2007. He hosted the fall 2008 farm visit/pasture walk. Another dairyman was sincerely interested, but the health of a parent took time and energy away from the farm business.

    Comradery and mentoring developed again. One family unit asked the entire group for a special meeting to evaluate and discuss their current and future situation. It was a great example of trust, mentoring, and assistance.

    Two groups of Amish grazing dairymen formed and met throughout 2008. One group has 11 dairymen and the other one has 12. They evaluated three record keeping systems but chose to focus on forage/grazing management and dairy herd management topics for a year or two.

    Two dairymen have called the facilitator to ask questions and to be given information regarding the group and the data entry process and expectations.

    The group and the group’s leadership had hoped for several groups to develop. Reality says that compiling farm records is perceived to be a tedious activity. It requires a certain philosophy or mind set to add the hours and effort of data collection and entry plus four all-day meetings to an already busy schedule.

    We are confident that the word has been spread and other groups will form over time. GrassRoots has begun to talk about dividing into two groups and including more members in each of the two groups.

    DISCUSSION
    Grazing dairymen are interested in the social interaction and the information exchange that occurs at a farm visit/pasture walk.

    One-on-one contact is essential to get a commitment to join a group.

    To start a group like this:
    * Develop a list of grazing dairymen that have shown interest in financial management topics.
    * Develop a plan to visit each one of them to discuss the activities of GrassRoots.
    * Invite them to a farm visit/pasture walk.

    OUTREACH
    One-on-one discussions with grazing dairymen

    The Northern Indiana Grazing Conference was used as a media tool for promoting the importance of financial grazing groups. One speaker referred to our group twice in his presentation. The accompanying leaflet was distributed to all participants via their registration packet. Our members were available to discuss our group and its activities to interested dairymen.

    GRASSROOTS HANDOUT
    Farmer to Farmer Listening Groups

    Farmers cite other farmers as a major source of information when making decisions (Croscombe and Ewert, 1996).

    Farmer to farmer listening groups consist of farmers who meet regularly to discuss and to exchange ideas concerning their farms. The power of these groups is that they are self-directed and rely on shared knowledge of the farmers within the group. Discussing the pros and cons of a particular practice enables group members to share ideas, offer advice, and formulate opinions about that particular practice and whether it will work on their farm.

    Farmers trust the experience and knowledge of other farmers who are in situations similar to their own. Their desire to meet and talk with each other has spurred the formation of various groups that range from formal cooperatives to informal gatherings of neighbors once a week for breakfast. Some groups have formed around specific issues e.g., nutrient management, no-til farming, organic agriculture, marketing, and grazing.

    There is great interest among farmers in interacting with farmers they respect. Farmers appreciate the social interaction that comes with meeting together regularly. Learning groups provide a means for them to form professional relationships with each other. As these relationships strengthen, the dialogue within the group becomes more personal and meaningful.

    Learning groups are most effective when they have a targeted membership such as organic farmers, young farmers, tomato farmers or graziers. A real benefit of learning groups is the opportunity to try out new concepts in a constructive, safe environment.

    An informal structure for a listening group works well with ten farmers or fewer. A small group can operate effectively with the aid of a coordinator, which can be one of the farmers.

    There are several grazing groups in the Midwest that meet regularly and focus on the Pasture Walk activity. Many topics pop up as the walk progresses and the discussion follows. Winter feeding, summer annual forages, manure storage and management in the winter, somatic cell counts, water systems, grazing management, dry cow management, and milking parlor styles are examples of these topics.

    Some learning groups add the dimension of financial records to their focus. A calendar year’s data is entered into a computer system that generates figures for the individual farmers and the group. These figures can become a major thrust that enables a farmer and a group to evaluate their current status and to assist in the development of a new activity such as an expansion and/or including a partner.

    There are four learning groups in the northern Indiana area. One is three years old and it uses farm records as a basis for existence. Another one is a multi-county Pasture Walk group that meets eight times per year. Two others are one-year old and focus on grazing and dairy management.

    If you would like information about starting a group, feel free to contact:
    * Steve Hooley 260 463 – 4991
    * Dave Forgey 574 652 – 2461 or
    * Ed Heckman 317 272 – 0732

    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.