Socioeconomic Analysis of Organic, Grass-Based & Conventional Dairy Farmers in Wisconsin with Case Study in Amish Stewardship Practices in the Kickapoo Valley

2005 Annual Report for GNC04-027

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2004: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Bradford Barham
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Socioeconomic Analysis of Organic, Grass-Based & Conventional Dairy Farmers in Wisconsin with Case Study in Amish Stewardship Practices in the Kickapoo Valley


Most of the data analysis to date has been executed on organic dairy.  Preliminary analysis of survey data indicates that organic farming is a dynamic and growing sector. There are some surprising differences between organic farmers and grazing farmers. Organic farmers are more likely to have a parlour facility, have increased satisfaction of income changes in the last five years and positive expectations for the future of farming relative to graziers and conventional farmers. Organic farmers are also much more likely to intensively rotate their cows. The Amish are not very likely to adopt management intensive rotational grazing.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Our objectives are to

1. Determine the factors that influence performance (at the farm-level) on eco-labeled dairy.

2. Compare & contrast profitability, quality of life & management practices within & between organic, pasture dairy (including those that don’t eco-label) & conventional producers.

3. Explore Amish farming stewardship practices while considering Anabaptist faith and culture.


1.  As mentioned in the summary, survey analysis has pointed to dynamism with the organic dairy sector and the differences between organic and grazing farms in the states. Both the Amish and the Organic farms are highly concentrated in mainly in the Southwest and West Central portion of the state. The graziers are somewhat congregated as well in similar areas but not to the same extent.  There may be something unique about these geographic regions.  There are also a lot of similarities between these types of farms in terms of size, age, technology usage and reliance on dairy farm income.

2.  Income changes in the past year are much greater for organic farmers than other graziers and conventional. Although debt/ asset ratios were only slightly lower for the organic farmers and debt/cow levels were very similar. The management differences that I find the most interesting are the degree of rotations in management.  The organic farmers are very intensive about the number of rotations whereas Amish farmers are not very intensive about rotations.  Preliminary econometric results show that rotation frequencies have a negative relationship to productivity.

3.  The Amish are not very intensive in the management of pastures as measured by rotation frequencies and farmer interviews.  Preliminary analysis of interviews with Amish bishops and reviews of newsletters reveal that the importance of working together with family and instilling a work ethic is very important to the emphasis Amish put on farming.  Biblical references related to farm life revolved more around the importance of relying on God and humility than a stewardship theology per se.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

I have not completed this project yet but I foresee the project’s  contributions as  (i) Increasing knowledge for all farmers & the public on the background, profitability, challenges, & needs of alterative dairy; (ii) Exploring the links between Amish production practices & the ecological health of the Kickapoo. Long-term versions of these outcomes include (i) policies and research applicable to alternative dairy (ii) more transitioners into alternative dairy (iii) connections made between church and sustainability (iv) informing a wide target audience on the realities of alternative dairy

Most Immediate Outcome:
In the near future, I will be completing a Wisconsin organic dairy report that will be a broad overview which will highlight its dynamism, geographic concentration and other distinctive attributes and comparing organic farming explicitly with graziers and conventional dairy farm. This publication will be widely distributed to farmers, educators, extension agents and policy makers.