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

2006 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


A survey comparison of Amish, organic, graziers and conventional revealed that organic and Amish dairy farmers were far more satisfied with their quality of life than other types of dairy farmers, and were also more optimistic about the future viability of their operations. Despite the relative small size of organic farms, they were more likely to adopt certain kinds of technologies.  In contrast, the Amish are less likely to use and/or adopt various technologies used by other dairy farm sectors.  However, Amish farm operations tend to be more diversified and rely more on non-farm sources for household income.

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.  Results to date -- Survey analysis has pointed to dynamism with the organic dairy sector and the differences between organic and grazing farms in the states. So survey results would indicate that the sector choice of organic is important in influencing performance. 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. Preliminary econometric results show that rotation frequencies have a negative relationship to productivity.

In Process-
I have done some interviews and will do many additional interviews with more focused questions to get at factors such as sector choice and pasture management that might affect perceptions of viability.  Also we have identified a data set USDA-ARMS which will be analyzed some in the spring to identify variables that affect performance.

2.  Results to date --  Organic dairy farmers are achieving very satisfying income and quality of life outcomes and are also the most optimistic about the future viability of their operations compared to graziers and conventional dairy farmers. Despite the moderate average size of organic dairy farms, they are using several modern technologies including parlors and free stall housing structures at a high level relative to conventional dairy farmers and management intensive rotational graziers. Organic farming is currently a vital and growing component of the Wisconsin dairy sector especially in the West Central region of the state.

Also, Amish farming style is a clear example of a pasture-based approach where modest scale and minimal technology persists in modern times.

The Amish farms in this study are much smaller in scale (number of acres and cows milked) and as a result have lower total milk production levels than other types of farms.  Consequently, the overall impact of Amish dairy farms on the total milk production in the state is much smaller than the number of farms would indicate.

As reported, the Amish are less likely to use and/or adopt various technologies used by other dairy farm sectors (i.e. use of veterinarians, record keeping, etc).  However, Amish farm operations tend to be more diversified than their counterparts in other dairy operations and rely more on non-farm sources for household income.

Surprisingly, the Amish are less likely to have a farm background than other farm sectors.  Their small size and lack of a farm background may explain the higher per unit debt loads and other relative measurements of debt.

The Amish report high levels of satisfaction with their quality of life.  Aside from organic farmers, they are also more satisfied with their farm income than other Wisconsin dairy farmers.  Overall, the Amish dairy sector appears to show promise of becoming a significant part of the Wisconsin dairy sector in the years to come. For the Amish, their motivations and purpose in farming reach beyond what data in this report can portray. As an entry in a recent Amish newsletter states, “Farming is not a top paying job… Isn’t farming still the most important and the best for a family?” (Anonymous, 2006)

In Process-
I will be interviewing farmers to get a sense of how they feel about their adoption choices (i.e. organic and MIRG), pasture management details and their perceptions of viability (social, ecological and economic).

We hope to use the USDA-ARMS data to get more accurate assessments of profitability than we were able to obtain through PATS survey results at least for organic, graziers and conventional producers.

3.  The Amish are not very intensive in the management of pastures as measured by rotation frequencies and preliminary 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.  There are distinct differences between the Hillsboro settlement Amish and the Cashton settlement Amish

In Process-
Amish from both the Hillsboro and Cashton settlements are being interviewed for differences in sector choice (organic and MIRG) as well as stewardship views.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

I have not completed this project yet but I foresee the project’s contributions to be as follows.

1.  Provide insights for farmers evaluating their own MIRG management practices (organic, Amish and others) as well as those networks and agencies working to serve them

2.  Target information, training and support to address the perceived barriers to MIRG and organic and expand the grazing and organic movements across the state

3.  Detail the potential for diverse needs with regards to agriculture policy and education for networks and agencies serving the pasture-based sectors

4.  Outreach to date—

Barham, B., Caroline Brock, Jeremy Foltz. 2006 (June) Organic dairy farms in Wisconsin: Prosperous, modern, and expansive. PATS research Report No. 16  [WWW]

Brock, C., Bradford Barham, Jeremy Foltz. 2006 (October) Amish dairy farming in Southwestern   Wisconsin. PATS research Report No. 17

Brock, C., Bradford Barham, Jeremy Foltz.  2006 (August) Striving for Sustainability across Diverse Dairy Sectors: the Amish, Organic Farmers and Intensive Graziers.  Poster Presentation. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) National Conference.  Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

In Process-
I have also submitted to present the above poster for the UMOFC (Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference) in La Crosse, WI  February 2007

And I have poster presentation accepted for the Amish in America Conference in Elizabethtown, PN June 2007