The Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers Program - the First Ten Years: A Graduate Follow-up Survey and Beginning Dairy Farmer Case Studies

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $55,700.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Richard Cates
UW-Madison Center for Integrated Ag. Systems

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, parasite control, feed formulation, feed rations, manure management, mineral supplements, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, cooperatives, marketing management, agricultural finance, market study, risk management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, cultural control, physical control, prevention, mulching - vegetative
  • Soil Management: green manures, composting, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, analysis of personal/family life, employment opportunities, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    The principal goal of this project is to investigate in depth- through survey and case study research- the professional activities of the approx. 200 WSBDF graduates since the Program’s inception (1995) to learn who is farming/not farming, how they got started/impediments to successfully starting, how the WSBDF assisted/did not assist in the career pathway, as well as what other resources were available/helpful/not available upon graduation. Case-study interviews (10-12 graduate start-up farm families) will address the questions, above, but also allow us to develop real-life start-up budgets, cash flow and profitability analyses, as well as ‘important lessons learned’ in the start-up process. Staff recognize that the WSBDF has successfully helped many individuals get started in dairy farming, but the work of this project is greatly needed to communicate our successes- and shortcomings- with a broad public and policy/decision-makers across the NCR. Project Outcomes- and the Evaluation Plan- focus on achieving: Increase general awareness of and demand for WSBDF - and other start-up farmer efforts- among NCR stakeholders; develop and implement improvements/changes in the program structure and content to insure that the WSBDF can best serve it’s stakeholders and mission; generate interest across the NCR among educational institutions/groups to initiate other beginning-farmer program efforts. UW PATS research has found that farmers continue to leave dairying at an historical rate, but the rate of new entrants continues to decline. Our project will contribute to NCR-SARE desired outcomes by helping new farmers get started successfully in grass-based dairying improving farm profitability, quality of life, environmental quality, rural community. Outreach includes published survey- and case-study summaries, CD/audio cassette-sets, and presentations at varied forum to reach stakeholder and policy leaders.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Year 1 Output products:
    Ten-year graduate professional activities follow-up survey (Classes 1996-2005; approximately 200 graduates)
    Partial set audio cassette taped case-study interviews of graduates who have committed themselves to start (successfully, as well several unsuccessful ventures) their own dairy farm business;
    Partial CD/Video of the case-study interviews

    Year 1 Outreach:
    General education and outreach about the purpose/goals of the project

    Year 2 Output products:
    Complete (10-12 interviews) audio cassette taped case-study interview set
    Complete CD/Video (10-12 interviews) of the case study interviews
    Complete graduate survey summary
    Publish survey summary findings for stakeholders and policy leaders
    Publish survey research brief
    Publish case-study interviews

    Year 2 Outreach:
    Presentations (formal speaking engagements) by the Project Coordinator, Major Participants, and WSBDF farmer-graduates (see Appendix 3. Budget), and promotional table displays at:

    Farmer workshops (as invited) - combined attendance (target) 300.
    Upper Midwest Grazing Conference- attendance 300
    Great Lakes Grazing Conference- attendance 600.
    WI Grazing Conference- attendance 600
    Professional Dairy Producers of WI Conference- attendance 1200

    Promotional table displays, only, will be set up at other major agricultural events: World Dairy Expo, WI Farm Technology days, other events as appropriate and as scheduling permits. See Appendix 1.

    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.