A Statewide Collaborative Sustainable Agriculture and Outlook Project
1) To collect detailed economic data on at least 45 participating farms.
2) To conduct comparative economic analysis of participating farms grouped by their use of
pesticides and purchased nitrogen fertilizers.
3) To generate annual whole-farm economic analysis of each individual farm.
4) To facilitate the exchange of information and ideas among farmers and between farmers,
lenders, researchers, suppliers, and agricultural agencies.
Collection and comparative analysis was conducted on 47 participating farms.
Enterprise-by-enterprise and whole-farm economic analysis was distributed to each individual
participant. Eight additional farms were also added in 1992. Six of the farms chosen for analysis
include SARE Rotational Grazing Project participants. Case studies were conducted on eight of
After three years of study, this project has demonstrated that reduction in chemical use does not
significantly lower overall returns for Wisconsin dairy farms. No-chemical producers had
generally lower costs per acre, per head, and per hundred weight and higher diary enterprise net
returns. The 1991 crop enterprise data shows that no-chemical operators had $46 per acre less in
direct input cost than conventional operators. The main savings occurred in pesticide, fertilizer,
and fuel input categories. Capital recovery cost, labor and land cost comparisons show an
additional $29 per acre savings over conventional operators. Although crop enterprise returns
was over $100 per acre less for no-chemical producers, overall feed costs (raised and purchased)
were lower. Total feed costs were $264 per head or $0.39 per hundred weight equivalent less for
no-chemical operators. Likewise, with milk production at nearly 4,000 pounds per cow less for
no-chemical producers, lower production costs for overall enterprises (crop and diary) resulted
in significant direct cost savings. No-chemical producers spent an average of $329 per head, or
$0.40 per hundred weight equivalent less than conventional operators.
Dissemination of findings:
During 1991 – 1993, several small group house meetings were held with participating farmers.
Results were presented at five workshops, five FFA and vocational agriculture adult classes, two
conferences and three articles in state-wide agricultural press, one national farm journal, and two
public radio talk programs.
Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact:
A 1988 Wisconsin Rural Development study on farmers’ perceptions concluded that the major
constraint to farmers’ adoption of low-chemical methods was a lack of information about the
economic impacts of reduced chemical use. The information generated by this project has
promoted a change in practices of a number of participating farmers. Chemical use has been
reduced significantly over 1990 levels for conventional as well as low-input users. In 1990, total
pesticide use averaged $10.43 per “all crop” acre for conventional farmers. In 1991 that rate was
reduced to $7.78 per acre — despite sharp increases in chemical prices. Reductions were also
seen in fertilizer rates as well. To further reduce costs many participant farmers have
experimented with herbicide banding, side dressing of fertilizers, mechanical tillage and
cultivation practice, nitrogen crediting of manure and alfalfa, and pasture systems.
Areas Needing Further Study:
If Wisconsin dairy farmers are to remain competitive, two primary areas will need to be
addressed: 1) the design and use of a farm-level economic model which enables farmers to
effectively assess transitions to lower-input and alternative enterprises and systems; and 2) a
focused effort to educate the lending community to the economic benefits of low-input and
alternative systems and design of financial tools needed to measure their economic viability.
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
W2493 County Rd ES
East Troy, WI 53120-9271
Office Phone: 4146423303