The Krusenbaum Farm: A Case Study and Model in the Establishment of an Organic Dairy Farm

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1990: $70,748.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1993
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $147,649.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Joshua Posner
Agronomy Department, University of Wisconsin

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans, sunflower


  • Animal Production: manure management, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: cover crops, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, study circle, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution, agricultural finance, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    In the winter of 1990, a conventional dairy/cash grain farm in Southeastern Wisconsin was leased to the Krusenbaum family. The new managers wanted to build a successful family farm operation, using practices that are as close to organic farming principles as possible. The underlying goal of this project is to ascertain if a low input farming approach is a viable entry strategy for a new farmer. To facilitate the study of this transition process, a team consisting of research and extension specialists at the University of Wisconsin, agronomists from the Michael Fields Institute (East Troy, WI), the crop/livestock agent from the Walworth County Extension Service, two established low input farming neighbors, and a crop consultant was formed. This report covers the first 36 months of operation (April 1, 1990 to March 31, 1993)

    After three complete years of monitoring and part of a fourth year, we can tentatively conclude that a low crop production input approach is a workable entry strategy for a beginning farmer. By the end of 1992 the rolling herd average (RHA) had increased from 15,000 lbs/yr to 19,100 lbs/yr. Purchased feed costs ranged from $300 to $370/cow indicating that the farm is nearly self sufficient and producing high quality feed. Within the crop enterprises, hay production has remained near target levels (3.5 tdm/a) but corn yields have been disappointing (target 130 bu/a). While 1991 and 1992 were poor growing seasons in SE Wisconsin, the combinations of low soil fertility/nutrient availability, soil compaction and less than satisfactory weed control contributed to the lower yields. Net worth (Fair Market Value) of the farm has however, increased from $15,000 to $150,000. Estimated net farm income in 1992 was $31,000.

    Highlights during the first three years have been the development of a crop rotation and farm conservation plan as well as the initiation of rotational grazing and an improved manure management system. Erosion losses on the steepest slopes are estimated to have decreased from 8 to 3.4 t/a/yr due to the installation of contour strips and a longer, sod based rotation. Nutrient monitoring has highlighted the problem of potassium deficiency on the farm and focused attention on urine trapping as manure leaves the barn and is stacked in windrows. Rotational grazing was successfully introduced on 34 acres in the summer of 1992 and was expanded to 62 acres in 1993 to address concerns of profitability and labor management.

    Outreach activities have included three field days, numerous visits by interested individuals and small groups, three open meetings in Madison, and several newspaper articles that have been written focussing on the farm. Extension publications looking at the financial situation on the farm after four years, an analysis of the 1992 and 1993 labor diary and an economic analysis of the first two years of rotational grazing are being developed during the winter of 1994.

    Project objectives:

    The Krusenbaum project has three objectives:

    1. To describe the biological, chemical, physical, and financial effects of adopting organic production practices.
    2. To chronicle the evolution of a set of coherent low input farm strategies to deal with the issues of crop rotation, soil erosion, nutrient management, animal husbandry, and debt management.
    3. To develop educational materials that will help others evaluate alternative production strategies.

    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.