Education and decision support strategy for farm-level economic and environmental assessment of dairy Best Management Practices

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $162,327.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. R Weaver
Penn State Univ

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed additives, feed formulation, feed rations, manure management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, organic fertilizers, application rate management
  • Education and Training: extension, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    Animal agriculture's contribution to water pollution through N, P, and sediment remains substantial despite
    progress in specification and dissemination of best management practices (BMPs) to mitigate pollution at the farm
    -level. Research on animal and manure management on ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions has shown
    notable opportunity for farm-level mitigation of these emissions as well. Research has shown that wide spread
    adoption of BMPs has been constrained by farm operator concerns for high costs of adopting BMPs and adapting
    other production practices as well as significant uncertainty with respect to the farm-level economic and
    environmental effects of BMPs. These concerns are especially important given these effects vary across specific
    farm conditions. This project will develop and implement a two-pronged strategy of: 1) education in farm-level
    assessment of and 2) dissemination and training in the use of a farm-level, user-friendly economic (e) and
    environmental (E) assessment tool (eETool) to enable dairy producers and consultants and their consultants to
    rapidly and efficiently evaluate the farm-level implications of particular as well as combinations of BMPs.
    The project will pursue a participatory approach to building the farm-level eETool by engaging participating dairy
    producers and consultants during the development process. The economic evaluation component of the eETool
    will exploit standard and readily available farm-level data already in use for financial and tax purposes, build on
    current management metrics such as use of Income-Over-Feed-Costs, and will be designed to be interfaced with
    currently available farm- and field-specific environmental assessment tools that are in widespread use (e.g.
    Nutrient Load Estimator, Integrated Farm System Model). The economic evaluation will provide farm-level
    insights into the specific changes in resource use, variable costs and resource use efficiency implications of
    BMPs. By design, the tool will enable farm-level monitoring and verification of practice impacts on the farm's
    environmental as well as economic performance. Widespread applicability of the tool will be ensured by keeping
    it simple and by implementation of an education program that parallels in content and materials existing dairy farm
    management education programs. Importantly, the tool will also enable farm-level users to evaluate voluntary
    practices and to explore approaches to reducing farm emissions that make particular sense on their farms. As
    interest continues to be directed toward market-based approaches to managing water and air emissions, the
    project's eETool will provide first-cut farm-level valuation of particular approaches to controlling emissions to
    support evaluation of opportunities to buy or sell rights to

    Performance targets from proposal:

    20 dairy farm operators adopt use of the eEtool to support evaluation, monitoring, and analysis of BMPs on their
    farms. This will lead to adjustment in conservation and nutrient management plans covering close to 2000 acres
    of field crops, 2000 cows annually yielding 1.5 million lbs of
    raw milk per year.

    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.