Young Dairy Producers Value Peer Group
Activities and education leads to important conversations
Iowa dairy farmers say they prefer to receive information from other farmers when it comes to learning about the dairy business and running a dairy farm. However, with fewer farmers and the demands of operating a dairy farm, young producers have limited opportunities to network and learn from other producers.
Jenn Bentley, dairy specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, bringing young dairy producers together to learn with and from one another.
Bentley was the new dairy specialist in northeast Iowa in 2010 when she created a regional young dairy producer peer group. The group is made up of seven couples who meet quarterly to discuss topics of their choice and review benchmark data that has been collected for their farms.
Monica and Brian Enyart joined the young dairy peer group to increase their information and social networks. They have 120 cows, milk 95 with help from Brian’s dad – and are raising two preschoolers.
“We’re all at the same stage of life, so it is a very comfortable group to interact with. We have the same questions, same problems,” said Monica. “Without this interaction, we’d keep doing things the same way and getting the same results. This group allows us to evaluate what we are doing, see what others are doing and learn about different or better ways of solving our problems.”
Peer group members keep data sheets and review them at each meeting. Farm data can include feed costs, cow inventory, milk production and milk price information. Kristen Schulte, farm management specialist is Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, designed a spreadsheet for the group that allows producers to easily enter their herd information. They email the information back to Schulte who then compiles the benchmark values for the group and the individual farms.
The peer group setting allows for good conversations – and the calculated benchmarks are a key part of discussions. “Before we began using the data sheets, we’d get the milk check every month but never compare it to previous months and we never compared to other producers. Now we do both,” said Enyart. “We have six quarters of data to compare and we are identifying adjustments to increase our profits.”
One to two hours of each meeting is spent on a chosen educational topic. Producers like to see other facilities and demonstrations, so about half the meetings are held on-farm. Jenn Bentley knows that initiating good conversations – over benchmarks or new technology – is key to supporting families committed to the dairy lifestyle.
Participants are identifying issues impacting long-term profitability as members of the peer group. They report re-evaluating their operation’s benchmarks or standards and have increased their knowledge of risk management.
Two participants noted the knowledge gained has impacted their herd by at least $15 per cow. Participation in the group has potentially improved their profitability by $1,875 to $2,250. They feel adding more participants will expand knowledge and learning opportunities in the coming year.
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