NW Iowa Dairy Focus Groups: Experiment in Evaluation and Impact

Chris Mondak, Dairy Field Specialist, Northwest

Problem Statement:

1.      Extension educators must respond to the requirement to plan educational programs that result in learning, change in awareness or knowledge levels, or change in behavior. 

2.      As dairy producers get busier on farm and have more entities in the private sector competing for their time, getting producers to attend the traditional all-day or half-day meeting is becoming more difficult.  However, the need to connect to peers and to education resources is still important part of staying current in one’s industry.

Programmatic Response:

ISU Extension dairy staff serving the dairy community in NW Iowa hosted Dairy Focus Groups Winter 2008 and Winter 2009 as a programming strategy with these goals:

a.      Reach more members of the dairy producer target audience in a 20-county region. Provide to the dairy producers scattered in the region opportunities to attend a dairy education meeting within a 30-40 minute driving distance.

b.      Plan educational sessions that promoted learning processes and measurable actions/changes.

c.      Plan educational evaluations strategies to assess changes in knowledge levels.

d.      Use group meetings as means to keep producers connected to ISU Extension resources, gather needs assessment for future planning, and build/update email lists to facilitate efficient communication about future programs and general messages.


Results/Outcome from Winter 2008 Dairy Focus Group Series:

Three Dairy Focus Groups involved 25 dairy producers in the process of learning about decision-making and financial management skills.  At the end of the 4-session series, 13 were able to formulate long-range vision statements and identify short range goals.  Follow-up interviews and visits 6-9 months post-series found that many had taken actions to achieve short term goals:  2 started and completed construction on new compost-style barns to improve cow comfort and housing; 2 consulted with an advisor on farm transition processes; 6 completed a Cost of Production spreadsheet; 1 updated farm accounting records system; 1 changed nutrition advisor and sought advice to modernize milking parlor and cow barn; 2 partners began plans for a milking parlor upgrade. 2 reported they discussed potential changes with family members and made decision to delay actions for the time being. In written evaluations and interviews, several commented that taking time to think about goals, and talk with family to clarify farm/family goals was a worthwhile and useful process.

Results/Outcomes from Winter 2009 Dairy Focus Group meetings

The Focus group approach was expanded in 2009 to reach out to dairy owners in Lyon, Osceola, Pocahontas, Palo Alto, and Kossuth counties, and continued outreach to Orange City, Sioux County area, Sac County Area and Cherokee area.  Focus groups in the NW region are proving to be more effective than one regional large, full day program in terms of number of farms participating. For example, the 2008 I-29 Conference held in Sheldon brought in 26 producers from 13 farms.  The Dairy Focus Group meetings in winter 2009 brought in 97 producers from 52 farms to their local ISU Extension office for a dairy information meeting.  Another addition to the format in 2009 compared to 2008 was use of pre-post quizzes to immediately measure changes in knowledge levels as a result of participating in the focus group session.  Post-event evaluations are planned for late fall 2009.


110   Dairy

Page last updated: April 7, 2009
Page maintained by Linda Schultz, lschultz@iastate.edu