Assessing the research and education needs of the organic dairy industry in the northeastern United States


Demographic and management data about organic dairies have been reported previously, but the current study is the first needs assessment of research and educational priorities of organic dairy farmers in the northeastern United States based directly upon their input. Our objectives were to (1) develop an initial understanding of the emerging research and educational needs of organic dairy farmers in the northeastern United States via focus group interviews, and (2) prioritize the needs identified by the focus groups with a broader population of organic dairy farmers via survey methods. Focus group interviews determined the questions used for the survey questionnaire distributed to 1,200 members of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. The members were asked about demographic information, but more importantly, challenges concerning business management and marketing, organic certification, and animal nutrition, health, and reproduction. The results (183 respondents, 15% response rate) were parsed by region (New England farms compared with New York and Pennsylvania farms), herd size (i.e., 12 to 37, 38 to 59, and >60 cows), and years of organic certification (<4 yr vs. ≥4 yr); however, no differences between regions were observed for demographic data. The average farm consisted of 309 acres and 57 milking cows, on which most of the forage was homegrown but grains were purchased (73% of farms). Among the greatest challenges identified by the farmers were obtaining a steady, fair price for milk (85% respondents); determining dry matter intake for animals on pasture (76%); and controlling nuisance flies (89%). Needs for additional research included organic treatments for mastitis (92% respondents), growing forages for organic production (84%), and developing value-added products (84%). Farms with <4 yr of organic certification were concerned with level of knowledge and experience of local certifiers, whereas organic producers with ≥4 yr of organic certification were more interested in field testing of new organic products. Opportunities for educational programs included learning about direct marketing possibilities (76% respondents) and providing training to regional veterinarians interested in organic remedies (91%). In conclusion, the information obtained from the current needs assessment provides a foundation for future research proposals and educational outreach programs, germane to stakeholder needs, which could benefit the organic dairy industry within the region and beyond.

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Journal of Dairy Science



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Copyright © 2013 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.