Milk and cheese production have been major agricultural businesses in northeast Ohio for many years. During the past decade, there has been great contraction in the number of dairy farms in the region.
Looking to the future, there are many difficult issues facing continued and expanded milk production. These include generational transition, federal milk pricing, input costs, workforce, waste management, and state regulations.
In an effort to understand better how these issues are playing out in northeast Ohio, a group of organizations developed a survey for dairy farms: OSU Extension, Geauga Growth Partnership, TeamNEO, Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County, Portage Development Board and the Youngstown-Warren Chamber of Commerce.
The goal of the survey was to learn more about the concerns and attitudes of dairy farmers in Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Trumbull counties. It is a given that milk and feed prices are a concern of all dairy farms, so this survey attempted to look beyond the scope of these two issues.
Plans and challenges
Forty-three percent of the 189 dairy farms surveyed replied to questions about their plans, prospects and challenges. Some of the notable survey results included data that showed that over 78% of the local dairy farms plan to continue to operate during the next five years in spite of the many challenges facing dairy operations. Almost 35% percent plan on increasing their herd size during the next five years adding an additional 818 cows in the region.
Limits on dairy farms?
The survey coalition was interested in learning more about what was limiting local dairy farms from expanding besides milk prices and input costs such as feed and fuel. The top three reasons cited include: land available to grow crops (60.8%), inadequate labor or unavailable labor (31.4%), and access to financing (29.4%).
Participants were asked about the facility improvements they plan on investing in over the next five years with the top three responses being: adding housing for heifers (55.0%), increasing cow comfort (51.7%), and improving their manure handling systems (35.0%). The top three management areas which improvement will be sought by managers over the next five years are: feed management (57.9%), genetic improvement (50.9%), and milking herd health management (45.6%).
Each farm was also asked to respond to general issues affecting their farm. Respondents were asked to rank the importance of related topics to dairy farms and then provide qualitative feedback on their greatest success in dairy farming, their greatest concern for the future of dairy farming in Northeast Ohio, and to provide advice on how to maintain or increase regional milk production.
These responses can be found in the survey summary, which can be found at: http://go.osu.edu/NEOHdairysurvey.
I would like to thank all the dairy farms who took time to answer our questions and give us their comments on the problems facing dairy farming. The results will be of great help to OSU Extension and our partners as we plan educational programs and implement strategic programs to enhance the northeast Ohio dairy industry.
To close today’s column, I would like to share a quote from Lawrence D. Bell who stated, “Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things and I’ll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things.”