Dairy Farmer Cohorts: A New Approach to Technical Assistance

by Katie Spring, Outreach & Content Specialist

Across the Northeast, dozens of dairy farmers are improving their production strategies and businesses through Dairy Farm Cohorts,

an innovative approach to technical assistance funded by the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC).  Through a mixture of one-on-one support and group farm visits, Cohort participants receive business and technical assistance over an 18 to 22-month period.  As one farmer who’s participated in a grazing based cohort noted, there’s a great benefit of learning from other farmers with differing amounts of experience and expertise, and the supportive nature of the group created a space to collaboratively find solutions to problems.   

To date, there have been five rounds of cohort-based technical assistance contracts.  Here’s a look at some of the cohorts: 

In Vermont, Dr. Heather Darby of UVM is leading a cohort in cultivating a whole farm forage system that optimizes financial and environmental performance.   

With 10 farms enrolled in this forage-based cohort, farmers are building a forage plan with the help of a diverse team of agronomists, animal nutritionists, grazing experts, and farm financial experts to assess the forage program across all levels of farm management. 

In Pennsylvania, Jessica Matthews and Lucas Waybright of PASA are leading a cohort titled Growing New Dairies with New Dairy Farmers.   

With 5 farms in New York and 5 in Pennsylvania, this cohort complements the existing Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship educational curriculum and offers farmers both grazing and business planning support. 

Across Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, a cohort of 36 farms is receiving Climate Smart Farming Education and Adoption. 

Led by the the CROPP Cooperative team, this group of certified organic farmers are receiving technical assistance on topics such as grazing, forage management, grass-based production systems, silvopasture/agroforestry, and alternative manure management. 

In Pennsylvania and New York, another cohort is researching Low Overhead Dairy Grazing.  

Led by Jon Winsten, PhD, of Conservation Performance LLC, this group is focusing “low-overhead grazing,” an adaptation of the New Zealand dairy grazing system, in which farmers focus more specifically on their investment in cows and grazing, and less on machinery and buildings, with a goal of reduced costs of production and increased profitability. Through their research, they’re developing financials and performance markers of low-overhead grazing to share with dairy and lending communities. 

A new round of funding for Dairy Cohorts will open on April 11, 2023, when service providers will be invited to submit a Request for Proposal. 

For more information visit: Dairy Farm Cohort Technical Assistance Contract

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