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Evaluation of research needs and management practices on organic, grass-fed dairy farms in the United States.

M. A. Snider



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Evaluation of research needs and management practices on organic, grass-fed dairy farms in the United States.
M. A. Snider*1, S. E. Ziegler2, H. M. Darby2, K. J. Soder3, A. F. Brito4, B. Beidler5, S. Flack6, S. L. Greenwood1, M. T. Niles1. 1University of Vermont Burlington, VT, 2University of Vermont Extension St. Albans, VT, 3USDA-ARS, Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit University Park, PA, 4University of New Hampshire Durham, NH, 5Beidler Family Farm Randolph, VT, 6Sarah Flack Consulting Enosburg Falls, VT.

In the past decade, there has been an increase in organic dairy production, but producers are currently facing challenges similar to that of their conventional counterparts. Due to economic pressures and philosophical beliefs, many organic producers are transitioning to “grass-fed” production systems. Previous research has identified demographic, management, education, and research needs of organic dairy farms in the northeastern United States. However, there is a paucity of research assessing specific parameters relevant to grass-fed dairies. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to 1) assess demographics, perceptions, and production practices on US organic grass-fed dairy farms and 2) identify areas of research that may educate producers, as well as advance the organic grass-fed dairy industry. Grass-fed organic dairy production is defined as farms relying solely on forage sources, excluding corn silage, to meet nutritional needs. Data were analyzed using Stata 16.0 with Pearson correlations coefficients. Of the 351 questionnaires mailed, 164 producers responded. The majority of producers were located in NY, OH, WI, PA, and VT, with an average age of 47.6 years old, which is 10 years younger than the national average. Sixty percent of respondents reported that they were part of the plain community; 96.3% of surveyed farms were found to have been certified organic for an average of 10.3 years and 84.2% were grass-fed for 5.1 years. Farms averaged 219 acres of pasture with a herd size of 49 cows; however, 63.0% of farms reported needing to purchase additional forages. Producers (60.0%) indicated that the largest limitations to their success were forage quality and low milk production. Despite limitations, 71.8% of producers were satisfied with their milk production, correlating with a high level of understanding of forages and forage quality tests. Based on results, identified research needs include creating financial benchmarks, modifying forms of farmer communication, and assessing animal performance on pasture-based diets.

Keywords: grass-fed dairy, farmer perceptions, organic.