Linking Clientele Needs with Extension Programming Objectives: Using Cluster Analysis to Group New England Dairy Farms

The changing farm population challenges Cooperative Extension to adjust programming objectives to meet the changing needs of their clientele. In New England, a mail survey identical to a survey conducted 5 years ago is used to assess production practices, technologies, and future concerns of Vermont dairy farmers. The survey findings are then compared to the earlier survey to identify trends in farm size, technologies, and operator characteristics. While New England dairy farms are making a major shift in technology and size, the dairy industry is witnessing the disappearance of small farms and a fastening pace in the growth of herds with more than 400 cows. In this environment, there is a tremendous need for Cooperative Extension to identify changing production trends and the uses of technology on regional dairy farms for future programming needs. With fewer resources and yet greater pressure to meet clientele educational needs, the survey presents the opportunity to identify producer concerns and direct future programming needs. We have seen the average size of Vermont dairy farms has grown from 39 in 1970 to 90 in 1997 to 115 in 2002. the comparison of current practices to 1997 also indicates that average production has increased to by more than 2000 pounds of milk per cow. While farms are getting bigger, there are more farms using milking parlors and automatic takeoffs on larger farms. However the median size herd is only 70 cows, up from only 60 cows 5 years ago, indicating that a few larger dairy farms greater than 500 cows significantly affects the average size. One of the biggest changes seen in the state's dairy industry has been the practice of grazing. Ten years ago grazing had been promoted as a viable alternative production that was linked to lower production costs and higher profitability. In Vermont, grazing received focused attention from many farmers who desired to link Vermont's grass forage advantage with greater profitability. However, the 2002 mail survey indicated farmers relying on grazing has decreased by nearly 20%, and herd size of farms using grazing has increased by 12 cows to 55 cows per farm. The characteristics of farm operators have also shifted as the age of the respondents has decreased while educational level has increased. In other demographics, we have seen the number of farms using corporative business structure increased from 5 to 15%. Dairy farmers identified real estate taxes and environmental regulations as the factors most threatening to their survival. The results from the survey provide a picture of the dairy farming needs, however to better group farmers to identify concerns and focus programming needs, factor analysis is used to group farmers by a set of characteristics set the farmers apart from others. Factor analysis is a statistical procedure that ranks correlation among a set of key characteristics that are not readily identifiable through ordinary statistical procedures. For example, factor analysis has been used previously to identify graziers vs. non-graziers, farmers more likely to adopt certain technologies, and those more likely to expand their herds in the future. These statistics will assist Vermont Cooperative Extension to direct programming needs at groups that are most concerned about certain issues, most likely to expand, or to direct at farmers most concerned about an issue such as estate planning. This recent survey provides a rare opportunity to analyze extension clientele. The use of cluster analysis will provide Extension leadership greater knowledge of the state's dairy farmer population and enable the formation of more effective and directive programming.


Issue Date:
2003
Publication Type:
Conference Paper/ Presentation
PURL Identifier:
http://purl.umn.edu/22206
Total Pages:
18
Series Statement:
Selected Paper




 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-24

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