Dale Van Erden, one of New York State's most successful dairy producers, outlines his five keys to farm business success:

1. Pounds of milk sold per cow.

2. Number of cows.

3. Purchased feed cost per hundredweight.

4. Pounds of milk sold per full-time worker equivalent.

5. Capital investment/debt load per cow.

"My feeling is, if I keep all of these factors in the top 10 percent of my competition, we will do fine," says the 900-cow producer from Tully, N.Y.

He's able to determine where he stands in relation to other farms by participating in the New York Dairy Farm Business Summary, sponsored by Cornell University, and another farm business summary sponsored by Farm Credit.

But, Van Erden cautions against making too many comparisons to other farms when it comes to milk production per cow. If one farm has a higher rolling herd average than another farm, it may or may not be more profitable, depending on the cost structure.