East met West in historic fashion when Pennsylvania dairy producers recently traveled to New Mexico to share in a unique learning experience with producers there. Fifteen dairy owners and managers representing more than 27,000 cows met April 10-12 in Clovis, N.M., for a dairy management program offered by Penn State Dairy Alliance and New MexicoStateUniversity dairy extension.   

 New Mexico and Pennsylvania producers approach dairying differently, but as each group found out during the training, they share much common ground. “I always felt that New Mexico producers had an advantage over us, but getting to know them I realized that, while their dairies may be bigger, they are dealing with many of the same issues we are in Pennsylvania; issues like environmental regulations and the anti-agriculture movement,” observed Logan Bower, producer from Blain, Pa., and president of the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania.

“The take-home message for me was that we are really all on a level playing field and Pennsylvania producers need to take a look at the advantages we do have in this state and amplify them. It’s all about working with your strengths, no matter where you are dairying – East or West,” said Bower.

The Penn State Dairy Management Program provided producers three days of intensive instruction in business management and human resource management. Topics included strategic and tactical planning, benchmarking to evaluate the big picture, situational leadership, employee performance management, managerial cost accounting, and evaluating operational efficiency in feeding and the parlor. Producers engaged in such hands-on activities as calculating income over feed costs; identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for the industry in each state; and evaluating their own interpersonal communication styles to improve communications with employees.

“Our objective in partnering with New Mexico State University on this program was to accomplish two goals – to provide the producers with management and human resource strategies and techniques they can implement on their own dairies, and to bring New Mexico and Pennsylvania producers together for networking that will benefit the industries in both states,” noted Richard Stup, director, Penn State Dairy Alliance.

“I was skeptical at first,” said Gary Bonestroo, a dairy producer from Portales, N.M. and president of the Dairy Producers of New Mexico organization. On the final day of training, Bonestroo candidly shared with the group that, prior to the start of the program, he hadn’t planned on staying for the entire three days. But the information shared during the first day got him hooked. “We don’t see training like this in New Mexico; nothing for upper level dairy management has been offered here before. I had never seen such in-depth information on evaluating cost and profit. It was a really interesting program and it opened my mind to some new management options I can use on my own dairy.”

“Providing producers with the opportunity to compare performance numbers with each other was an eye-opening experience for them. New Mexico producers were in awe of the fact that we have large herds averaging 85-90 pounds of milk,” noted Brad Hilty, program coordinator and information management specialist with Penn State Dairy Alliance. “Higher production coupled with higher milk prices enabled Pennsylvania producers to generate higher income over feed costs. However, this advantage is offset by the higher fixed costs in facilities that our dairies carry,” explained Hilty.

Building relationships with producers in other states offers the chance to discuss policy issues and come to a consensus, giving producers a stronger voice in policy-making on the regional and national levels. “The industry across the U.S. is shrinking. In order to survive, we have to work together on the issues and challenges we face,’ explained Bower. “The experience in New Mexico showed me that we need to look at producers in other states as partners, not competitors.”

The collaboration with New Mexico State University Dairy Extension enables Penn State Dairy Alliance to expand its educational and networking goals for Pennsylvania producers as it helps New MexicoStateUniversity build its own dairy extension program.

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome of the program,” said Robert Hagevoort, dairy extension specialist, New Mexico State University, who initiated the talks leading up to this unique event during the PDMP visit to New Mexico in 2006. “Penn State Dairy Alliance for us has all the components a dairy extension program should have, and with limited resources, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Collaboration and sharing of resources and mutual interests are key. That is how I envision we will be able to offer our producers programs that would otherwise take years to develop. An additional benefit is the interaction with producers from other parts of the country.”

Will the collaborative programming continue? Both producers’ organizations say yes. The next step may include networking at the Washington, D.C. legislative forum hosted in spring 2008 by the Dairy Producers of New Mexico. Sharon Lombardi, executive director, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, explained, “Producers from dairy states have to work together so we are all on the same page, with uniform ideas to present to our legislators and policy makers. We may be from different regions, but the bottom line is we are all in the same industry.”

PennState Dairy Alliance