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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Evaluating Environmental and Economic Impacts of a Grass-Based Dairy Farm in Pennsylvania

Authors
item Stout, William
item Winsten, J. - HENRY WALLACE INSTITUTE
item Petrucci, B - AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST
item Sanderson, Matt
item Saporito, Louis

Submitted to: American Journal of Alternative Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 25, 2003
Publication Date: June 20, 2004
Citation: Stout, W.L., Winsten, J.R., Petrucci, B., Sanderson, M.A., Saporito, L.S. 2004. Evaluating environmental and economic impacts of a grass-based dairy farm in pennsylvania. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. 18(3):388-397.

Interpretive Summary: Grass-based dairy farming has been the mainstay of the dairy industry in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and New Zealand. In contrast, U.S. dairy farms are characterized by confinement feeding. Because of increased production costs and steady to falling milk prices, there is a growing trend in the adoption of grass-based dairy farming in the Northeast US. In 1996, American Farmland Trust (AFT) developed Cove Mountain Farm (CMF) in south-central Pennsylvania to study the economic and environmental impacts of grass-based dairy farming under a "real world situation". Using data from 1999-2001, economic and environmental analyses were made of CMF. The results from this study show CMF significantly outperforming the average PA dairy farm on profitability indicators such as net farm income per cow and per unit of milk sold. The use of relatively cheap pasture forage reduced feed and labor costs. The low input production system results in general operating efficiency despite much lower milk production levels than the industry average.

Technical Abstract: Grass-based dairy farming has long been the mainstay of the dairy industry in the temperate maritime regions of the world such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and New Zealand. In contrast, U.S. dairy farms are predominantly characterized by confinement feeding systems. However due to increased production costs and steady to falling milk prices, there is a growing trend to adopt grass-based dairy farming in the Northeast US. Economic and environmental analyses were made of one such grass-based dairy farm in south central Pennsylvania consisting of 62 hectares of upland and 16 hectares of flood plain pastures. During the study, stocking rate on the farm ranged from 99 to 153 Jersey or Jersey crossbred cows (500 kg). Economic and production data were taken from farmer records and interviews with the farmer. Environmental data were collected on site. Cove Mountain Farm demonstrated above average profitability in each year of this analysis, as measured by net farm income per cow and per unit of milk sold. General operating efficiency is achieved through reduced feed, cropping, veterinary and labor expenses. Exceptional labor efficiency is achieved through the use of pasture forage and a high-throughput milking parlor. The cost structure at CMF would allow for profitability at milk prices below $10/cwt., which is unusual in today's dairy industry. Environmental analysis indicated that a stocking rate of 125-135cows would probably be the maximum herd size for the farm to meet the USEPA 10 mg l-1 nitrate N drinking water standard. Even at this stocking rate the farm would be more profitable than most farms in Pennsylvania. The environmental impacts of a particular farm need to be evaluated in light of the other agricultural land uses within the watershed.

Last Modified: 12/25/2014
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