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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century E Dairy Farms Topics of Discussion During On-Farm Interview Elements of “Success” and Barriers and Broader Assessments of the Sustainability of the Farming Systems 1. What factors have contributed to progress or success for your farm/company? 2. In what important ways has this operation changed over the last 5 years? 3. Overall, how would you assess the performance of your farming systems on some broader indicators of sustainability— 3.1. Local ecosystem sustainability (for example, water, soil, air, biodiversity, and critical species) 3.2. Global ecosystem sustainability (for example, energy use, climate) 3.3. Social sustainability (for example, quality of life, labor, economics, community) 3.4. Food system sustainability (for example, food quality, nutrition, affordability and access) 4. Do you foresee any barriers to continuing to farm sustainably, or to developing additional strategies to enhance sustainability? 5. Do you do research or experimentation on new methods? 6. Do you have any specific problems that might benefit from more (or better) scientific research? 7. What do you think is the future outlook for your own farming operation/enterprise? 8. What do you think is the future outlook for sustainable systems/organic farming? 9. What are you proudest about when you think of your farming operation?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century 1. Production Practices LAND BASE 1. Overall, how much land do you operate as part of this dairy farm business? 2. Of the total land operated, how much is used for the following purposes: 2.1. Pasture only 2.2. Crop production 2.3. Fallow, idle, or CRP 2.4. Other 3. Of the total acres that you operate, 3.1. Roughly how much do you own? 3.2. Roughly how much do you rent/lease? CROP AND FEED ISSUES 1. Do you raise most of the feed for your dairy cows on your own farm? 2. Roughly how much (or what %) of the following types of livestock feed do you usually BUY or IMPORT from off the farm: 2.1. Forages 2.2. Grains 2.3. Protein 3. Do you currently rely on pastures as a major source of feed for your milking dairy cows? 4. What ways is the expansion of your dairy operation constrained by the size of your land base? 5. Is the size of your land base a primary reason for expanding or not expanding your dairy operation? Are there other reasons for expanding/not expanding? (ecological, economic, animal health, milk quality, quality of life) 6. Are there any special approaches to management of crops—fertility, rotations, etc.—that are important to the sustainability of the operation? DAIRY-SOIL LINKAGES 1. In what ways do soil conditions on your farm affect: 1.1. your crop production practices? 1.2. your manure management? 1.3. your grazing activities (if any)? MANURE AND NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT ISSUES Manure Storage and Handling How do you store most of the manure from your livestock? Do you apply your dairy manure to your own fields and what rates of application do you typically use? How is the manure applied? Do you follow manure applications with biological stimulants?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century Do you export any of your dairy manure to other operations? Do you import any manure from other operations? Nutrient Management 1. In what ways do you attempt to recycle livestock manures in your cropping operations? 1.1. How do you use livestock manure in your crop fertility management plans? 1.2. On what crops do you target manure applications? 1.3. During what seasons do you apply dairy manure to crop fields? 1.4. How do you estimate the nutrient contributions of manure to specific fields and crops? 1.5. What are some of the best aspects of using manure as a source of nutrients for your crops? 1.6. What are some of the most difficult aspects of using manure to fertilize your crops? What have been the biggest obstacles you face to managing manure nutrients on your operation? 1.7. Is any of your manure used to produce compost? 1.8. In fertilizing your fields with manure/compost do you focus on plant or soil nutrients? 1.9. What methods do you use in assessing soil health and fertility? 1.10. Do you use any composts in making nutrient teas? 2. Have you written (or had someone else write) a formal nutrient management plan on your farm? 3. Other aspects of crop fertility management 3.1. Do you conduct soil tests regularly in your crop fields and pastures? WATER RESOURCES Water Quantity How adequate is the water supply for your operation? Have you made significant changes in your operation to adapt to water scarcity? Is your water supplied from wells, rain catchment systems, or from off-farm sources (which)? Water Quality 1. Have water quality concerns been raised in your area? 1.1. Surface water? 1.2. Ground water? 1.3. Nonpoint pollution? 1.4. Site-specific pollution (production related)? 2. How have these concerns impacted your farming operation? 3. Have you made significant changes in your operation to adapt to these water quality concerns? 4. What specific steps have you taken to protect water quality in your area? 5. How has your manure storage and management system enabled or constrained your ability to meet regulatory requirements?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century AIR QUALITY ISSUES Are there any air quality or odor issues that currently affect your farming operation? What specific steps have you taken to address potential concerns? CARBON FOOTPRINT ISSUES To what degree are you aware of greenhouse-gas emissions (CO2 or equivalents) resulting from farm production (fuel usage of machinery, application of fertilizers and the use of synthetics, including plastics)? What specific steps have you taken to address potential concerns? ALTERNATIVE ENERGY/BIOGAS Do you use your manure resources to generate biogas? Do you use any other forms of renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) in your operation? How well have these systems worked for you? What are the best aspects of these systems? What are the worst aspects of these systems? Do you have an energy management plan? DAIRY FACILITIES Are there any aspects of your milking and housing facilities that enable or constrain your dairy operation? If you could do it over, how would you have designed your housing and milking facilities differently? Why? FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY, ANIMAL HEALTH, ETC 1. What steps has your dairy operation taken to address potential concerns about: 1.1. Milk safety (antibiotic use, raw milk, etc.) 1.2. Milk quality (flavor, sweetness, mineral, vitamin, protein, antioxidant and enzyme levels) 1.3. Animal health and welfare 1.4. Potential contamination of crops by E. coli and other pathogens in manure 1.5. Biosecurity 1.6. Other food safety concerns? 2. Economic/Market Questions SALES How have your gross farm sales changed over the last 5 years? What do you expect the change to be in the next 5 years? Milk versus other commodities—What percentage of your gross receipts are from milk sales?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century MARKETING 1. Where do you usually ship your milk? 1.1. How would you describe this buyer? 1.2. Does your current milk buyer have a policy on the use of rBST or Posilac? 2. Do you sell any of your farm products direct to consumers? 3. What proportion of your milk is marketed locally? 4. Do you process any of your milk into butter, cheese, or other dairy products? 5. What would motivate you to seek out local markets for your products (farm profit, local economic development, local food security, farm-to-school or farm-to-cafeteria)? 6. Do any of your products go outside the United States? 7. Do you sell any of your farm products on contract? If yes, which kind? 8. How have your marketing approaches changed over the last 5–10 years? Organic Milk: Do you get organic price premiums for your products? Have these premiums increased or declined in recent years? How important are these premiums to your ability to use organic practices? Are organic premiums important to your decision to use sustainable practices? Aside from marketing benefits, what are some positive benefits related to being certified organic? What are the biggest problems or obstacles to managing your farm as a certified organic dairy and/or organic crop producer? How do you manage antibiotic use on your dairy? Does your dairy farm have any other official “certifications” that you use in marketing your product? FARM ENTERPRISE FINANCIALS Gross Income What are your approximate annual gross sales of farm products? Are there other sources of farm income? Net Income In how many of the last 5 years has your enterprise made a profit? Has your net income increased over the last 5 years? Farm versus Off-farm Income Does anyone in your family work off the farm (known as public work in the South)? To what degree does your household depend on the farm for income and benefits?
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century Debt Roughly what would you estimate is the current ratio of your farm debts to farm assets? (no debt, debts less than 10% assets, debts 10–40% assets, debts exceed 40% of assets) Are you comfortable with your current debt levels? LABOR Have you been able to find adequate labor to sustain operation and quality of life? What specific practices do you use to ensure labor is treated fairly? How do labor issues affect your decisions about which production practices to use? RISK MANAGEMENT What are the major sources of risk on your farm? What strategies have you developed on your farm to deal with these sources of risk? Given recent changes in energy and farm commodity markets, how well do you feel your operation can compete in the current high energy and high feed cost environment? What alternatives do you see in managing future (expected) shortages in energy, fertilizer, land and water resources, and concomitant increases in production costs? 3. Social and Community Aspects What motivated you to choose this approach to farming? What keeps you enthusiastic about your approach? Do your customers/buyers have an impact on how you farm? How do you get information and advice for your farming? (main sources) Who comes to you for advice about farming? Do you share information with other farmers? Do you make an effort to share information about your operation with the public? Are you involved with any farmers’ groups or other organizations? Do you work with any government agencies? What government programs have the largest impacts on your operation? Are you involved in farm policy issues? If so, how? DEVELOPMENT PRESSURE 1. How much pressure does your operation feel from growth and development in your area? 2. What opportunities and challenges does urban growth and development present to your farm? 3. Farm transition challenges—how do you ensure viability of operation across generations/time? 3.1. How to ensure sustainability (values) across generations/time? 3.2. How to mitigate start-up costs for new farmers by removing land (and perhaps some infrastructure) costs through long-term lease and trust arrangements (to
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Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century replace fee-simple purchase and/or inheritance models by community-based stewardship models)? 3.3. How to connect successive generations to pass on knowledge and practical experience? 3.4. How to secure the older generation while enabling the future of the next generation?
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