AgriLife Extension Dairy Program
by Dr. Mario Villarino,
County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Hopkins County
Relevance: Dairy production is one of the most important industries in Hopkins County. The dominate milk producer in the region is a dairyman with more than 200 head of cattle (53 producers) with a total of 27,000 milking cows. All dairy enterprises are also affected by weather as well as market variability. The Hopkins County Leadership Advisory Board along with county-based Program Area Committees firmly establish the need for educational programs targeted for dairy producers enabling them to increase knowledge as well as adopt best management practices and new technologies improving product quality and producer sustainability. Most of the dairy producers are currently adapting to market variations and several changes on the management system are expected. The workforce, predominantly of Hispanic origin, requires specialized training to maintain competitiveness. A particular educational need was identified during Leadership Advisory Board Session in 2012 relating to the need of providing educational programs directed to proper utilization of locally grown grasses to reduce feed cost with grazing. The plan incorporate training for individual dairies to solve their technical problems while satisfying environmental requirements and provided an educational practical training in bovine artificial insemination to the Hispanic workforce. Because Hopkins County belongs to the Dairy Outreach Program Area, one session (Dairy Fall Conference) was dedicate to provide educational topics related to manure and waste management and was evaluated independently from the rest of the programs.
Response: To properly respond to the educational issues identified by the committees involved in the plan, a series of activities were planned to promote educational experiences to producers in forage management. Twelve newspaper articles, 4 newsletters, two educational programs (Forage Conference, Emory February 2012 and Fall Dairy Conference in Sulphur Springs, October 31, 2012) and one educational program in bovine artificial insemination directed to Hispanic workforce (October 2012) were planned and conducted throughout the year. The educational programs were evaluated using retrospective post evaluation surveys. Because this plan included mandatory regulated credits, the session where those credits were offered were evaluated separately.
Results: According to the survey results, the majority of the responders were small acreage farmers (33% between 1 and 100 acres). Post evaluation comparisons indicated a significant knowledge increase in all evaluated topics (average 31 %, range 22 - 42%). From the topics evaluated on the survey, nitrate toxicity was the topic with most knowledge gain (58.6 %) prussic acid poisoning (55.7%) establishment of perennial pastures or hay meadows (45.6%) basics on electric fencing (44.4%) water resources and planning for the future (40.6%) importance of weed identification (37.7%) and benefit of weed and brush control (29% ). Due to severe weather changes with reduced water precipitation during 2012, most of the educational efforts were directed to resolve issues related to drought. From the adoptable technological best management practices offered, the use of appropriate management following a drought showed the highest percentage possibilities of adoption (89.4%) followed by the use of recommended practices and technology to control weeds (81.5%) the use of soil analysis to improve nutrient management (76.9%) and use of alternative or new water supplies (52.1%). Overall, 90.1% of the participants increased understanding of the programs offered with 73.2% planning to adopt at least one practice or technology offered during the educational programs. 92.6% of the attending participants identified gaining an economic benefit from the training offered with an average of $4,085 per participant for a total anticipated economic benefit of $8.08 per acre farmed. For the mandatory DOPA training evaluation, results indicated a significant knowledge increase (+18%) in all topics presented (Lone Star Healthy Streams Publication, new local NRCS requirements, nutrient requirements for winter crops and pastures, changes in nutrient management plans for NRCS and the use of rotational grazing as waste management. From the best management practices presented, 73.68% have already adopted at least one of the BMP presented (rotational grazing, soil conservation, soil testing, winter crops, winter pastures, NRCS nutrient management plans). Fifty percent of the responders (9/18) indicated to be mostly satisfied and 50 percent (9/18) were somewhat satisfied with the activity. Forty four percent of the responses indicated economic benefit of adopting the BMPs presented.
Next Steps: Hopkins County Program Area Committees will review the results and will provide feedback to improve and increase educational opportunities to dairies interested in participating.
Acknowledgements: We thank the support of the Southwest Dairy Museum, Pfizer Animal Health, local news media and volunteers during the planning and implementation of this plan.