December 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 6 // Feature Articles // 6FEA5

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Dairy Excel: Not Extension Business as Usual

The Ohio Extension Dairy Excel Team is a unique combination of county, district, and state Extension educators to conduct management training workshops for farmers. The focus of Dairy Excel is also unique because it represents a radical change in programming and a new approach to problem-solving by Extension educators. This article chronicles the assessment of program need, the development of the team's mission and goals, and the promotion, planning, presentation, and evaluation of Dairy Excel, 1992. Evaluation results show that 100% of the participants found the program worthwhile. Recommendations for effective teams are included.

Ernest Oelker
Extension Agent
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Stark and Summit Counties
The Ohio State University
Internet Address:

The Dairy Excel Mission:

Dairy excel is designed to improve the competitiveness of northeast Ohio dairy farms by on-the-farm application of proven principles of resource management.

The Ohio Dairy Industry at Risk

The Ohio dairy industry fell from 15th among U.S. states in production per cow in 1960 to 31st in the U.S. in 1992 (Schnitkey, 1993). Ohio dairy farmers were experiencing widespread financial distress, while dairy farmers in some other areas of the U.S. grew more profitable and productive (Yavuz, 1993). Consensus of opinion among Extension Agents in Northeast Ohio was that the Ohio dairy industry was at risk of losing the majority of its remaining herds and associated dairy infrastructure, resulting in the loss of jobs and farm related businesses.

Innovative Team Approach

The Dairy Excel Team, formed under the leadership of the Northeast District Dairy Industry Specialist, consisted of two district specialists, five county Extension agents, and two state Extension specialists. The team's first project was to develop a mission statement focusing on the goal of improving competitiveness of Northeast Ohio dairy farmers.

Something Different Needed

Team members spoke with Extension Specialists and reviewed educational materials from Wisconsin, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, and New York. Except for New York, these states were still doing more of the same, teaching technical subject matter to dairy farmers, and experiencing similar declines in their dairy industries. However, the Cornell University Extension PRO-DAIRY program was different from other dairy management programs. This program emphasized human resources management (i.e., managing people) in dairy production.

The Dairy Excel Team arranged to visit county and state Extension faculty in New York to observe the program. Dr. Robert Milligan, PRO-DAIRY Program Leader, Cornell University Extension, explained how the program was designed and put into practice statewide in New York. The Ohio agents agreed that human resources management was lacking in most Ohio dairy farm businesses.

Ohio Extension agents needed to train dairy farmers to manage people. Fear of employing workers appeared to be the biggest reason why Ohio dairy farmers were reluctant to expand their herds to sizes which could achieve the improved productivity and profitability required to maintain a minimum standard of living. A study by Polson and Schnitkey (1995) confirmed this supposition. Dr. Milligan later visited Ohio to provide in-service training for the Dairy Excel Team on human resources management. The team decided to create Dairy Excel to be marketed and taught in early 1992. A major difference between PRO-DAIRY and Dairy Excel was that Dairy Excel had no budget, while Cornell was spending about $300,000 annually on PRO-DAIRY. The Ohio program had to be self-supporting. Another major difference was that Dairy Excel was a grass roots Extension program, originating at the county-district level, rather than at the university level.

Dairy Excel, 1992

A five-workshop series was presented at four locations in the 18 county Northeast Ohio District in 1992. The five workshops consisted of: Managing For Success, two days; Labor Management, one day; and Feeding Management, two days. The first two workshops in the series utilized Cornell's PRO-DAIRY Managing For Success Workshops approach. The PRO-DAIRY Management Resource Notebook (Hutt, Milligan, Kaufman & Claypoole, 1989) units on planning and problem solving, were adapted by the Dairy Excel Team, which added (a) a section on paradigms of dairy farmers and (b) additional detail on the controlling function of management.

The feeding management workshops were based in part on PRO-DAIRY Feeding Management, A Management Focus Workshop for Dairy Farmers (Chase, Bigger, Conway, Menzi, Ruppel, Rymph & Young, 1990), but placed more emphasis on strategic and tactical management and problem-solving. Feeding Workshop sessions were designed to teach improved feeding management skills: (a) managing for improved forage quality, (b) working with consultants, and (c) improving dry matter intake of milking cows. The Labor Management Workshop, prepared and taught by Dr. Bernard Erven, State Extension Specialist, Dairy Farm Management, emphasized labor relations, recruiting, training, and directing dairy farm employees.

Team Teaching

The team divided into pairs to develop teaching plans for each segment of each workshop day. Each team member was prepared to teach his or her own preparation sections, plus those of a team-mate. Practice-teaching sessions were conducted. The team evaluated all aspects of teaching and supporting materials of each teacher.

Promotion of Dairy Excel

A promotional luncheon was held for dairy industry leaders, sponsored by funds from Ohio Extension administration. A promotional brochure was prepared and distributed to all counties in Northeast Ohio for distribution to dairy farmers. Host agents used personal contacts with individual dairy managers as their major recruitment tool.

Workshop Materials

Each workshop participant was provided with Dairy Excel: Managing For Success, a course notebook containing all the handouts, worksheets, and overhead transparency masters (Anderson, Beck, Brockett, Erven, Noyes, Oelker, Polson, Shoemaker & Weiss, 1992). They also received PRO-DAIRY's Milk Production Records for Management Control book (Telega & Hutt, 1989), and Farm Management Planner (Hutt & Telega, 1989), which were purchased from Cornell Cooperative Extension. Participants paid $75 each for the five workshops series.


Dairy Excel was designed to be a rigorous educational experience that participants would be proud to complete. Graduation dinners were planned as part of the program for each workshop location. To qualify for graduation, participants were required to attend all workshops sessions, complete a mission statement for their farm, and complete other homework assignments. Graduation from Managing For Success was a prerequisite for participation in subsequent advanced Dairy Excel Workshops, and for being placed on the mailing list for a quarterly newsletter for and about Dairy Excel graduates.

Management Clinic

Management Clinics were conducted on the farm of each Dairy Excel 1992 participant by the host county agricultural agent, or a Dairy Excel Team member, following the final workshop. The purposes of the management clinic were to individualize the management training of Dairy Excel 1992 to fit the needs and circumstances of each participant, and to conduct a detailed evaluation of the workshops. All Dairy Excel 1992 graduates were interviewed to obtain their responses to questions about curriculum content, teaching methods, and teaching effectiveness. They were also polled for information about their changes in attitude about management, recommendations for improvements in future workshops, and whether Dairy Excel was a worthwhile use of their time and money.


An evaluation of the Dairy Excel Program was conducted to measure changes in farmers' perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors as a result of participation in the program. It was hypothesized that such changes would result in increased farm productivity and profitability. Specific evaluation objectives were:

  1. To assess program impact on participants' perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors.

  2. To document changes in farm productivity and profitability parameters.

  3. To evaluate the effectiveness of subject matter presented in achieving the educational mission of Dairy Excel.

  4. To evaluate teaching effectiveness of each individual Dairy Excel team member.

Data has been collected to address objectives one, three, and four. Evaluation of objective two is still in progress and involves follow-up with participants two to three years after participation in Dairy Excel.

Evaluation Methods

A standardized "Evaluation of Effective Extension Teaching" instrument, (Spiegel, 1992) was used to gauge teaching effectiveness of each individual team member. During the on-farm management clinics, a reflective appraisal questionnaire developed by the author (Oelker, 1992) was used in an interview setting to assess the effectiveness of the workshops in meeting educational objectives. Evaluation data were collected from all graduating participants (n = 86).


In 1992, a total of 88 men and women from 66 different farms participated in the five workshop series at four locations. Of these, 86 (97.7%) completed the requirements for graduation. Asked whether the Dairy Excel Program was worthwhile, 100% of the graduates responded "yes." Asked whether the Dairy Excel Workshops should be repeated, 100% of the graduates answered "yes." One hundred percent of the participants said the "management wheel" picture of the five functions of a farm manager helped them to better understand their management role. Ninety-seven percent of the participants reported they had begun using at least some of the management skills they learned in Dairy Excel. Ninety-four percent indicated they had improved the management of their feeding programs as a result of Dairy Excel. Ninety-four percent of participants also said they had improved the management of their farm labor as a result of skills learned in Dairy Excel.

Results of the on-farm interviews were used to make minor changes and adjustments in the Managing For Success curriculum for 1993. The Feeding Management Workshops were separated from the Managing for Success Workshops for 1993 and offered as a separate series for Managing For Success graduates, only.

Evaluation of Effective Extension Teaching instruments for each team member were completed by each participant, collected by the author and submitted to the Ohio State University Extension Office of Evaluation for computer analysis. Results were returned directly to each team member for his or her use.

Other Dairy Excel Programs And Activities

A quarterly newsletter for and about Dairy Excel and Dairy Excel graduates was initiated in 1992 and is mailed to all graduates. The newsletter is supported by District Farm Management account funds, with postage covered by a county office that had excess postage allocations. A two-day tour of highly successful dairy farms in New York State was conducted for 22 graduates in 1993. A tour of rapidly-expanding dairy farming regions in Washington State was conducted in June, 1994 for graduates only. A two-day tour of top Michigan dairy farms was conducted for 10 graduates in November, 1994. The above tours were paid for by participants. The early successes of Dairy Excel in Ohio have prompted the formation of a number of Extension teams in other subject matter areas, including horticulture, swine, horse stable management, vegetable production, and grain production.


Dairy Excel has been successful in affecting the attitudes of some Northeast Ohio dairy farmers toward management of the human resources on their farms. Some Dairy Excel graduates have made progress in changing their attitudes about profitability of their farms in relation to herd size. Many Dairy Excel graduates now realize that achieving financial success and even survival as dairy farmers will require herd expansion.

Future Directions

In 1993, 55 people from 46 dairy farms attended three Managing for Success workshop series. Twenty-five farmers from 23 active farms attended two Financial Management Workshop series. Eighteen farmers attended two Feeding Management Work shop series.

Dairy Excel Team Members are helping graduates to set up local discussion groups to address such issues as: ideas for utilization and management of bovine somatotropin (bST), working through dairy herd expansion, and formation of local buyers groups designed to improve production cost control. New Dairy Excel Workshops on such subjects as Management Team-Building, Advanced Feeding Management, and Advanced Financial Management have been suggested.

Recommendations For Effective Practice

Extension Educators who plan to conduct management excel workshops need to make the paradigm shift from teaching technology to teaching management. Extension educators must learn management teaching techniques from management teachers. Extension educators interested in conducting management workshops should read books on management and attend seminars on human resources management. We must read works and attend workshops taught by such people as Steven F. Covey, Hirum Smith, James M. Higgins, and other experienced management educators. Finally, we must realize that teaching management to farmers using this approach takes a large amount of time (20-40 working days per team member for the first year) and an unwavering commitment to the mission and goals set for these programs.

The most important professional skill required of Extension educators who become members of management excel teams is the ability to be a productive, complimentary member of an effective teaching team. The overall effectiveness of the team depends on each member's commitment to the mission and goals of the program.


Anderson, L., Beck, T., Brockett, B., Erven, B., Noyes, T., Oelker, E., Polson, J., Shoemaker, D., & Weiss, W. (1992). Dairy excel: Managing for success (Notebook). Columbus: The Ohio State University Extension.

Chase, L., Bigger, L., Conway, J., Menzi, B., Ruppel, K., Rymph, M., & Young, C. (1990, Rev). Feeding management: A PRO-DAIRY management focus workshop for dairy farm managers. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Hutt, G., Milligan, R., Kaufman, R., & Claypoole, E. (1989). PRO-DAIRY management resource notebook. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Hutt, G., & Telega, S. (1989). Farm management planner. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Oelker, E. (1992). Dairy excel evaluation: Interview form for participants completing all 1992 dairy excel workshops. Columbus: The Ohio State University.

Polson, J., & Schnitkey, G. (1995). Increasing number of dairy cows needed to support a farm family (E.S.O. 2214). Columbus: The Ohio State University.

Schnitkey, G. (1993). [Milk cow productivity: Ohio and the United States]. Unpublished raw data.

Spiegel, M. (1992). Evaluation of effective Extension teaching, group form. Columbus: The Ohio State University, Office of Evaluation.

Telega, S., & Hutt. G. (1989). Milk production records for management control. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Yavuz, F. (1993). A spatial equilibrium analysis of regional structural change in the U.S. dairy industry. Unpublished manuscript.