April 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Survey of Dollar Value and Importance of Farm Visits to Eastern Vermont Dairy Farmers

Farm visits have formed the basis for agricultural Extension education. However it is becoming difficult to justify the time and expense involved. A postcard survey of 77 eastern Vermont dairy farmers was used to evaluate the dollar value and importance of farm visits to farms grouped by herd size. Visits were rated as moderately to extensively important by 90% of respondents. Seventy percent of farmers responding felt that farm visits improved their profitability. Extension agents should recognize the value of farm visits and maintain them as an educational method

Louise H. Calderwood
Regional Specialist-Sustainable Agriculture
University of Vermont Extension System
Newport, Vermont
Internet Address: lcaldrwd@sover.net


Educational programs provided to dairy farmers by Extension agents fall into several broad categories. Curriculum-based, multi-week courses are becoming very popular and one-day or half- day meetings are often used. The most traditional form of farmer education is the farm visit. An agent meets with a farmer at his or her farm to address problems specific to that operation.

Warner and Christianson (1984) reported that in Kentucky about half the time county agents spent in contact with clientele was through use of individual methods such as phone calls and farm visits. A survey conducted by Obahayujie and Hillson (1988) indicates farmers give high ranking to individual contacts. Jordan (1993) reported that farmers prefer farm visits over other educational methods.

Advantages of farm visits include the chance to track changes and being able to modify suggestions for individual farms. Additionally, some farmers do not have time to leave their farms and attend meetings. However, farm visits are time consuming and agents can only reach about 30 to 40 farms a month. The value of farm visits is often overshadowed by the cost per farm contact. This study was conducted to determine the value and importance of farm visits to eastern Vermont dairy farmers.

Materials and Methods

To measure the impact of Extension agent farm visits on dairy farm profitability in eastern Vermont, a postcard survey of farms was conducted. Dairy farmers who had received visits in the last three years from one of two agents based in eastern Vermont were chosen for the study. A two-piece postage paid postcard was mailed to 158 farms. In addition to the dollar value of farm visits, participants were asked for the number of milking cows on the farm, topics addressed during visits, importance of visits and preferred style of agricultural education.

Chi-square analysis was used to determine dependency between variables. Findings were analyzed for four size categories: small (less than 50 cows), medium (51 to 100 cows), large (101 to 200 cows), and very large (more than 200 cows). Five profitability changes ($0, $1-$500, $501-$1,000, $1,001-$2,000, over $2,000), and three levels of importance of farm visits (none, moderate, important) were evaluated. Because of sample size, categories were condensed. Very large herds were included with large herds and all dollar values over $501 were included in one category.

Respondents could choose from 10 topics of visits or specify topics not on the card. Seven options were provided for preferred methods of agricultural education. The percent of farmers choosing each topic or educational method was calculated.

A t-test was performed to determine if there was a difference in the variability of impact on farm profitability between the two agents. Variability of the importance of farm visits made by the agents was analyzed in the same manner. Data were analyzed using SAS (1990).

Findings and Discussion

The six counties included in this study contain 719 farms, nearly 40% of Vermont's dairy farms. Eighteen percent of the postcard responses were from farmers milking over 100 cows. This correlates well with 13% of the farms milking more than 100 cows in the surveyed region. However, 47% of the responses were from farmers milking 50-to-100 cows while only 31% of Vermont farms are in that size category. Farmers milking fewer than 50 cows were not accurately represented in this study. They constitute over half the farms in the surveyed region (56%) yet resulted in only 35% of the survey responses.

Chi square analysis was performed to determine if the dollar value farmers placed on farm visits was independent of farm size. Although there is no statistical difference in effect on profit by farm size (Table 1) there are some interesting trends. Seventy percent of farmers felt the visits had a positive impact on their profitability. Forty-five percent of small farmers felt visits did not impact their profitability. Only 22% of large farmers felt visits had no value. Farmers who felt visits had more than $501 effect on their profitability were equally divided among herd sizes. Forty-three percent of farmers surveyed felt visits increased their profitability by more than $500.

Table 1
Change in profit as a result of farm visits for farms of varying sizes.
Impact on ProfitHerd Size 1-50Herd Size 51-100 Herd Size 101+Total % Change In Profit
Chi-square p=.284
Pearson coeff.=.130

As with profit, the size of farm did not statistically impact the importance farmers placed on visits (Table 2) However, 18% of small farmers did not feel visits were important. Over 90% of the mid-sized farmers felt visits were of moderate or extensive value. All large farmers felt visits were of some importance. Sixty-nine percent of the large farmers surveyed placed moderate value on farm visits and 31% thought they were of extensive value. Overall, 90% of farmers surveyed felt visits were moderately or extensively important to their farming operation.

Table 2
The importance of visits to farmers of varying sizes
Herd SizeImportance =noneImportance =moderate Importance =extensive
Chi-square p= .291
Pearson coeff.= .107

Not surprisingly, there was an interaction between farmers' perception of farm visits impact on profitability and the value they placed on visits (Table 3) However, there is not a strong correlation between profitability and importance (Pearson coefficient = .128). Eighty-five percent of farmers that did not value visits also felt visits did not improve their profitability. Of farmers that placed extensive value on visits, 60% indicated that visits had impacted their profit by more than $501.

Table 3
Importance of farm visits to farms gaining different profits from farm visits.
Impact on ProfitImportance =noneImportance =moderate Importance =extensivelyTotal % Profit
Chi-square p= .003
Pearson coeff.= .128

There was no difference in importance or dollar value of visits between the two agents. The most common topic for farm visits was pasture management. This was followed closely by production records (DHIA), feeding and finances. (See Table 4) Farmers showed an equal preference for magazines, farm visits and meetings as a form of education.

Table 4
Percent of farmers who addressed different topics during farm visits.
26Body Condition Scoring
38Pasture Management
30Production Records
12 Ventilation
3Family Relations
13Herd Health
20Forage Production


Although farm visits are costly and time consuming they hold an important place in Extension education programs. The impact of visits on dairy farms in eastern Vermont is equal across farm size. Proportionally, fewer visits were made to farmers milking fewer than 50 cows and those farmers felt they gained the least from visits. Extension agents should review educational strategies and topics to be sure they are meeting the needs of farmers in their geographic area.

Because of cost and time, Extension agents should evaluate the need for individual visits. Some topics can be handled effectively on the phone or with office visits. However, the most frequent topic addressed during visits in eastern Vermont was pasture management. Clearly, this is a topic best addressed by visiting the farm.

Extension agents are being required to cover more of their operating costs in the face of tightened budgets. In several countries such as Ireland and New Zealand Extension-type services are paid for by subscription or on an hourly basis. This survey determines the importance and value of farm visits to dairy farmers. Local competition, regional requirements of farmers and individual state Extension formats will determine if fees should be charged for Extension agents visits.


Jordan, E.R. (1993) What do farmers want for education? Journal of Dairy Science, 76(10), 3247-3256.

Obahayujie, J. and J. Hillson. (1988) Now hear this! Delivery methods for farmers. Journal of Extension. 26, 21-22.

Warner, P.D. and J.A. Christenson. (1984) The Cooperative Extension Service: A national assessment. Boulder, CO and London: Westview Press.

SAS (1990). SAS user's guide: Statistics. Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc.