Cornell Small Dairy Team Produces New Resources


The milk from Taber Dairy in Mecklenburg, NY, is processed by
Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company, which offers off-farm
processing for several other dairies. Photo: A. Fay Benson

        The Cornell Small Farms Program Small Dairy Team has released a series of six new resources to help small dairy farms. The team, which includes farmers and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) educators, received a grant from the Cornell Small Farms Program in 2011 to provide new educational resources and tools to small dairy producers.
        "Small dairies have borne the brunt of the exodus of dairy farms from New York State. The goal of the project was to provide resources for dairies looking to adapt to ever-changing market factors," says Fay Benson, team leader.
The new resources for small farms include ...
  • Financial Bench Marks for Small Dairies: Helps dairies identify the strengths and weaknesses of their farms compared to other farms of similar size in New York State
  • Off-Farm Processing Start-Up Fact Sheet: Suggests first steps for dairy farmers considering adding direct sales of value-added dairy products to their business mix
  • Web based Geo-Map:  Shows all the small dairy processing plants in New York state
  • "Small Dairy Case Studies:  Highlights unique solutions to keep four small dairy operations profitable
  • Production Record-Keeping Book for Grazing Dairies: Formatted and distributed to CCE offices statewide by Cornell Small Farms Program Small Dairy Team; printed funded by New York Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative; books are available to grazing dairies at no cost through local CCE office.
  • Organic Dairy Forage and Grain Survey:  Due to fluctuating precipitation in 2011, many farms were short of forage and grain. This is particularly stressful to organic dairies since they have limited options for buying replacement feed.
Small Dairy Team member Dana Markley operates a 100-cow dairy in Philadelphia, NY. Markley says, "As a small dairy farmer, it can be challenging to find time to explore new ideas and concepts. This project compiled information to provide small farms with easier access to important resources. The information helps us take advantage of alternatives that can make our farms more cost-effective and helps us fill niche markets that larger farms may find difficult to reach."

For example, the new Off-Farm Processing Start-Up Fact Sheet lists business planning, dairy production, direct marketing, licensing, and food safety resources. It also includes links to a directory of cheesemakers and small-scale food processors.
Benson, author of the Off-Farm Processing Start-Up Fact Sheet fact sheet , says, "Direct-to-consumer retail sales of cheese, yogurt and other value-added products by dairy operators seems like an easy way to increase profits, but research shows very few on-farm processors enjoy those increase profits. Through off-farm processing, there is less start-up cost in both capital and time."
Benson suggests that farmers interested in direct marketing use the new web-based geo map showing the on-farm processing locations in New York State to help find processors close to their farms.
In 2012, the Cornell Small Farms Program is collaborating with educators and farmers to host a series of small dairy field days through late spring and summer. Topics range from incorporating new value-added products to improving nutrition and producing on-farm biodiesel. To view the schedule or register, visit

For further assistance, contact your local CCE office, visit, or contact Fay Benson, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, 607-753-5213, #