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Nurturing the Next Generation of Wisconsin's Dairy Farmers
Special Reports No. 3, October 2001
by Bradford Barham, Douglas Jackson-Smith, Steve Stevenson, and Jennifer Taylor

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A strong dairy economy has both economic and social benefits for Wisconsin. While support for beginning dairy farmers is not the only way to sustain and increase dairy productivity, it is an important strategy that can renew the dairy industry with new farmers. There are many challenges in attracting new people to the dairy business. New dairy farmers often face high start-up costs for land, equipment, and facilities. Volatile milk prices, long hours, and hard work reduce the appeal of a career in dairy farming. In the 1990s, prospective dairy farmers could readily find off-farm jobs that often paid better than dairying. To better understand the start-up strategies used by beginning dairy farmers, a research team from the Program on Agricultural Technology Studies (PATS) and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at UW-Madison surveyed 321 beginning dairy farmers in 1996. The research team then supplemented this survey research with 30 in-depth case studies of beginning farmers from a wide range of backgrounds. This report summarizes the findings.

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