Pasture-Based Dairy Program at Southwest Missouri Research Center Accomplishes Goals, Will Refocus Research Efforts

April 30, 2015 11:20 AM

The small, experimental pasture-based dairy at the University of Missouri's Southwest Research Center in Mt. Vernon has accomplished all of the goals it set out in 1999. As a demonstration dairy, it has helped reinvigorate the dairy industry in southwest Missouri, according to David Cope, superintendent of the Center.

For the future, in its continuing support of the southwest Missouri dairy industry, the Center will now focus on dairy forage research, which will involve young heifers, not in the dairy production cycle. To help fund the new focus, the Center will sell its dairy cattle herd.

"We are transitioning from milking cows at the Southwest Center to research relevant to dairy producers going into the future," Cope said. "Dairy heifers at the Southwest Center will continue to be developed. In addition, southwest Missouri has two MU Extension dairy specialists who continue to provide outreach to producers. There will continue to be a need for forage research as we work to find varieties that do well for dairy and beef cattle in southwest Missouri."

When the project began in 1999 with a 10-year research plan, the purpose was to establish a demonstration dairy showing the economic viability of a seasonal 60-80 cow intensive grazing dairy in southwest Missouri. From 2005 to 2014, the growth of new grazing dairies created $100 million in new investment, generated $40 million in annual milk sales and added 1,110 jobs in Missouri, according to MU Extension.

Grasslands Consultants CEO Gareth van der Heyden acknowledged the support of the Southwest Research Center in establishing its 7,000-cow, pasture-based dairy operation, which contributes an estimated $150 million to the state's economy. Van der Heyden said that were it not for the dairy, Grasslands would not have established in the area.

The idea of establishing the dairy was to show dairy farmers in the area how to use to their benefit the greatest resource in the southwest part of the state - the forage, said Marilyn Calvin, Mt. Vernon dairy farmer. Calvin was chair of the Southwest Research Center Advisory Committee when the dairy was first established, and is a member of the Dairy Farmers of America Southeast Council and Board of Directors.

"We wanted to show small dairy farmers how to compete with the big dairies," said Calvin. "The growth in the Missouri dairy industry has been in the grazing. We've lost many farmers and production, but grazing has helped stabilize dairy farming in Missouri. The Southwest Center dairy brought in a new way of looking at things; how to run dairies more effectively. I think the dairy has done everything and more than we ever set out for it to do."

Since its inception, grazing dairy operations have multiplied many times over according to Stacy Dohle, Southwest Research Center Advisory Committee chair and senior communications manager for Midwest Dairy Association.

"Many innovative producers have used knowledge gained from the dairy as they've worked to better their operations. The grazing dairy industry is now firmly established in the state. The original goals of demonstration and education have been surpassed. Dairy producers have taken the dairy barn design and operational model, and have refined and evolved it into what it is today: a more technologically and operationally advanced system than what is in place at the Southwest Center. It is timely that the focus now turns to dairy forage research," said Dohle.

Lloyd Gunter, chairman of the Missouri Dairy Association Board, says there is still plenty to do. "The Missouri Dairy Association wants to work with the University and further our industry. We believe there will be other opportunities that may arise in research and development to help current dairy farmers and to make it more appealing to dairy farmers coming into Missouri or coming into the dairy industry," said Gunter.

Source: University of Missouri Extension

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