Benchmark Discussion Groups

To encourage benchmarking and sharing BMPs among dairy producers, the Center is offering grants to cover costs associated with discussion and benchmarking groups functioning within Pennsylvania. The grants can cover the cost of food and meeting expenses, as well as facilitator costs, to discount any expenses incurred by the producers who participate.

Eligible costs are reimbursed by the Center, up to $2,000 per fiscal year. The grants are made available on a first-come, first-serve basis, with groups required to submit meeting summaries to validate expenses. They are to support a small group – 8 to 12 – of dairy producers.

Discussion Group Funding Application

Requirements of Program:

  • The $2,000 grant should be used to cover costs associated with the facilitator’s time and with the cost of the meetings and/or associated meals. Expenses are reimbursed upon receipt.
  • The facilitator must provide a short summary within 30 days of the meeting to the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence to receive compensation. The summary should include the date, the host farm, the names of those who attended, and the topic(s) discussed.
  • The facilitator must submit an invoice and appropriate receipts within 30 days of the meeting. Depending on how often the group meets, and how extensively the facilitator prepares, members of the group may need to provide some funding as well. The final invoice must be received by the Center for Dairy Excellence by May 31st.
  • Facilitators are encouraged to briefly address safety concerns for dairy farms as part of the discussion. One way to do this is to ask the producers to share any “near-miss” situations, where an accident was narrowly avoided, or perhaps one that occurred.  The rest of the group can learn from that experience, and everyone can be a little more aware.

Although each group can choose their own style of reaching the above objective, the following is a format used by one facilitator who has had success in facilitating discussion groups. Facilitators are encouraged to provide details of meeting format along with your application form.

  1. Invite appropriate producers to attend an initial meeting. Share the objective with those you invite.  Select producers who are progressive, and who will be able to contribute meaningful ideas to the rest.  Avoid those who seem to only complain.
  2. Consider getting access to DHIA records for all farms, and tracking key parameters of herd performance, to be shared at the meetings.
  3. Select one producer to host the first meeting. Have the group come to that farm around 10:00 a.m.  Have the host show the rest around, usually beginning with baby calves and progressing though heifers and then to mature cows.  Provide protective footwear.
  4. As the group moves about the farm, have the host explain how they manage each group, emphasizing any unique practices they follow, or anything that works really well for them, or anything that is challenging them right now. Encourage discussion among the group.
  5. Around noon, go to a nearby restaurant for lunch, or share lunch at the host farm. Ideally arrange for a private room.  Sharing each member’s DHIA data can be done if the group so desires. The facilitator then leads a discussion of some topic relevant for the group.  At each meeting the group can choose a topic for the next one.  Outside speakers can be brought in as needed.
  6. End the meeting around 2:30 or 3:00. Set the date and location for the next one.

Program support is made possible through Ag Excellence funding provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You will be notified of acceptance upon receipt of this application.

To learn more about the discussion group program, please contact Melissa Anderson at manderson@centerfordairyexcellence.org or at (717) 346-0849.