Dairy Sustainability Key Performance Indicators

The sustainability of dairy operations in New York State depends greatly on their ability to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus leaching and runoff, reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses, and simultaneously reduce the cost of production and increase yield and milk sales. Improving the economic and environmental sustainability of dairy farms requires the development of management tools that help farmers with decisions about forage and grain production, animal nutrition, manure handling, feed storage, and animal care, among others. The South Central NY Dairy and Field Crops Program is working with the Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) and PRO-DAIRY at Cornell University to develop and deliver training sessions on whole-farm nutrient mass balance (NMB) assessments to farmers, advisors, and agricultural, plant, and animal science students. We are also evaluating additional sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs; software-based greenhouse gas emission estimates, Cool Farm Tool, FARM-ES, animal and plant production efficiency, and economic measurements, field nutrient balances, etc.) for six case-study farms statewide, of which two are in the South Central area. The CCE intern will help develop materials, collect farm information, analyze data, run software evaluation tools, and produce summary reports for the participating farmers, in collaboration with the campus and CCE teams. The overarching aim is to provide dairy farmers with practical, whole-farm solutions that help to reduce their environmental footprint while improving farm efficiency and economics. The intern will also participate in weekly project meetings.

Roles and responsibilities 

The intern will work with CCE and Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) supervisors, the farms, and their staff/consultants on data collection and analyses in search of practical, meaningful, and effective KPIs for sustainability. In addition to work on the sustainability project, the intern will have a chance to join various CCE team members to explore roles that CCE extension educators play in their communities and assist with, for example, weed identification and sampling, plant disease sampling, insect scouting/trapping, on-farm research, herd management, farm business management, and 4H. The intern will have the opportunity to write an agronomy factsheet, and participate in other extension events, ranging from attending zoom meetings, Twilight meetings, and Tactical Agriculture Team (TAg) meetings for producers. The intern will also assist in social media-based extension activities (Facebook, YouTube, Google Maps, Twitter, etc.). This internship provides an outstanding opportunity to shadow leading extension professionals and faculty, staff, and students as they interact with producers, agribusiness, other researchers, and the general public.

Qualifications and previous coursework

This opportunity is available to students in Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

A strong interest in production agriculture is essential. Coursework and/or practical experience in field crop production, soil science, nutrient management, integrated pest management, animal nutrition, or farm business are preferred. A willingness to work hard, learn quickly, and professionally interact with farmers and other members of the agricultural community are essential for success in this position.

Learning outcomes 

On-farm research and interacting with farmers is the key to identifying new, successful, and innovative management tools, and practices for decision making. By working with producers as well as CCE staff and the campus team, the intern will learn about and gain skills in whole-farm evaluation. Specifically, the intern will be involved in a project that analyzes a farm’s environmental footprint using a variety of software tools, with the goal to learn what is and what isn’t useful to determine/measure. The intern will learn first-hand how to design and deliver educational programs that meet the needs of extension clientele pertaining to issues related to crop management and herd management.