Cornell Pro-Dairy helps farmers become more profitable by providing tools to evaluate their business and by offering programs that develop personal leadership skills.
The partners at FaBa Farms in Canandaigua have taken advantage of both.
Bob DiCarlo is a 2006 Cornell University animal science graduate who has worked his way into a nonfamily partnership with John Knopf. They are both graduates of the Cornell Dairy Executive Program and have used the Dairy Profit Monitor and Dairy Farm Business Summary, and have participated in Pro-Dairy discussion groups and activity analysis projects. The Dairy Farm Business Summary and Dairy Profit Monitor have aided in communication between junior and senior partners, and helped train DiCarlo to become a manager.
“I’m trying to teach Bob how to run a business. That’s soft skills. We have to deal with limited resources: capital, land and talent. We don’t have to limit ourselves in our ability to learn more. That’s why we do Pro-Dairy programs,” Knopf said. “It’s wonderful for challenging your thinking. There’s a lot of ways to get better if you’re willing to ask. If people want to be curious, they’ll find a lot at Pro-Dairy that can benefit.”
DiCarlo grew up 10 miles from the farm, but was not from a farm himself. He had a passion for farming, though, and worked on farms through college, including working for Knopf’s brother’s crop farm. FaBa Farms expanded from 60 cows in 2001 to 440 milking cows, mostly through internal herd growth, good reproduction and taking care of cows, which has expanded their need for people.
DiCarlo came to the farm as a herdsman after graduating from Cornell in 2006 and built equity by buying cows until he became a partner in 2011. As part of the partnership, Knopf transitioned daily operations to DiCarlo. Knopf manages the cropping and financial side, while DiCarlo manages employees and cows. Knopf is a big proponent of DiCarlo’s participation in Pro-Dairy programs, along with participating himself.
“It’s a vehicle for self-improvement. The benefit is that we’re still here. We’re better at what we do and we have to do better because everyone else is getting better. It’s good for Bob, too,” Knopf said. “We’re just trying to stay relevant. I enjoy watching people get more competent. I want to stay involved. I’m interested in new opportunities, but they have to be driven by Bob. I can’t do this alone.”
Pro-Dairy’s Jason Karszes and Betsey Howland are valuable resources for the farmers.
“What do I want out of a team of people? I want them to know how to take care of things. The more they learn, the better,” Knopf said. “Some of these things come from Pro-Dairy staff. Jason is relentless in his willingness to work with a farm, from kitchen-table meetings to weekend hours.”
When DiCarlo came to the farm, he implemented the Dairy Profit Monitor, which is coordinated by Howland, and over the past two years he has started participating in more projects.
“Dairy Profit Monitor is a different way of looking at our numbers. It helps us look at things on a month-to-month basis. With Dairy Profit Monitor, we can see more trends. Dairy Farm Business Summary gives an overall picture. We use DPM to see where things are happening,” DiCarlo said. “We wouldn’t be as much of a business without these tools. It’s a lot easier to be a farmer every day. These tools help us look at our business closer, and we’re not looking at it on our own, because we have Jason, Betsey and Pro-Dairy staff.”
The farm is also participating in an activity analysis project looking at vet costs and breeding costs as part of a Pro-Dairy discussion group that meets twice a year. And DiCarlo participates in programs that develop leadership and problem-solving skills. He joined a young farmers discussion group, which he describes as “a network of progressive producers who aren’t afraid to talk about problems or things that work well.”
“It’s a comfortable environment to discuss your business and be open to ideas,” he said.
He’s also a member of the current class of Cornell Dairy Executives.
“I’ve always been strong on the cow side,” he said. “As a partner and moving more into a management role, I thought I was lacking business and human resource management skills. It’s a good way to network with progressive producers. It’s been beneficial and thought provoking.
“Programs really enable the producers to run a better business, a more profitable business that can provide jobs,” he said. “The interaction, feedback and discussion with Pro-Dairy help farmers make better decisions. We may not always make a change, but it’s a way of understanding things differently.”