When it comes to making strategic business decisions at the farm level, there is a lot for dairy producers to think about. From employee management and product marketing to business planning, financial management and pre-farm transition, Pennsylvania dairy farm families don’t have to make these types of decisions alone. Leveraging funds provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and other partners, the Center for Dairy Excellence helps Pennsylvania dairy farm families have a fresh perspective and outside set of eyes through Dairy Decisions Consultants (DDC) grants.

There’s nothing more powerful than a team approach and having the ability to team up with consultants who have vast expertise in the dairy industry. See how these Pennsylvania dairy producers are honing in on seven key areas of business with the help of their consultants.

1. Employee management and communication – Employee management is more than just ensuring your employees are doing their jobs. Dairy producers and consultants focus on developing procedures and strategies that can help measure, monitor and interact with their workforce.

“We employ 26 employees. We decided to use the grant to employ a consultant to help plan for the future and create a management strategy for our business. We liked using the consultant because he was able to give his insight on what he has already seen and experienced from working with other dairy producers. A lot of the time, the consultants may be able to help further your goals with less roadblocks.” —Milton Rotz, Cedar Pine Farm, Franklin and Adams counties, Pennsylvania

2. Business planning and structure – Business planning is a necessity to help manage volatility and create a roadmap for decision-making in all aspects of the business. Many dairy farm families feel more confident in what their future looks like after developing a detailed business plan with their consultants.

“We have two separate operations, one milking 300 and one milking 800. We wanted to work with a consultant to understand areas for improvement, as both operations were purchased in the last three years. Having the resources from the consultant to be in a benchmarking program allows us to compare several key data points and look for ways to improve. It is easy to see most of the problems that come up on a daily basis. It is much harder to take the time and go through all the books to decide what is cost-effective, efficient and productive. It’s good to work with an experienced consultant for the knowledge and experience they have working with many farms.” —Cory Mellott, Molly Pitcher Milk LLC, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania

3. Product marketing and labeling – Effective marketing and labeling of branded dairy products can create a more positive impact on customers’ purchasing decisions. With so many responsibilities and limited time to spare, dairy farmers find value in working with outside consultants who can help them prioritize product marketing and labeling.


Jill Henry and her family worked with a consultant in the product marketing and labeling space who helped them have the courage to say yes to pursuing a new opportunity. Photo courtesy of Center for Dairy Excellence.

“For my husband and father-in-law, [the DDC program] helped them see that change is a possibility for the future. They were feeling stuck and like they didn’t have options because the market was so bad. To hear our consultant’s perspective and his projections, they learned what to eliminate that’s losing money and how they can come out on top. The DDC program allowed us to have the support to seek some other funding and try to add a value-added portion to our farm. This program gave us the courage to say, ‘Yes, we can keep going.’” —Jill Henry, Henry Farms of Knox LLC, Clarion County, Pennsylvania

4. Direct marketing – Directly marketing products made from a farm’s milk to consumers can help a producer capture more revenue, but the processing and branded business can be complex. Consultants through the DDC program help dairy farm families throughout the entire marketing process and open doors they might not have had before.

“We’re focusing on regional growth first and then national growth. With our consultants’ help, we’ve figured out how to go into this retail industry that’s really hard to puncture. We’re working with distributors and brokers and learning how to deal with small and big wholesale accounts. It’s a whole other language, and without the consultants, we definitely wouldn’t know what we’re doing. Things are going really well right now. We’re optimistic and being strategic with the help of our consultants.” —Stephanie Painter, The Painterland Sisters, Tioga County, Pennsylvania

5. Animal welfare – Veterinarian consultants will help farms establish animal welfare protocols related to the FARM Program as well as help train employees in FARM compliance.

“Dairy farmers are continually evaluating best practices, how we can improve, what changes we can make, and going above and beyond to keep our cows safe and comfortable. There are consultants and continuing education opportunities for farmers that share the latest research and practices, demonstrating that U.S. dairy farmers are committed to producing high-quality, safe milk with integrity.” —Jennifer Orr, Harmony Acres Dairy, Fayette County, Pennsylvania

6. Financial management – Financial management and planning can provide dairy farm families with professional consulting resources to help make decisions that will shape the future of their farm – and help give them some peace of mind.


Todd Benedict worked with a Dairy Decision Consultant on financial analysis and management for his dairy operation. Photo courtesy of Center for Dairy Excellence.

"It can be easy for farmers to [get depressed] or go into a downward spiral. I can see how it happens. I lost money last month, but now that I’ve talked to my consultant, I know that it’s the industry and not something huge that I can do. I always felt like such a failure when I couldn’t pay my bills or make money. I always wondered what I was doing wrong. He put it in perspective for me. It gave me peace of mind. Consultants help make everybody accountable. I never knew I was going to learn this much.” —Todd Benedict, Sunset Dairy, Warren County, Pennsylvania

7. Pre-farm transition – Business and financial feasibility is an important part of transitioning the farm and/or family issue projects to set the farm up for a future transition team. Dairy farm families and consultants work together to create a farm succession plan that honors all family members and partners.

"When you work with each other day in and day out, sometimes you don’t always hear things like someone else does. Our consultant just had a different perspective on listening to what we all had to say and then presenting it back to us. It was helpful. He encouraged us to take [the farm transition] slow and gave us real insight on how to keep things moving forward and some thoughts on which direction to go.” —Betsy Yoder, Heron Run Farms, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania

Learn more about the DDC grant program and how dairy producers can work with professional consultants. This grant program is expected to open in the fall of 2024. To learn more about the Center for Dairy Excellence, or to get involved in our programs and support our mission, visit the center's website.

The Center for Dairy Excellence is a non-profit organization initiated by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in 2004. Bringing together people from more than 40 different dairy organizations in Pennsylvania, the center’s mission is to enhance the profitability of the dairy industry by empowering people, creating partnerships and increasing the availability and use of resources.