Are Ohio Dairy Farmers Satisfied With Local Suppliers?

Dr. Brian Roe, Livestock Economics Specialist, Ohio State University 

The face of dairy farming in Ohio is changing. The structure of dairy farming has evolved immensely in the past few years with regard to technology, size of operation, and the geographical location of farms. One of the consequences of these changes is that the business structure that supports dairy farms (e.g., feed mills, equipment suppliers, and veterinarians) might not react quickly enough to meet the changing demands of dairy farmers. Whether because of farm size or geographical location, farmers could be lacking the necessary farm inputs locally because the local business structure has not realized or has not been able to respond to these changing needs.

Analysis of 450 responses to a survey administered to a random sample of Ohio dairy farmers in the summer of 2002 confirms these general trends concerning the business infrastructure supporting dairy farms. The survey gathered information on various topics, one of them being the farmers' satisfaction with his or her local supply network.

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, "I can find most of the inputs and services I need to run my dairy operation within my home county," farmers replied with mixed results, mostly segregated by region and farm size. Statewide, almost 73% of farmers agreed with the statement. They were happy with their local supply network and saw no need for change. The remaining 27% that did not agree came mostly from the South and Northwest districts, with only 42% and 59% agreeing, respectfully.

The most satisfied region was the Northeast, with almost 87% of farmers voicing their approval of their respective supply networks. When throwing herd size into the equation, the most satisfied were farmers milking less than 30 cows, with over 84% of the farmers agreeing. The least satisfied were farmers milking over 200 head of cattle. Only 43% of the farmers from this group agreed with the statement. Herds milking between 30 and 100 cows had an average agreement rating of roughly 65%, while those milking 100 to 200 cows had 70% of the farmers agree with the statement.

Looking at these numbers, it is clear that farms in the South and Northwest districts and herds with over 200 head are not receiving the support system of farm inputs that they think are needed. Expansion and relocation are probably the main reasons for this. More and more herds have moved into the Northwest region of the state. As dairy herds move from one area to another, it may take time for suppliers to react to demand that is diminishing in one region and increasing in another. Consequently, when a farmer moves to a new region, they might be without some of the inputs they used to take for granted. According to the survey, this may be the case for the Northwest region of the state.

The survey also states that farms with over 200 cows are the least satisfied with local supply networks. More than likely, these herds may have also recently relocated and/or expanded in the recent past. The same principle about relocation holds true when talking about expansion. When herds take on rapid growth, the supply system they used before may not be ready to meet farmers' increased demands for traditional products and demands for services not commonly desired by smaller farms (e.g., heifer raising or forage supply). Until local suppliers identify the new and increased demand and adapt, the farmer will more than likely be forced to buy elsewhere and the local supplier will be missing business opportunities.

The reasons that the Northwest district and herds over 200 cows are not satisfied with their support system and the reasons that the Northeast district and herds milking less than 30 cows are overwhelmingly satisfied with the farm input system represent opposite sides of the same coin. The Northeast district of Ohio has long been a dairy hotbed. Many suppliers are based out of this area. The demand for a dairy support system was firmly established many years ago and companies entered and adapted to meet that demand. Today, that support system is still in place and meets the demand of most of the farmers in the area. It is no coincidence that the Northeast district is home to many of the small dairy farms in the state, which explains their satisfaction with their availability of farm inputs.

As time evolves and patterns of dairy farms shift, the support system that these farms depend on will eventually shift with them, taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

To see a copy of the survey or to see additional analysis of the results, click on the 'Purchasing and Sales Patterns of Ohio Dairies" link under the papers and presentations section at: