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New UW dairy specialist will help farmers harness complex information

Victor Cabrera came to Wisconsin to help dairy farmers harness mountains of complex information to make better business decisions.

Cabrera joined the UW-Madison dairy science department this spring as an assistant professor and extension dairy management specialist. He comes here from New Mexico State University, where he developed whole- dairy-farm decision-making models that factored in information about cattle, crops, soils, climate, and economics. He plans to continue that line of work here.

“I’ll be developing economic management systems to help farmers keep and improve profit margins. We”re looking for universal tools that can add information useful in dairy farm business management,” he says.

Cabrera says that he is attracted to dairying by the intensity and complexity of management involved. Dairy producers must make decisions and perform in a business that never stops, and the current struggle to reduce ration costs in the face of soaring commodity prices is a perfect example, he says.

“Producers are asking, how much corn (in a ration) can be replaced by forage and still be economically efficient,” he says. “Optimal milk production is different than maximum milk production and producers may be willing to give up some production if they see they can gain an increase in net margins.

“What I’ll do is develop a tool, web-based or distributed as a spreadsheet, that extension agents or dairy producers can use to put in their own information and see how changes will look on their farms,” he says.

Good dairy farm decision-making tools have to be simple to use but able to factor in large amounts of information, he says. So while an analysis of substituting forage for corn involves vast calculations, Cabrera says that the simulation model he creates will have intuitive menus that extension agents and producers can quickly put to use.

That ability to put complex information to use is exactly what the UW- Madison dairy science department was looking for, says department chairman Ric Grummer.

“We were looking for someone who could integrate the biological findings of our research staff with decision-making tools for Wisconsin dairy producers, and we feel Victor has those skills,” Grummer says.

The search committee was impressed by Cabrera”s unique set of skills and experience, which enables him to model a potential change and predicts what the change means in dollars and cents, says Paul Fricke, extension dairy specialist who chaired the panel.

Cabrera’s fluency in Spanish and global perspective–he’s a native of Peru–will help convey complex technical information in Wisconsin”s increasingly bilingual dairy culture, Fricke adds.

Cabrera’s appointment is 70 percent extension, so he’ll spend most time is providing assistance to extension staff working with dairy producers state-wide.

“We expect Victor to interact with our extension agents, get on programs and begin to have an impact in Wisconsin and nationally,” says Fricke.