Optimism for the dairy industry’s future filled the convention center in Fort Wayne, Ind., where 264 college students congregated to improve skills, network, and learn about careers and industry innovation. The national Dairy Challenge held April 3-5, 2014, attracted these students from 37 colleges in 25 states and three Canadian provinces.
"Dairy Challenge truly showcases cooperation of farmers, agribusinesses and academia, working together to train future leaders and promote agricultural careers," said Dr. Maurice Eastridge, 2014 event chair and professor at The Ohio State University.
The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge® (NAIDC) allows dairy students to apply theory and learning on a real-world dairy farm while working as part of a team.
In Fort Wayne, two programs ran concurrently – the 13th annual Dairy Challenge contest and the second annual Dairy Challenge Academy. The events were coordinated by the NAIDC Board of Directors and staff from the host universities, Purdue University, Michigan State University and The Ohio State University.
The 2014 contest included 32 universities, each with four students on their university team competing for awards. The Academy provided interactive training in dairy farm evaluation for 138 students, generally underclassmen at four-year universities or students in two-year dairy programs. Academy participants were divided into smaller groups, mixing students from various colleges, and their work was guided by Academy Advisors – agribusiness volunteers and university professionals.
"Thanks to support from industry and attending colleges, the second annual Dairy Challenge Academy grew to 145 students and 38 Academy Advisors, up from 90 students last year," explained Dr. Mike van Amburgh, NAIDC Chair and professor at Cornell University. "Our long-term goal is 200 students in the Academy, which we hope to achieve at the 2015 event in Syracuse, NY. The Academy allows a broader range of students to participate, integrates professionals and sponsors directly with students, and provides enhanced learning and networking while conducting a dairy farm business analysis."
Dairy Challenge Applies Learning to a Real-world Dairy
Over its 13-year history, Dairy Challenge has helped over 4500 students prepare for careers in the dairy industry, dairy production and veterinary medicine.
"Dairy Challenge has provided a splendid opportunity for our students to integrate what they learn in classes with real-world situations, use problem-solving skills and network with leaders in the dairy industry," stated Eastridge.
The three-day event began with a presentation on getting started in farming by Gary Matteson of The Farm Credit Council, the lead sponsor of Dairy Challenge. Next, a panel of young producers shared insights on joining a family farm business. Producer panelists were Stacey Atherton of Shipley Farms, Newark, Ohio; David Brand, Brand Dairy Farm in Waterloo, Ind.; Brett Feldpausch of Rich-Ro Farms in St. Johns, Mich.; and Brian Houin, Homestead Farms in Plymouth, Ind. The morning concluded with inspiration and tips to speak out for agriculture, provided by Amy te Plate-Church of Cooperative Resources International, Raechel Sattazahn of AgChoice Farm Credit, Kimmi Devaney of Indiana Dept. of Agriculture, and Jolene Griffin of Dairy Management, Inc.
Next, students, industry specialists and educators worked in small groups at Bridgewater Dairy of Montpelier, Ohio, to learn how to evaluate specifics like milking protocols, calf care, reproduction and other management areas.
The first evening, each group received data from an operating dairy to analyze and provide recommendations for improvement. Day Two included a thorough visit to the assigned dairy and question-answer session with farm owners. All groups – in both contest and Academy – developed recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health, cow comfort and financial management.