Bridging a Global Divide

August 9, 2011 10:36 AM
Bridging a Global Divide

How one Expo exhibitor brings people from around the world closer together

As much as anything, World Dairy Expo serves as a global crossroads—a spot where, for five days out of the year, people from throughout the world with an interest in the dairy industry gather to exchange experiences, stories, ideas and information.

It’s this atmosphere that makes Expo an ideal place for someone like Jill Stahl Tyler to conduct business. She’s the president of The Global Cow, Ltd., a Brattleboro, Vt.–based business that provides opportunities for international agricultural students to come to the U.S. to learn about American dairying through on-the-job experiences on a dairy farm.

"This is an excellent showcase for us," Stahl Tyler says of Expo. "There are so many people here from all over the world. Being here gives us the chance to make new contacts with, and explain our program to, potential interns and potential host farms."

In a typical year, Stahl Tyler places around 60 interns on U.S. farms. In recent years, a majority of the interns have been from South America and Africa. While host farms are located throughout the U.S., the largest concentration is in the Upper Midwest.

The workings of the program are straightforward. Interns, who are typically 20 to 30 years old, are responsible for paying their transportation costs to and from the U.S. The host farmers pay the interns an hourly wage and provide housing and access to transportation. During their yearlong stay, interns are expected to feed calves, milk cows, perform milking system maintenance and troubleshooting, work with veterinarians and participate in ration formulation.

Beyond these basics, each intern’s experience is unique. "It depends on the individual farmer’s needs and wants and the interests and goals of the trainee," Stahl Tyler says. "For example, a vet student might have an interest in going to a larger dairy, where she’ll see more animals and work with more kinds of clinical cases. Someone from a country like Tanzania, where dairies have five to 20 cows, might be able to relate better to the activities on a small farm here."

Likewise, host farmers often look for certain characteristics in an intern: a particular nationality, job skill or language. "Maybe they’re interested in having someone from Latin America because the rest of their staff is Spanish-speaking," Stahl Tyler says. "Or maybe they want someone from Africa because a friend or family member spent time there as a missionary and they’d like to know more about that part of the world."

Another Perspective. The experience gained on the host farm proves invaluable to interns once they return to their home country and finish their formal studies. Some become veterinarians, others go on to careers in agribusiness or a government agency.

A fair number go to work on dairy farms or, like Diego Navas of Ecuador, start their own farm. When he was 23, Navas spent a year as an intern on a 400-cow dairy near Sheboygan, Wis.

"My host farmer was very kind," says Navas, who today milks 60 cows. "He taught me so many things. Where I come from, the dairies are mostly small and pasture-based. In the U.S., I
learned about total mixed ration feeding and what it takes to be the manager of a business. It gave me another perspective on dairy farming."

global cow2
Diego Navas, a former intern in Jill Stahl Tyler’s Global Cow program, took the knowledge he gained on a Wisconsin dairy farm back home to Ecuador, where he now milks 60 cows.

Mutual Benefits. Host farmers benefit in a variety of ways. Since 2005, Dave and Jan Rottinghaus of Seneca, Kan., have hosted as many as four interns per year at their 350-cow, registered Holstein dairy. "The quality of work they’ve done for us has been outstanding," Dave says. "They’re eager to learn and very pleasant to work with. If you tell them they need to be someplace at a certain time to do a certain thing, they are there. They’re willing to help out in any way possible."

There are personal benefits as well. "It’s been good for us and our kids [ages 4 to 20]," Dave says. "We’ve had interns from Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and Morocco. It’s interesting to learn about the countries they come from. Spending time with them gets you thinking about things in new ways. One of our goals is to find the time to visit some of the people we’ve had here, in their home countries."

Stahl Tyler’s presence at World Dairy Expo helps The Global Cow maintain contact with current and former participants in the internship program.

"Many of our current interns travel to the show from their host farm," Stahl Tyler says. "They’ve heard a lot about World Dairy Expo and want to see it for themselves. It gives us a chance to check on their progress. Also, a lot of the students and farmers who have taken part in the program in the past come to the show every year. We get a chance to visit with them a bit and catch up on what’s going on in their lives."

It’s that kind of interaction with people that has kept Stahl Tyler in her job with The Global Cow for the past 18 years. "It’s a great feeling when you hear from host farmers that the experience has helped them expand their horizons or when you get e-mails from former interns thanking you for the role you played in changing their life," she says.

"It might sound hokey, but in a job like this, you really do feel that you’re contributing in some small way to the betterment of the world."

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