Future Dairy Farmers

 Where will the future dairy farmers of Massachusetts come from?  If you are a dairy farmer with children interested in continuing the family business, you are indeed fortunate.  To retain these young people on the farm you need to make those changes which are needed to include this person into your operationí»s decision making processes and ownership participation.  However, many children raised on farms today are often drawn to other vocations.  While there will not be the need for as many farms in the future as size of operations continues to increase, the need for educated help on these larger farms increases.  What can be done to interest non-farm young people in the business of dairy farming and its related industries?


Dairy industry leaders have pondered this question in recent years and have been motivated to take some action and center on attracting college students.  Some of the initiatives that have taken place are:


1. Some industries and the New England Land Grant Universities through leadership and support of the New England Grain and Feed Council have helped to develop a New England Regional Dairy Program.  This program has developed a newsletter, is encouraging and underwriting a New England based winter traveling dairy class for university undergraduates of the 6 NE states and is developing an effort to get funding for dairy centered research in New England,


2. The adoption of the University of Vermontí»s undergraduate student CREAM (Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management) program concept by UNH and U Maine.


3. The efforts of Vermontí»s state legislature to underwrite most of the expense for students interested in majoring in dairy management in what they call a 2+2 program.  The students start out with the 2-year program at Vermont Technical College in Randolph and finish up on campus at UVM graduating with a 4 yr. Degree in dairy science. 


My role during this winter break was to take 6 UMass students to participate in the New England winter traveling dairy course to look at various facets of the dairy industry.  The location this year (our 4th) was northern NH and northern VT.  A farm in Vermont underwrote a bus in order that all students and faculty could travel together.  Students (and faculty) could interact with each other as we traveled between farm visits.  Over the 4 years the course has operated we have visited farms in 5 of the NE states.


The course provided an excellent opportunity to see the range, size and scope of the industry.  We visited small single-family farms relying extensively on grazing  and to large 400 cow dairy operations that incorporated the most recent housing, handling and management innovations.  We visited farms owned by women as well as men and farms where the herd managers were women.  This is very important to us in that 80% of our students (also true at most university An Sci programs) are women and they represent a tremendous part of our potential future expertise in the dairy field.


We visited a farm that also processes milk on site and sells locally to retail customers, restaurants and stores, a feed mill/commodity supplier and the Cabot  cheese plant in Middlebury VT.  They make  140,000  lbs  of  cheese/day  with 12,000,000 lbs stored in the aging coolers. Also produced is lactoferrin from whey by using reverse osmosis concentration processes and resin column separation technology as well as dried whey products.


We visited the UVM students, faculty and their CREAM program in Burlington.  The students in this program have their own 30-cow herd. They are responsible for the entire operation.  They make all decision on the farm including the financial ones.  Students must learn to work together to accomplish the work and decision-making that must take place.  Considering all aspects of running a dairy herd, milking, breeding, feeding, etc., they actually consider skills developed in personnel management to be the most important aspect of the experience.


We had a high tech visit to one farm operation where embryos were being sexed.  A few cells of a developing embryo were taken, the DNA isolated and amplified using the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technique and put through gel electrophoresis to determining the presence (or absence) of the Y chromosome.  This is fascinating  technology,  about  which  our  students  at UMass have the opportunity to learn in of their classes.


In response to student questions, it was interesting that the dairy farmers we visited all stated that the biggest problem currently being faced is finding sources of bedding.  With the spiraling energy costs, more wood processors are burning the sawdust and shavings for their own energy source.  Some farmers have found supplies in Canada. It was interesting to see how current problems temporarily overshadow longer range problems like milk price and labor shortages.


Did we interest any of our students in dairying?  It is hard to tell at this stage.  The UMass students on the trip were freshmen and sophomores and are still working on career decisions. One student though is already interested in attending a UNH summer school dairy program. Will some be interested in veterinary practice with dairy cattle, dairy management or farm ownership?  It is hard to tell but the excitement and interest of the student group in the dairy industry was high.


Dr. Sidney J. Lyford, Jr.

Veterinary and Animal Sciences

University of Massachusetts

Crops, Dairy, Livestock News Vol. 5:1, Spring 2001

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Last updated: 11/11/02.