Imagine being part of a school where the agricultural curriculum offers the opportunity to tour progressive dairy farms that are embracing robotic milking technology, using methane to generate electricity and on the edge of innovation in the industry.

Imagine more than 10 industry professionals taking time, as part of that agriculture curriculum, to tell the story about who influenced them on their career path and what they studied for that chosen profession, giving students the opportunity to ask questions and collect business cards for future reference.

That’s exactly what more than 120 high school students and their advisers from all across Pennsylvania were able to experience as part of a day-long farm tour hosted by the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania in April.

The tour was part of the Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow curriculum made available through the Center Foundation. Sponsors making the event a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the students included Elanco, Fisher & Thompson, Mid-Penn Bank, Neogen, Northeast Agri-Solutions Force, Phibro Animal Health and Select Sire Power.

Students learned how information for the robot is used to manage the herd

The first farm featured as part of the farm tour, which is held annually through the DLT program, was Stoney Path Farm, owned by Jeff and Jesslyn Balmer, in Lititz, Pennsylvania. The farm featured two Lely robotic systems and a 130-cow freestall barn. The Balmers also use a milk pasteurizer to safely feed calves waste milk, cutting down on milk replacer cost.


Students rotated between stations that included a farm overview from Jeff Balmer; nutrition and calf care led by a Cargill Animal Health nutritionist and specialist; permitting, nutrient management and seeding strategies led by TeamAg and Pioneer; observation of the robot milkers at work with representatives from Fisher & Thompson; and a session on how the robotic technology and information is used to make decisions on the farm, led by Balmers’ 15-year-old son, Ethan, and a representative from Lancaster DHIA.

Precision agriculture highlighted

In between the two farm visits, Binkley & Hurst LP hosted lunch at their Lititz location. The lunch was sponsored by Phibro Animal Health, represented by Robbie Shaw, a pharmaceutical representative who shared with the students how he entered the animal health business after an automobile accident no longer allowed him to farm.

Shaw challenged the students to make connections with others in the industry and to not be afraid to try new opportunities that would take them far in their career. Other speakers during lunch included Binkley & Hurst President Don Hoover, as well as Brittany Kistler, a precision agriculture specialist with the company.

Kistler, a recent college graduate, had a story many that day could relate to, sharing how listening to adults around her helped her see the bigger picture for her future. While working in high school, Kistler worked at a local equipment dealership.

Her employers encouraged her to get an education, even though they hadn’t pursued that avenue themselves. She was torn because she liked what she was doing and didn’t really like the idea of more school after graduation.

Steve Halahan from Cargill Animal Nutrition shared with students how critical nutrition is to a herd

The dealership suggested a small agriculture school in New York, knowing she thrived better in a smaller classroom setting. The tuition fee was still a stumbling block in her mind because she had a job, so why would she waste money on schooling? However, after realizing that all her friends would be leaving her hometown as well, she decided to take the plunge and pursue a degree.

An internship was included as part of Kistler’s degree program. She completed this internship at the company, later applying for a position after she found her passion in precision agriculture. She challenged the students to take opportunities that come their way – because they never know where it will take them – and to work really hard in life to fulfill their dreams.

Innovation at its finest

Upon the conclusion of lunch, students loaded back up on the charter buses and headed to Brubaker Farms LLC in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, owned by third-generation families Mike and Tony Brubaker. They milk 950 cows in a double-10 parallel parlor and have multiple freestall barns.

The entire farm is powered using the methane gas captured from manure through the anaerobic methane digester, which helps diversify income streams by selling the extra electricity back to the grid.

Due to the large number of students, the tour was split into two sections. While half of the group listened to industry round-robin discussions from professionals in Brubakers’ educational center, other students toured the farm on the charter buses, led by Tony Brubaker. After the discussions and first tour ended, the group switched places, allowing everyone an opportunity to see the farm and hear from industry professionals.

The round-robin discussion included consultants from Select Sire Power, Elanco, Mid-Penn Bank, Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and RedBarn, offering a deeper level of thinking for these students.

They were challenged to think about sales and told they sell every day, whether they realize it or not. Challenging questions were asked, such as what their goals are, what they’re doing now so that those goals are obtained and with whom they network.

Students were told about the importance of character, how engagement with others is vital and how it shouldn’t be all about them. They were challenged to think about how they can add value to the industry.

Students were then asked if they are passionate enough about their goals to demonstrate that they are dedicated to what they say they want to do. They heard from a current dairy farmer who also passionately works with the milk promotion association.

Another industry representative shared how he looked up a former alumnus from his alma mater while looking for a job and later accepted a position in Pennsylvania working for an engineering company all because of that one contact.

The representatives and the producers who spoke to the students during the tour advised them to integrate themselves with all the people around them and opportunities would open.

Those students who come from a family dairy were challenged to go out and experience other aspects of the industry for a few years. There is no price tag to what hands-on experience will bring back to the family farm one day. They were also reminded that it is vital for them to not only know if they are on the right bus, but if they are in the right seat.  PD

Visit Center for Dairy Excellence Foudation to support the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation or learn more about the program. Visit Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow to learn more about the Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow Program. This curriculum is available to students anywhere with an interest in dairy.

PHOTO 1: A total of 120 students and their chaperones from across Pennsylvania participated in the Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow Farm Tour in April.

PHOTO 2: Students learned how information from the robot is used to manage the herd.

PHOTO 3: Steve Halahan from Cargill Animal Nutrition shared with students how critical nutrition is to the dairy herd. Photos courtesy Center for Dairy Excellence.