What investments would you like to make to your dairy farm? If it’s anything like ours, there’s a long list of improvements and updates on the wish list. But there’s an equally important question often harder to answer: What investments would you like to make in yourself and your team?

As dairy producers, the time and resources we invest in lifelong learning and training for ourselves and our teams are the most critical investments we can make.

Taking time to assess the strengths and knowledge gaps at your farm is the first step in developing that wish list. In today’s dairy industry, we have a wide range of resources available on nearly every aspect of managing or working on a dairy farm. From webinars and podcasts to workshops and ongoing coursework, you can hone in on exactly what’s most important for your operation.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a hold on many in-person trainings, it has opened up a new level of virtual learning opportunities. Many have shifted online, and new programs like PDPW’s The Dairy Signal are bringing insights from the industry’s best minds to us in a new format.

A commitment to lifelong learning also means looking for learning opportunities in many ways – whether by trial and error, applying an idea we learned from a class or by reaching out to fellow dairy farmers or mentors for advice. My dad has always been a great example of doing this: asking questions, trying new things and developing an understanding of why we do what we do and how we could do it better.


However, as is the case with that long list of capital investments, we can’t do everything. We have to prioritize and make decisions about which learning objectives will work with busy farm and family schedules – and budgets.

At Tri-Fecta Farms, my siblings and I developed a system to make capital investment decisions based on factors including urgency, return on investment and total cost. We apply similar criteria to ensure we get the most out of the trainings we participate in. Personally, I start by prioritizing the areas where I lack knowledge and look for programs that will help me fill those gaps.

Asking others what programs have been helpful to them is also a good first step. Agriculture is a collegial, not competitive, vocation and we are surrounded by people who want to see us succeed and can support us. We have been fortunate to participate in several peer groups facilitated by PDPW with groups of five to eight farmers who are close enough to travel but far enough not to be neighbors. Finding a group of people willing to share not only advice but also their own experiences, successes and failures is important for dairy farmers of all ages.

Our farm’s training priorities are often in step with the new technologies we have adopted or are considering. Technologies like precision farming and herd management provide more data and the ability to make data-driven decisions, but we need to understand how to effectively use these new tools and capture the most valuable information. These technologies often come with a steep price tag and learning curve, and a focus on training helps us get the most value from our investment quickly.

While you’re setting priorities for your farm and business, take time to identify the learning opportunities that will help you achieve those goals or make the most of new technologies or management practices. You are investing in your farm’s most valuable asset: your capacity to learn, grow and improve.

This column is contributed by Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW), which is the nation’s largest dairy producer-led organization of its kind. PDPW focuses on producer professionalism, stakeholder engagement and unified outreach to share ideas, solutions, resources and experiences that help dairy producers succeed.