Dairy producers understand competency in the financial side of the dairy business is critical to its success. Even more critical is for the next generation on our dairies to acquire these skills.

The Professional Dairy Producers Foundation (PDPF) raises funds and awards grants and sponsorships for educational programs and initiatives that benefit the dairy community, like Financial Literacy for Dairy, a multilevel financial curriculum designed to grow dairy producer professionals’ knowledge and confidence in dairy finance.

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As the next generation transitions into dairy management, they need to acquire the skills to be leaders on their dairy. Thanks to the vision of several dairy producers and agri-finance consultants with a desire to strengthen the dairy economy, Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW) worked in close partnership with leading experts, including David Kohl, renowned agricultural economist and professor emeritus in the agricultural and applied economics department at Virginia Tech, to create a world-class financial curriculum specifically targeted to dairy producers.

Launched in the fall of 2017, and taught by tenured experts in dairy finance, Financial Literacy for Dairy is a multilevel, multisession curriculum that builds on financial basics and equips attendees with practical skills. As part of their coursework, participants are given assignments to complete using their own dairy’s financial reports.


Instructor Steve Schwoerer, senior dairy lending specialist with Compeer Financial, explains one of the hallmarks that differentiate this program from others. “This curriculum is different than other courses because students need to complete an assessment test ahead of time. This places them in the correct level so they get a thorough understanding of the material before they advance to the next level.”

Instructor and Vita Plus dairy development manager Gary Sipiorski added, “This allows the curriculum to be covered thoroughly so all in attendance can ask questions and receive a complete understanding of the topics being covered.”

Collectively, Schwoerer and Sipiorski have over 50 years of dairy financial experience working directly with dairy farmers. A third trainer, David Olsen from Compeer Financial, rounds out the team of experts who facilitate the classes.

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Financial Literacy for Dairy instructors have seen firsthand the benefits to producers already. “It’s like watching light bulbs blinking on as material is covered,” Sipiorski said. “All of a sudden, attendees start seeing what is important and why they need to know it.”

“I started to discover many things back at the farm,” said Tom Brenner of Durand, Wisconsin. “Tax reporting was the first ‘a-ha’ moment. I could hold a much more productive conversation with my accountant. When I tried using financial ratios in the past, I had no confidence in the process of finding the correct numbers to plug into the formulas. Financial Literacy for Dairy changed this for me.”

Kohl wrote the Financial Literacy for Dairy curriculum so students could learn at three successive levels to first establish core principles and later build on these levels with more advanced concepts.

“After finishing level one, students need to pass an exit test to determine if they have grasped the financial concepts before going to the next level,” Schwoerer explained.

Participant and Belleville, Wisconsin, dairy producer Cory Brown said, “I believe to make it in farming today you need to be more than good with cows – you must be business savvy as well. With this philosophy, I’ve attended financial workshops in the past, but until this program I wasn’t able to find anything in-depth enough to make a difference to my business.”

Athens, Wisconsin, dairy producer David Trimner said, “The most valuable content I received was the real-world examples given by the moderators during the discussion. As we talked about things such as cash flows, balance sheets, succession planning and working with your banker, we were given some poor examples as well as good ones in order to better connect the concepts to the application on the dairy.”

While basics such as cash flow, key performance ratios and cost-center tracking are discussed in class, students are expected to put the principles to use on their farm, set financial goals and complete assignments before returning for the follow-up sessions.

Berlin, Wisconsin, dairy producer Kevin Krentz said, “One of the biggest impacts was having our goals in writing and sharing our vision with our team. This helped everyone understand the direction of our farm.”

Schwoerer agreed producers find value in the program from the start. “A number of participants have told me they’re required to submit financial statements to their lender on an annual basis, and now they have the ability and confidence to provide a quality statement to their lender.”

Sipiorski added, “With the continued volatility in the business to produce milk, if one wants a future in the business of milking cows, thorough financial understanding is a must.”  end mark

The following update is provided by the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation, which raises funds nationwide and awards grants and sponsorships for educational programs and initiatives that benefit the U.S. dairy community. PDPF is committed to uniting the dairy community on issues of common concern to achieve its vision of a professional, proactive and prepared dairy community.

PHOTO:  Courtesy photo.

America’s dairy producers are an important part of our rural communities and local economies. Dairy farmers established the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation to ensure our dairy farms remain viable and socially responsible for generations to come. Through meaningful donations, dairy farmers and industry leaders keep the next generation of farmers and farm employees safe.