Since its inception in 2002, the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation (PDPF) has been supporting growth and education for the dairy industry.

Also known as ‘Dairy’s Foundation,’ PDPF has impacted the lives of countless thousands by the programs it has supported, whether by building leadership skills of individuals or by impacting entire communities, cities and regions by giving the public a close-up look at the many facets of typical modern dairy businesses.

Some of the programs Dairy’s Foundation has underwritten over the years include producer-led watershed groups, farm couple retreats, agricultural exhibits at children’s museums and opportunities for people to witness cows giving birth. Dairy’s Foundation also has been a primary supporter of several annual programs facilitated by Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW), including Cornerstone Dairy Academy, Financial Literacy for Dairy, the PDPW Mentor Program and more.

Dairy’s Foundation is the nation’s only foundation through which dollars are managed by dairy farmers to support programs and initiatives exclusively for the dairy sector. A grant program also awards grants to selected dairy organizations and groups around the country.

In 2021, just over half of the foundation’s program spending was directed to underwrite leadership training for the dairy industry through programs such as the Cornerstone Dairy Academy, Financial Literacy for Dairy and peer groups. Another quarter of their funds supported youth-development programs. The remainder of funds supported consumer education, community engagement and environmental stewardship programs across the country.

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The foundation in action

Danielle Warmka is the youngest of four siblings who make up the third generation of Warmka Holsteins near Fox Lake, Wisconsin, and her love for cows started early. Dairy’s Foundation played an integral role in fueling her passion for the dairy industry and cinching her decision to make it a career. The leadership, mentorship and training opportunities offered by the foundation helped Warmka to build communications and leadership skills, continue learning about the industry and make connections that have provided a strong basis for future growth.

The first foundation-funded program she attended was PDPW’s Youth Leadership Derby (redesigned in 2020 as PDPW Stride Youth Leadership Conference.) She has also participated in PDPW’s Mentor Program, a program which matches college students with progressive dairy farms for an on-farm job shadow tailored to their particular interests in the dairy business.

In March 2022, Warmka graduated from the elite application-based Cornerstone Dairy Academy by completing the third of that program’s three leadership pillars. Each pillar – influential leadership, servant leadership and visionary leadership – focuses on a distinct set of leadership skills. Presented by expert facilitators, the program features group interaction, self-reflection and networking with peers. Participants also attend the PDPW Business Conference to learn from and connect with progressive dairy farmers and industry leaders from around the world.

“Cornerstone Dairy Academy has been a great resource for my professional and personal development, helping me advance and refine the soft skills that are important for a career in the dairy industry,” says Warmka. “Not only did the program help me build on and refine the soft skills that are important for a career in the dairy industry, it’s also been a great opportunity to network with others in the industry who could provide advice and connections as I finished college and transitioned to the workforce.”

“The foundation’s support of Cornerstone and other programs is critical to make these important resources available at an affordable rate,” says Warmka

“Cornerstone has become the must-attend program for dairy producers and industry leaders of any background,” says Brian Forrest, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors and dairy farmer from Stratford, Wisconsin. “It’s always exciting to see the engagement and interaction of the participants and facilitators during the program.”

The foundation’s impact has extended far beyond Warmka, her family’s farm and in her current role as Midwest service and sales field rep for Innovative Liquids. Over the course of its 20 years supporting dairy producers, dairy’s incoming generations and the communities dairy serves, the foundation’s influence is difficult to quantify. What’s not difficult is finding those eager to sing its praises.

A UW – River Falls student when she participated in the PDPW Mentor Program, Barbara Dittrich spent time with the Luckwaldt family on their dairy, Luckwaldt Agriculture Inc., near Woodville, Wisconsin.

“I learned so much from the mentorship program – genomics, herd management, ET work, feed management and so much more. I highly recommend this program to other students,” says Dittrich.

Miriam Kelly-Miller is project manager of The Calving Corner at Pennsylvania’s Dairy Cow Birthing Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

With a highly active social media presence, The Calving Corner shares its educational resource via its Facebook page and YouTube channel. Meeting a key foundation objective by strengthening ties with the public, these forums give consumers the opportunity to witness live calvings, virtual farm and milking parlor tours, conversations with dairy producers and a close-up look at how they feed their calves, cows, practice environmental sustainability and more.

“Building and fostering positive relationships with consumers is our ongoing goal. Thanks to the incredible support of the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation, we have developed dairy-based educational and interactive learning opportunities to enrich the impact of the Calving Corner in Pennsylvania,” says Kelly-Miller. “Creating an event that encourages dairy personnel and the public to interact in an open and respectful manner is wonderful.”

One of the core foundation-supported programs gaining vast momentum is Financial Literacy for Dairy. Designed to incorporate a dairy’s actual numbers, the program includes a series of three successive homework-based levels. When attendees have completed the courses, they are equipped with the comprehensive financial skill sets that position them for business success.

“Believe me when I say Financial Literacy for Dairy was the best financial course I have attended, hands down,” says Geoff Gerrits, Breeze Dairy Group, Appleton, Wisconsin. “Never before have I had such a list of items that I could take back and actually implement in my own real world.”

Dairy’s Foundation relies on the generous contributions of supporters to make these and more programs available consistently. To learn more about how to partner with their efforts, visit Dairy's Foundation, email information or call (800) 947-7379. end mark

PHOTO: PDPW Cornerstone Dairy Academy is one of several programs nationwide underwritten by Dairy’s Foundation. In March of 2022, five dairy producers and allied industry professionals graduated from the leadership program after having completed all three learning pillars. From left to right: Michael Kortuem, Maple Ridge Dairy Business LLC, Marshfield, Wisconsin; Danielle Warmka, Innovative Liquids, Fox Lake, Wisconsin; Sara Griswold, Agropur Inc., Beaver Dam, Wisconsin; Brooke Trustem, Bou-Matic, Madison, Wisconsin; and Kalista Hodorff, Second-Look Holsteins LLC, Eden, Wisconsin. Courtesy photo.

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.