As dairy farmers, we often wear many hats. In just one day, we could be an agronomist, calf care professional, mechanic, nutritionist, HR specialist, logistics coordinator and more, and that doesn’t even include the roles we play in our families and communities.

With all these responsibilities, it isn’t a surprise one approach to continuing education isn’t enough to stay on top of our fast-changing industry.

If we’re not actively learning, we risk becoming stagnant. But a focus on learning and getting better doesn’t always mean working toward more cows or higher production. It could be learning to produce the same amount of milk with fewer inputs, feeding cows better, improving calf care or doing better for the environment. We each have our own goals and should adjust our learning priorities to meet them.

We are fortunate to have many options from traditional classroom or workshop settings to peer groups, tours, hands-on programs and more. PDPW has been essential for our farm and for me by encouraging multiple ways to take in information. Their programming has also sparked new areas of learning and encouraged me to dig deeper into topics I hadn’t considered before.

Participating in a peer group has been a tremendous resource. For almost two years, I’ve been involved in a group that includes members from a variety of backgrounds and farms. Whether it is a robotic dairy, 2,000 cows or 500 cows, we all have things to learn from and teach one another. This group has given me a network where I can ask quick questions and bounce ideas off of people I know and trust. We have all made changes in either our operations or management styles based on ideas from the group.

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Attending workshops and conferences always opens up new conversations and new ideas. At the 2021 PDPW business conference, I attended a Hands-On Hub session about emergency response and farm safety. I’ll be honest; I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to go to a full-day program about farm safety. But a one-hour session at a larger event opened my eyes to the risks on our own farm and the need to respond quickly in any emergency.

Since then, I’ve worked with local fire departments to bring similar training to our employees on the farm. We’ve had hands-on trainings with fire extinguishers and are planning a CPR training session in addition to taking stock of the risks on our farm.

Workshops also provide the opportunity to dive deeper into topics new to many of us who grew up on farms, such as human resources. We aren’t born knowing how to manage people, and everyone does it differently. Not only do I learn from the presenters, I can talk with other attendees at different stages in their own learning process. We can learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.

Another eye-opening experience was attending an Agricultural Community Engagement (ACE) twilight meeting. In partnership with the Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association, PDPW hosts these meetings that feature a dairy tour and free ice cream to foster open dialogue among government officials, community leaders, neighbors and dairy farmers about rural topics. The positive, proactive discussions gave me a new level of insight on working with policy-makers and the amount of work always happening in our communities and across the industry.

The time and financial investment for continuing education can sometimes seem daunting, but it always delivers rewards and strengthens our business for the future. Regardless of which hat we are wearing, there’s always an opportunity to learn and improve.  end mark

Paul Lippert of Pittsville, Wisconsin, owns Grass Ridge Farm LLC with his father, Matt, and brother Carl. The dairy is home to 600 registered Holsteins and Jerseys as well as 500 youngstock. Paul manages all day-to-day operations including herd health, employee management, agronomy and financial analysis. He is a graduate of UW – River Falls with a degree in dairy science, and the Farm and Industry Short Course at UW – Madison. He is also a PDPW board member.

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.

Paul Lippert
  • Paul Lippert

  • Owner
  • Grass Ridge Farm LLC
  • Pittsville, Wisconsin