Countless tasks demand the attention of dairy producers – immediate and long term. It can be easy to overlook the role education plays in successfully managing a dairy business.
When Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW) was founded over 30 years ago, the organizers faced a widespread mentality of hopelessness in the Midwest dairy community. Despite what looked like an uphill battle, leaders of the fledgling producer-led organization understood that well-vetted education would be central to the dairy industry’s success.
They were not wrong. As the organization grew beyond state borders, it became clear that dairy professionals of every age would need to continually:
- Grow more leaders more effectively
- Embrace a professional-development mindset
- See dairy as a fulfilling lifelong career
- Adopt a personal culture – and encourage a team culture – of continual learning
Adopting the future-ready mindset
Fast forward three decades.
To more clearly identify where the future of dairy is headed and how dairy can best prepare and position itself to be future ready, PDPW recently partnered with the Forward research group in a 360-degree study of the full dairy chain. The future-ready research was conducted in part to help dairy producers better anticipate the future so they can be proactive and prepared.
Representing feedback from the nation’s leading dairy food marketers and processors and more than 100 dairy producers from coast to coast, a primary finding was that all stakeholders agree education is extremely important to a farm’s future success.
Topically, the research identified the top five educational requests from producers and food-system customers noted in Table 1.
In addition to the topics listed in the table, producers also indicated a need for education to help them manage current and future labor concerns. As for food service customers, the research revealed they are looking to partner with the right suppliers and producers. That means educational programs need to equip producers and other industry professionals with the tools to build their brand and tell their story, including how they ensure quality, responsible production, sustainability, cow comfort and more.
Effective education takes input
Because PDPW is both producer-led and producer-driven, every PDPW resource is created by the input from dairy producers who have identified educational gaps in specific areas. Members guide program development in regard to training topics as well as the speakers, locations and formats offered.
As it happens, PDPW offers a program or resource to speak to nearly every educational request the research identified.
1. To help policymakers and regulators understand the realities of today’s farming practices, PDPW facilitates programs such as Agricultural Community Engagement (ACE) twilight meetings, Agricultural Professional Partnerships (APPs), Water Matters tours and Environmental Workshops. Offering insights to those who do not have an agricultural background, these programs help attendees better understand how today’s dairy farmers use the latest research and technologies to protect our natural resources.
2. Implementing effective practices for recruiting youth into dairy has long been an industry priority. Through such resources as the PDPW Mentor Program, Enhanced Internship Program, Stride Youth Leadership Conference and Future of Success training for high school and college students, PDPW aims to recruit and attract the next generation of dairy professionals from agricultural and non-agricultural backgrounds.
3. Representing a top-five educational request from both producers and customers, identifying and adopting new innovations and technologies will become more important as the dairy business landscape grows more competitive. The Nexus Innovation Stage offers a platform for companies to showcase their innovative products and services. Additionally, PDPW’s involvement in such projects as the Food Armor program and the Dairy Innovation Hub have enabled industry leaders and university researchers to break new ground in the name of expanding dairy’s impact on the world.
4. Financial management training is essential for business owners of all occupations, but the complexities of managing a dairy business make proficiency in this area a must. Developed with a successive three-part curriculum, Financial Literacy for Dairy places participants in the level most suited to their current degree of comprehension and incorporates take-home assignments for students to apply financial concepts where they matter most – on their own farms.
5. Another top-five request from both groups, people management skills and quality labor training is common to every business. Geared toward dairy professionals, college age and older, Cornerstone Dairy Academy, Dairy Managers Institute and Managers Academy provide opportunities for managers at every level to grow professionally.
For food-system customers:
1. Identifying consumer insights, trends and expectations of dairy, and carbon-reducing sustainability practices are increasingly important. PDPW’s annual Dairy Insights Summit pulls together experts on a vast array of current topics with an eye toward strengthening ties between producers and customers. Similarly, episodes of PDPW’s The Dairy Signal allow experts and fellow producers to offer advice, experiences and strategies regarding agricultural topics and current events.
2. Community relations and communication skills development continue to play a major role in how the public perceives agriculture as a whole. While ACE twilight meetings give opportunities to the public to gather on the farm for shared dialogue and a first-hand glimpse of modern dairying, Dairy’s Visible Voice is specifically designed to strengthen the bond between producers and consumers on entirely different platforms. This multi-part program offers education on crisis management, effective leadership, proactive communication, social media strategy and more.
Education is the key that unlocks just about every door – and it is an activity worth pursuing throughout the course of a lifetime.