A key part of every dairy operation is ensuring the right care for animals at every stage of life. From caring for newborn calves to ensuring the healthy transition of heifers to the milking herd, dairy farmers follow practices and protocols to ensure nutrition, wellbeing, health and other dairy cattle needs are met.
Dairy’s Foundation, also known as the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation, takes a similar approach to the educational and professional development training it supports for the dairy industry. It does so by helping underwrite programs that build skills and make connections for producers of every career stage, demographic and operation style.
“There is no one-size-fits-all program for professional development in the dairy industry,” says Natalie Glumm, director of development at Dairy’s Foundation. “Everyone takes their own journey, and Dairy’s Foundation has the privilege of supporting a number of top-quality programs that truly make a difference – whether that’s developing business and leadership skills or learning the practical skills that can take a farm’s performance to the next level.”
Dairy’s Foundation supports programs focused in three areas, including nurturing the next generation of dairy leaders, developing the skills of current dairy producers, and strengthening the bond of public trust between consumers and producers. The foundation also offers grants for dairy-centric programs to support new efforts across the country.
Josh Meissner, owner of Norm-E-Lane Dairy in Chili, Wisconsin, has seen the value of programs supported by Dairy’s Foundation since returning to his family’s dairy farm in 1998. As the farm expanded from 300 cows to 2,500 over the years and added employees, the skills he has learned have proven critical.
“I attended a number of workshops and training programs as I was trying to establish myself and learn the business and leadership skills that I needed,” Meissner says. “Now I’m trying to send my employees to as many programs as I can. It takes effort to get away myself and to plan for employees to take time to attend programs, but it is important for their development and to the business.”
Meissner appreciates the programming focused on the next generation of dairy producers and dairy leaders.
“Mentorship programs, youth leadership conferences, and other educational opportunities that build skills and interest in the next generation of dairy farmers are key,” he says. “As dairy producers, we are passionate about what we do, and the foundation is in lockstep with us to build a stronger dairy industry.”
Three employees from Norm-E-Lane Dairy attended Cornerstone Academy, a leadership-development workshop featuring three pillars of leadership training held in conjunction with the annual Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW) Business Conference in March.
Sandy Larson, general manager at Larson Acres in Evansville, Wisconsin, also sees the value Dairy’s Foundation brings by helping build and develop the skills of young people in the industry.
“As the fifth generation on our family’s farm, I see firsthand the need to support the next generation,” she says. “My two oldest children have participated in Cornerstone Academy and PDPW’s Financial Literacy for Dairy, and they’ve gained valuable tools early on to put them ahead in learning the farm business.”
In addition, Larson Acres consistently participates in the PDPW Mentorship Program, hosting one or two college students on their farm each year to give mentees the opportunity to see the farm’s practices firsthand. It also builds connections between students and farms.
“It’s fun to reconnect with the students we’ve met in the program at industry events and see what they are accomplishing now; we’ve even hired a couple to work at our farm over the years,” she says.
Foundation-supported programs provide the opportunity for dairy farmers to share their passion and commitment to their animals and land with neighbors, community leaders and elected officials, Larson says.
“I enjoy participating in the ACE [Agricultural Community Engagement] Twilight meetings that bring together local and state officials at dairy farms for tours and conversations,” she says. “It’s so important our elected officials understand how we as dairy farmers are always learning and improving our operations.”
Loren Greenfield of Markesan, Wisconsin, agrees that the variety of programming supported by Dairy’s Foundation has an impact across the industry. He owns and operates Hilltop Dairy with his father and uncle.
“The foundation is important because of what it offers to us at different stages,” Greenfield says. “The education is designed to help us at all levels, whether we’re planning a transition as the older generation looks to move on, trying to reach goals for sustainability or just getting into the business. We also appreciate that the foundation supports programs specifically designed for Hispanic employees to develop their skills within the farm system.”
Dairy producers take their support of the foundation and its work to the next level by also providing financial contributions, either as one-time gifts or by participating in the Two Cents for Tomorrow campaign, an automated way for dairy farmers to contribute to the foundation with an ongoing two cents per hundredweight of milk sold from their farm.
“We believe the foundation’s mission of sharing ideas, resources and expertise about dairy is important,” Larson says. “We’ve participated in the Two Cents for Tomorrow program for at least 10 years, and we believe in the work our contribution is doing to support education and outreach for our own farm and other producers.”
Comprised of dairy farmers and other industry professionals, Dairy’s Foundation’s board of directors ensures their objectives remain in step with the industry’s needs not just in the short term but also much further down the road.
“As the only industry-wide foundation that is driven by dairy farmers, we are in a unique position to identify and fund programs that will truly make a difference in every stage of someone’s career in the dairy industry,” Glumm says. “From educating and inspiring students to consider a future in dairy, to communications, leadership and management training at every step in their journey, we can help build a stronger future for the entire industry.”
This article was written by LeAnne Phillips for PDPW.