The dairy industry in southwest Kansas is burgeoning and with steady growth comes new technology and jobs. In the near future, area dairy producers will likely experience an ever-growing need for skilled and well-educated workers.
By: Scott Edger
Source: Dodge City Daily Globe
With that prospect in mind, southwest Kansas dairy industry leaders including Forget-Me-Not Farms near Cimarron, and Noble Farms and Royal Farms outside Garden City, have teamed up with Kansas State University’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry to create Dairy U.
The genesis of the Dairy U program was the Animal Science Leadership Academy at K-State, a 10-year-old program designed to broaden the knowledge and exposure of high school students with an ardent interest in livestock, animal science, and related businesses.
Dairy U is designed to expose high school students to what has become a dynamic, multi-faceted industry. The program will be conducted June 19-22 as a 4-day, on-site educational package that will encompass various aspects of the dairy industry.
Mandy Fox, education and outreach director for Ag Oasis said the dairies hope to show potential students that dairy is a bustling and progressive industry, but it is also one that’s accessible to all levels of training.
“The dairy industry is not just standing on your feet and milking cows,” Fox said. “The other end of that spectrum is you don’t have to be a veterinarian to work with animals.”
Area producers hope to see the program generate several outcomes. Fox said the first goal is sparking the interest of high school students early on in hopes of putting them on a career or education path that leads them to the dairy industry.
Currently at the community college level there are no dairy-specific training programs, according to Fox. Another goal of the Dairy U program is outreach to the area community colleges to try to develop certification and continuing education programs that won’t have to go through the tedious and time-consuming process of approval by the Kansas Board of Regents.
“There is no existing curriculum that meets all of the needs that we wanted to hit on,” Fox said, “but that’s a barrier that I feel like has started to come down.”
Sharon Breiner, director of the K-State Leadership program, said dairy producers in southwest Kansas came to her with the idea of extending the program to include a more dairy-specific program.
“They wanted to have some curriculum specifically for the dairy industry that gives high school students lots of hands-on activity to make it a solid learning experience,” Breiner said.
According to Fox, the favorable area climate as well as the recent construction of dairy processing plants near Garden City and Hugoton have resulted in strong growth in the Kansas dairy economy. She said several area dairies have consolidated management or are undergoing expansion due to the steady success.
“It’s unique to have those processing plants close to the dairies,” Fox said. “It really helps maximize efficiencies. Kansas is also a very welcoming agriculture state so that really drives the dairy industry.”
The program will cover more than just the day-to-day dairy side of the industry. Financing, marketing, technology, and communications are large parts of the curriculum. Like all commodity business, dairy is often beset with uncertainty, and the Dairy U program looks to develop forward-thinking leaders who will guide the industry through the vagaries of the market.
“They will be exposed to quite a wide swath of the industry,” Fox said.
In selecting the students for admission to the program, Fox said they will be looking for students who have been active in their communities, especially in organizations such as 4H and Future Farmers of America. She said she met with with 30 high school ag instructors at an FFA workshop last summer and all seemed to be highly motivated by the potential.
“Students don’t have to have a dairy background or experience.” she said. “We want students who are outgoing and really looking to expand their horizons and use this as a real learning opportunity. Even if 50 percent of them walk away thinking they never knew these opportunities were out there but this is something I might think about after high school, I would consider that a success.”
Applications for the program are due by April 2. Fox said the application is three-phased and the process requires a letter of recommendation from someone who has seen the student exhibit a real effort and drive toward furthering their education.
“That’s a huge component of the process,” Fox said.
The sole cost of the program is a $50 deposit to reserve space. Fox said transportation to and from the program is the responsibility of the student or their family, but hotels and meals and program cost is all included. Applications and information can be found by at www.youthlivestock.ksu.edu, or by calling Sharon Breiner at 785-532-6533.