Midwest Dairy recently launched its first class of the Dairy Experience and Agricultural Leadership (DEAL) program.
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The 15 young dairy farmers, ages 40 and younger, represent dairy farm families from across the Midwest who demonstrate a passion for sharing their stories and helping lead the future of the industry.

Two of the farmers selected to the inaugural class, Dakota Cowger and Angie Hildebrandt, are from Illinois.

Cowger, an Illinois State University graduate, is from Peotone (Will County). Hildebrandt, a 2016 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Platteville, works on her family’s dairy in South Beloit (Boone County).

Hildebrandt recently discussed her role in the DEAL program and on the farm. She also promoted the industry as it celebrates June Dairy Month.

“They were looking for younger people in ag (for the inaugural DEAL class), and that appealed to me,” Hildebrandt said. “They sent us to Texas (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) for leadership training and to tell us everything about Midwest Dairy (and the dairy checkoff).

“The next time we are scheduled to meet is in December,” she noted. “We will be learning about how to interact with consumers.”

The 18-month program features three phases that include in-person meetings, local assignments and participation in consumer events and media opportunities.

“The DEAL program offers a tremendous opportunity for tomorrow’s dairy leaders to stretch themselves and gain the knowledge and skills needed to help dairy thrive,” said Theresa Reps, agricultural affairs manager at Midwest Dairy.

Hildebrandt always planned on working in the ag industry after college and couldn’t turn down an opportunity to return to the family farm in northern Illinois.

“I knew I always wanted to do something in farming, but (returning to production ag) wasn’t my original plan,” she said. “We expanded a few years ago and built a new rotary parlor. I graduated (college) in 2016 and have been back on the farm since.”

Hildebrandt farms with her parents, grandparents and brothers. Her main role on the farm involves caring for the calves.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic added challenges to the industry. But farmers must continue to move forward.

“The day-to-day aspects haven’t changed,” Hildebrandt said. “The cows still need to be milked and fed. We have been taking extra precautions for our workers.”

She also reminds people that drinking milk is a great way to maintain nutrition, particularly when many remain at home under social distancing orders.

“June Dairy Month is a great way to promote dairy and the fact that the industry is still doing everything it can to provide delicious and nutritious products,” Hildebrandt added.

Recruitment for the next class of DEAL participants begins in 2021. For more information, visit the website {MidwestDairy.com}.

Regional small, organic dairy farm industry had been rocked by Horizon Organic nonrenewal.

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