orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

November 21, 2013

Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium offers education on large herd dairies

Special to The Leader
The Orange Leader

CLOVIS, N.M. — How can future dairy producers improve the dairy industry? Students participating in this year’s Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium (SGPDC) are challenged to answer this question.

The Consortium, which is held annually in Clovis, New Mexico, is an educational program designed to teach college students from across the country about the multifaceted dairy industry, with focuses on improving industry competitiveness and the production of safe, wholesome products.

“The Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium- Teaching has been an invaluable experience,” said Katherine Leggett, an NMSU student from Orange, Texas. “Having the opportunity to visit farms around the area and apply what we were learning in the classroom connected us first hand with the industry. This program has been more than just learning about the dairy industry; it has been a time for each person to familiarize themselves with the inner workings of the industry at multiple levels and really gain an idea for what a career in this field would entail.”

Consortium professors spend six weeks teaching students a wide array of vital dairy subjects. Each week students are presented with a new focus where they spend time in the classroom learning the basics, and then move their “classroom” to dairies in the surrounding area, including parts of West Texas. That’s where they take what they learned in the classroom and use it in a hands-on learning experience.

Within the program, there are two separate sessions where students are placed based on previous knowledge of dairy management. Session one is intended for students with minimal previous knowledge and session two is for students who have taken session one and/or have a dairy background. Each session builds on the knowledge they gained the previous weeks. They are able to see what they’ve been studying in the classroom come to life in the dairy environment.

Dr. Robert Hagevoort, a New Mexico State University (NMSU) dairy specialist and a Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium program coordinator, recalled when he was hired at NMSU in November of 2005, several faculty members of universities in the Southwest were already contemplating the return of some form of dairy instruction back to the region.

“Since the Southwest region ranks third in dairy production in the country behind California and Wisconsin, it should have strong dairy programs at the Land Grant universities with adequate teaching facilities, or at least have a herd of cows, which would enable us to instruct large herd dairy management, but it doesn’t.” Hagevoort declared. “However, one of the key motivating arguments for development of the Consortium program was provided by producers who were having trouble figuring out where to enroll their children in college where they could receive a meaningful degree in agribusiness or animal science with an emphasis in dairy management.”

According to Hagevoort, there are so many aspects of the dairy industry that are not being taught and experienced anywhere else. The Consortium provides the necessary classroom focus in the morning and the practical hands-on dairy experience in the afternoon. “This six-week program is a huge plus, not only for the students but also for the dairy producers,” Hagevoort stressed.

From the producer’s perspective, Jonathan Vander Dussen, a producer in the Clovis, NM area said, “This program is a great way for students who are interested in learning about the dairy industry to gain well rounded knowledge of all the different aspects involved in producing milk and large herd dairy management. Growing up in a dairy producing family, this class would have been a great asset for me. I would have been able to visit other dairies and learn why they do things the way they do, how different techniques work for them, and learning from the dairy specialists about what directly influences all aspects of producing in the dairy industry.”

Student education is important for the dairy industry, whether students go into the industry or not, the knowledge gained here is vital to the continued growth and development of dairy herd management. The Consortium helps build a gateway for students, eager to learn about the industry and all that’s involved in running a dairy. They have the opportunity that might not be possible at their universities.

Dr. Mike Tomaszewski, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the Consortium coordinators, said the future of this intensive six-week program is important so students are able to further their education.

“This class is a rare opportunity for students who otherwise wouldn’t have resources to study within the dairy industry. The goal is to be able to give them the best of the industry and with this program I know we can,” he said. “I would like see the Consortium program continue to grow as a center for learning and training for those interested in large dairy herd management.”