October 19, 2021

Farm Credit

Preparing the Next Generation of Dairy Leaders

By: Heather LaPierre


For nearly 20 years, the Northeast Dairy Challenge has brought together college students, producers, and agribusiness and university personnel who are passionate about the progress of the dairy industry. The program engages students with a holistic, on-farm experience to put their ag education and communication skills to the test — it’s an intense few days!

During the challenge, students are given farm records outlining the farm’s financial condition and management practices, along with herd health, nutrition and reproduction information. In addition, students spend an afternoon on the working farm to walk the farm’s buildings, observe farm practices and take physical measurements of the operation’s current practices. All this information is then used by each student team to evaluate the farm’s current practices and make recommendations on areas the farm could improve. If it sounds like a lot, it is!

But that’s what Farm Credit East Business Consultant John Lehr recognizes as the program’s true value. “We all run 100 miles per hour every day, so we don’t often make time to immerse ourselves in one experience,” said John. “This program gives industry professionals, like myself, the opportunity to sit down with students who will likely be their peers someday to learn and share ideas together.”

As a past Northeast Dairy Challenge participant, I echo John’s sentiment. With the multi-day commitment, I remember questioning if I “had time” to participate and how much I’d take away from the experience. It took a full program experience to understand the value in cross-college collaboration, a full farm evaluation, presentation development and the informal networking.

This year, I returned as a volunteer to the Northeast Dairy Challenge — seven years after participating as a student — to experience the program in a whole new way. During my time behind the camera as social media coordinator, I snapped lots of great action shots. But what I loved even more than documenting the event was watching the student conversations progress from a hesitant “hello,” to welcomed network connections. To me, this means the goal of the Northeast Dairy Challenge is still being fulfilled — a memorable experience connecting the current and future generations of the dairy industry.

Over 80 program sponsors contributed to make this program happen, and Farm Credit East is proud to be one of them. Supporting the next generation of agriculture is a core mission of Farm Credit East’s stewardship program, so this program falls right in line.

I was joined by many of my Farm Credit East peers who served in different roles. Jan Bitter of Cortland, NY, assisted with event coordination; Kathryn Canzonier of Burrville, NY, served as a judge; Holly Kraeger of Burrville, NY, served as a time keeper; and Mark Mapstone of Cortland, NY, and John Lehr of Cooperstown, NY, served as financial consultants. Matt Sharpe of Cortland, NY, and Austin Weaver of Geneva, NY, both volunteered at the event’s trade show.

For more information on Dairy Challenge, visit DairyChallenge.org.

Tags: communication, dairy

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