Southern Dairy Challenge More Than Just a Competition

Madison, GA |

At this Madison dairy, students are putting their classroom knowledge to the ultimate test, competing in the Southern Regional Dairy Challenge – a collegiate competition meant to immerse them in the Dairy Industry.

“Dairy Challenge is a management-based event where students evaluate a farm from their records to visual appraisals to give a SWOT analysis, which is strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. So, this morning, they get about two hours on the farm. Last night they got their records and now they’re reconciling what they’re seeing on the farm with the records that they got last night. And they have an opportunity to interview farm management as well. So, they’re spending time from baby calves to lactating cows, just looking at everything around the farm,” says Dr. Jillian Bohlen, Associate Professor & State Dairy Extension Specialist at the University of Georgia

The challenge involved students from several schools, and though it is an actual competition, the purpose is meant to be more of an educational experience.

“We have teams from across the southeast, around sixty students here from Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and Georgia. They come here, and we actually mix the teams up so they don’t compete as a school. We do that very intentionally so that the students learn to work with other people that maybe they’re not used to working with. It also takes out some of the competitive nature because what we really want to emphasize is that they’re here to learn and grow. The national contest is where they really get to compete. So, they come here, they’re mixed with students from other schools. They get a mentor, and the mentor is really to help guide them. So, if they get lost in the data or if they don’t know what to look at here on the farm, that mentor is someone in industry that can maybe help direct them to the right location again, because the whole purpose is education” says Bohlen.

Of course, another important aspect of the challenge is that it gives the competitors a chance to see and learn about the dairy industry in a way they might not have before and allows them the opportunity to network with others within the industry itself.

“Basically, the mission is to develop our young leaders, our next generation of industry leaders. That’s what it’s about. To teach them and to help them grow. Then this actually is about educating them because we have so many students that come from non-farm, non-dairy backgrounds, but they’re wanting to be involved in some way, either as a veterinarian in the dairy industry itself, maybe go back to a farm. So, this gives them on-farm experience that they may not otherwise have had, such as the older generations. Like myself, we tend to have come from a dairy, we experience it our whole lives, but these younger generations it’s just a little different,” says Jeffrey Elliott, Associate Vice Chair of the National Dairy Challenge Board.

“A lot of these students don’t come from farms anymore, and the dairy industry’s intimidating. If you’ve ever talked to any of these farm managers, the amount of information that they know, how progressive they are, it’s intimidating, especially if you don’t have any background in it. So, I think that this kind of opportunity opens some of those doors that allow students to see the opportunity that before seemed unrealistic or unattainable or just scary. So, this helps create the connections, as I was talking about, as well as really shows them that this is an industry they can be a part of,” says Bohlen.

By: John Holcomb