Developing the Next Generation Dairy Producer

12/21/2013 7:00 AM

The dairy industry in North America is amazingly specialized and is continually developing — think about animal husbandry and the tools and management strategies developed as a result of genetic, molecular and reproductive biotechnological research. Advancements in genetic technology allow managers to make goals of reaching certain breed-age average percentage or cow total performance index levels, and of conserving genetic diversity through breed organizations possible. Molecular biotechnology led us to such things as rumen-protected fats, amino acid ration balancing, and recombinant bovine somatotropin growth hormone.

Sometimes advancements are said to go too far by some, as in the case of recombinant bovine somatotropin growth hormone and cloning. Being uncomfortable with a form of technology is common — think about reproduction. Artificial insemination, embryo transfer, sexing, in-vitro fertilization and cloning have often been adopted in that order on farms, yet many producers still do not utilize basic reproductive tools such as artificial insemination.

These are examples from just a few scientific disciplines and their contributions to the dairy industry. Take time and think about your business. Which factors influence whether a new product or technique is adopted? A University of Kentucky study found that characteristics influencing technology adoption include age, level of formal education, learning style, goals, perceptions of risk and innovativeness in production. New concepts and products are constantly being introduced, leading to more unique management opportunities and more experiential data sharing. Producers are now more than ever seeking detailed information on hot button topics including: facility management, automated technologies and group raising calves. This fact points to a need for more specialized knowledge and technical skills required in our managers and employees.

Those born into the information age of “big data,” automated technology and computers, are naturally more comfortable with the technology being introduced to the world of dairy. There are signs more people in their 20s and 30s are going into farming. Enrollment in university agriculture programs has increased, as has interest in farmer-training programs. With 60 percent of farmers being older than the age of 55, this is encouraging in an industry where the top reason for non-adoption of technology is unfamiliarity. Often we dedicate more time to the enjoyable aspects of farming and focus more energy on areas we are most comfortable with.

Pick a section within your business you wish were improved on — there’s likely someone out there, perhaps already involved with the dairy, with more interest and expertise in the area. Delegating management of a process or technology we aren’t familiar with to someone else based on their personal strengths can be a way to develop our human resources on the farm. We can rely on the younger generation to help bridge the information and technology gap while providing them with experiences and opportunities to progress our farms at a quicker rate. Bringing more folks into the decision-making process can be an opportunity to transition some responsibility to the younger generation, attract and identify quality employees, and increase employee buy-in on our farms. Ultimately, we can keep the next generation of dairy producers interested and involved by our utilization and openness to technology and recognizing that, in today’s world, there are countless ways to manage a successful dairy.

Editor’s Note: Logan Horst is a Penn State Extension dairy educator based in Franklin County.


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11/29/2014 | Last Updated: 9:30 PM