For generations, Vermont dairy farmers have cultivated the state’s working landscape and played an important role in the state’s economy. Today, the industry is facing many challenges including low milk prices, an aging labor force and generational transitions of family farms. Faculty and students at the University of Vermont are committed to supporting the industry through research and outreach, and training the next generation of dairy farmers.
“There is no mistaking the fact that dairy is a very important industry for the state,” said David Townson, professor and chair of UVM’s Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. The Department is home to several programs that provide hands-on educational opportunities to students interested in dairy.
Perhaps the most well-known opportunity is UVM’s student-run dairy herd managed by students in the Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management, better known as CREAM. CREAM is an intensive class in which students manage farm operations, including caring for the cows, barn chores, milking and making breeding decisions. The CREAM program gives students hands-on experience by allowing them to apply what is learned in the classroom to real-life scenarios on the farm.
“I do see myself working closely in the [dairy] industry. I’ve grown up with it and being so immersed in it here at UVM, there is no way I could get away from it,” said CREAM student Jackie Johnson. “We get to raise the calves, assist in calvings, and get a holistic experience about how a farm works.”
Having grown up raising and showing Brown Swiss cows in Connecticut, Johnson came to UVM as a biological science major because of her interest in research. She added an animal science minor after learning about the many opportunities for pursuing dairy and discovered she wanted to use her degree to help build a more sustainable agricultural system. In addition to her research studying how microorganisms in dairy animal rumens impact milk quality, Johnson has taken several dairy-focused courses, including a Winter Dairy Travel Course to Orono, Maine over winter break.
Taught by Townson, the course enables UVM students join with students from other northeastern schools to tour dairy farms in New England, meet with dairy producers and learn about the industry.
“It’s been a very successful program,” said Townson. “The students get to visit each of those farms and ask folks about their management systems, and do some compare and contrast about types of cows, quality of cows, ways in which they're handled both in the parlor but also how they raise their calves; just a variety of different things."
Tune in to an interview with Townson, Finley Woodruff, and Johnson on WDEV Radio
For Vermont students interested in a career in the dairy industry, UVM offers the Vermont Farms 2+2 Program. The program is a partnership with the Vermont Technical College (VTC) in which students spend two years in the VTC dairy management program and two years in the animal science program at UVM. The program is funded by the Vermont Legislature and implemented by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. It provides an alternative route to UVM for students interested in dairy management.
“We recognize there are many paths to UVM,” said Kate Finley Woodruff, Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Student Services in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “These are Vermont students who plan on either going back to their family dairy farm or work within the dairy industry.”
In addition to CREAM and Vermont Farms 2+2, Townson and Finley Woodruff co-teach a dairy industry seminar at UVM in which folks working in the industry visit the class to help facilitate, teach, and participate. The class is made up of both 2+2 students from VTC as well as animal science students on campus and those involved in the CREAM program.
“I think the beauty of the class is that students come together to think beyond just the science they might be learning in the classroom, but also thinking about the relevant policies that are in play, production issues, and diversification issues,” Finley Woodruff explains. “When we talk about supply management issues, milk prices and farm succession - key issues that are being discussed in the dairy industry now - we are speaking to the future of the industry."