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Penn State Team Second at North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge

Penn State’s Dairy Challenge team earned a second place award at the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge® (NAIDC) held April 9-11 in Syracuse, NY. The event was funded through the generous support of 120 agribusinesses and dairy farms. Dairy Challenge was started 14 years ago through cooperation between universities, dairy producers and agribusinesses. The event expanded in 2013 with the Dairy Challenge Academy, providing hands-on learning where teams of students evaluate a dairy operation with the help of dairy industry professionals serving as Academy Advisors.

This year 128 students competed as part of 32 teams in the national contest, and 150 students participated in the Academy. The event is hosted by the Northeast Dairy Challenge committee, a group of agribusiness professionals and university personnel. The national event will be hosted in 2015 and 2016 in Liverpool, NY, giving the Northeast an opportunity to showcase New York’s thriving dairy industry.

Team members representing the Department of Animal Science included Gearet Fitzpatrick, Kensington, MD; Isaac Haagen, Howard, PA; Amy Kraus, Aliquippa, PA; and Evan Snyder, Elizabethtown, PA. They evaluated Fesko Farms in Skaneateles, NY, placing second among the eight teams which evaluated the same operating dairy. Team coaches were Gabriella Varga, Ph.D., Emeritus University Distinguished Professor of Animal Science, Virginia Ishler, Extension Associate, and Lisa Holden, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Dairy Science. Each student on the team was awarded a $100 scholarship for their placing.

Dairy Challenge® is an innovative two-day academic competition for students representing dairy science programs at North American universities. It enables students to apply theory and learning to a real-world dairy, while working as part of a four-person team. The competition incorporates all facets of a working dairy business in a forum that’s interactive, educational and fun.

In the contest, each four-person team received information about a working dairy farm, including production and farm management data. The teams then evaluated the dairy through observation and interviews with the herd owner and/or manager, working together to analyze the farm-specific data and develop management recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health, housing and financial management.
The event culminated with team members presenting recommendations and then fielding questions from a panel of judges. These official judges included dairy producers and industry experts in dairy finances, reproduction, nutrition and animal health. Presentations were evaluated for accuracy of analysis and recommendations, with awards presented at a final banquet.

Four Penn State students participated in the Dairy Challenge Academy, developed in 2013 to expand this educational and networking event to more college students. Academy student-participants also analyzed and developed recommendations for operating dairies; however, the Academy was organized in mixed-university team format with two Advisors to help coach these younger students. Participants were Jaylene Lesher, Bernville, PA; Denille Pingrey, Strykersville, NY; Caitlyn Pool, Robesonia, PA and Greyson Smith, Palmyra, PA.

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge was established as a management contest to incorporate all phases of a specific dairy business. It strives to incorporate a higher-learning atmosphere with practical application to help prepare students for careers in the dairy industry. Supported financially through generous donations by agribusinesses and coordinated by a volunteer board of directors, the first NAIDC was held in April 2002. In its 14-year history, Dairy Challenge has helped train over 4500 students through the national contest, Dairy Challenge Academy and four regional contests conducted annually.
Penn State’s team was supported, in part, by a Dairy Challenge endowment established by Department of Animal Science alumnus Clifton Marshall and by contributions from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, and the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association.

During the event, students visit with NAIDC sponsors for educational and recruitment opportunities. Sponsors include companies, organizations and dairy producers who are committed to cultivating tomorrow’s dairy leaders. Their support encourages enhanced training and motivation of dairy students to be better prepared for the dairy industry’s future, while allowing dairy science and business management academic programs to measure themselves against North America’s best. Industry professionals presented cutting-edge research, new programs and career opportunities to students.

The mission of the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge is to facilitate education, communication and an exchange of ideas among students, agribusiness, dairy producers and universities that enhances the development of the dairy industry and its leaders.

For more information about participating teams and their placement at NAIDC or to become a sponsor of the program, visit or

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