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Tomorrow’s Dairy Leaders Stormed New York for 2016 Dairy Challenge®

2016NAIDC-FirstPlaceTeams-300x179Nearly 250 future leaders of the dairy industry gathered in Syracuse, New York, for the national Dairy Challenge held April 7-9, 2016. The event brought together 39 colleges from 29 states and three Canadian provinces to learn technical dairy skills, network with other students and explore industry careers and innovation.

“Dairy Challenge is a premier dairy event, providing education, communication and networking among students, producers, and agribusiness and university personnel,” explained Barry Putnam, Northeast Dairy Challenge committee chair.

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge® (NAIDC) allows dairy students to work as a team and apply theory and learning on a real-world dairy farm. In Syracuse, two programs ran concurrently – the 15th annual Dairy Challenge contest and the fourth annual Dairy Challenge Academy. The events were coordinated by the NAIDC Board of Directors and the Northeast Dairy Challenge committee.

The 2016 contest included 32 universities, each with four students on their team competing for awards. The Academy provided interactive training in dairy farm evaluation for 119 students in dairy programs at universities, community colleges or technical schools. Academy participants were divided into smaller groups, mixing students from various colleges, with agribusiness volunteers as Academy Advisors guiding their work.

Dairy Challenge Applies Learning to a Real-world Dairy

Over its 15-year history, Dairy Challenge has helped more than 5,000 students prepare for careers in the dairy industry, dairy production and veterinary medicine.

“Dairy Challenge provides an opportunity for our students to jump-start their careers by integrating what they learn in the classroom with real challenges facing the industry, all while networking with dairy leaders and improving their problem-solving skills,” said Owen Bewley, area sales manager for Phibro Animal Health Corporation and NAIDC board chairman.

The three-day event began with a tour at Hemdale Farms, Inc. in Seneca Castle, New York, where students, industry specialists and educators witnessed 19 robotic milking systems in action and worked together at learning stations on reproduction, feeding management, milking protocols and other key management areas. The day also included two panel discussions. A group of processors provided a perspective on their businesses and how they interact with producers. Processor panelists included Kevin Ellis of Cayuga Marketing and Cayuga Milk Ingredients, Tera Jackson of Chobani, Tom Murray of Muranda Cheese and Skyler Ryll of Dairy Farmers of America. Next, a panel of young producers shared insights on starting and entering a dairy operation. Producer panelists were Dan Durfee, Luke Getty, Dan Hartzell and Meghan Vaill. The day concluded with each group receiving data from a dairy to analyze and provide recommendations for improvement.

Day two included a thorough farm visit to the assigned dairy and a question-answer session with farm owners. All groups – in both contest and Academy – developed recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health, cow comfort and financial management.

On day three, students presented their recommendations, visited with sponsor companies at the Career and Innovation Fair and learned through Corporate Technology Presentations from top-level NAIDC sponsors. These talks were presented by:

  • Martha Baker, M.S., PAS – Purina Animal Nutrition
  • Christopher Canale, Ph.D. – Cargill Animal Nutrition
  • Kristi Fiedler – Genex/Cooperative Resources International
  • John Lehr – Farm Credit East
  • Dave Whitlock – Select Sire Power

In the contest, the college team presentations were evaluated by a panel of five judges, including dairy producers, veterinarians, farm finance specialists and agribusiness personnel. All students, coaches, volunteers and sponsors joined together to celebrate at Saturday evening’s banquet.

Eight College Teams Earn Top Awards

The following teams and students were awarded first place, with each student receiving a $200 scholarship.

  • California Polytechnic State University: Justine DeVries, John Schoneveld, Toni Silva and Christine Sousa, coached by Dr. Stan Henderson and Dr. Julie Huzzey
  • Cornell University: Josh Landis, Kelsey Neckers, Greg Van Ravenswaay and Colleen Smith, coached by Betsey Howland and Dr. Mike Van Amburgh
  • University of Wisconsin-River Falls: Brian Fesenmaier, Meghan Connelly, Kyle Rentmeester and Dylan Nelson, coached by Dr. Sylvia Kehoe
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison: Cody Getschel, Olivia Peter, Elizabeth Endres and Megan Opperman, coached by Theodore Halbach and Dr. David Combs

Teams and students earning second place and $100 student scholarships include:

  • University of Alberta: Melanie Boros, Casey Morey, Kathleen Murphy and Sarah Pletts, coached by Dr. Masahito Oba
  • University of Guelph: Shaelyn Prins, Victoria Seip, Sabrina Van Schyndel and Maggie Williamson, coached by Mark Carson, Dr. Trevor Devries and Dr. John Walton
  • University of Idaho: Kimberly Davenport, Kayla Nelson, Zachary Reynolds and Thomas Vanberkum, coached by Dr. Amin Ahmadzadeh
  • University of Minnesota: Eric Houdek, Mary Liebenstein, Bret Ott and Wyatt Smith, coached by Dr. Marcia Endres

Total Industry Effort

Six dairy farms opened up their farms for analysis, and in exchange they received a wealth of ideas from students and judges. Host farms for the 2016 Dairy Challenge were:

  • Black Brook Farms, Shortsville, New York
  • Fouts Farm LLC, Cortland, New York
  • McMahon’s E-Z Acres, Homer, New York
  • Tuscarora Dairy LLC, Chittenango, New York
  • Beck Farms LLC, Freeville, New York
  • Twin Birch Dairy LLC, Skaneateles, New York

“The success of the 2016 Dairy Challenge was possible through tremendous support of the participating dairy farm families in New York, the time and financial support from allied dairy businesses and dairy food donations by processors. Dairy professionals from across the U.S. assisted as contest judges and Academy advisors,” shared Putnam. “I know beyond a doubt that the industry will rally again to support the 2017 Dairy Challenge in Visalia, California, next year and make it an even greater success as we continue developing tomorrow’s dairy leaders.”

About Dairy Challenge

NAIDC is an innovative event for students in dairy programs at North American post-secondary institutions. Its mission is to develop tomorrow’s dairy leaders and enhance progress of the dairy industry, by providing education, communication and networking among students, producers, and agribusiness and university personnel. Over its 15-year national history, Dairy Challenge has helped prepare more than 5,000 students for careers as farm owners and managers, consultants, researchers, veterinarians or other dairy professionals. The next national event will be March 30April 1, 2017 in Visalia, California. Four regional events are held in late fall and winter. Details are at

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