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"We are excited to offer our new dairy science major program to Wisconsin residents as well as neighbors residing in Illinois and Iowa,” Dr. Michael Compton, director of the UW-Platteville School of Agriculture recently  said. “This new major will allow us to more effectively develop and train students for careers in the dairy industry, a division of agriculture in which continued growth and need for new professionals is expected.”

Dr. Compton was referring to the new dairy science major that became available to students at UW-Platteville this past fall semester with 56 students taking part, six of which graduated in December.

Timely

“Agriculture contributes $88.3 billion annually to Wisconsin’s economy, with dairying the major contributor with over $43 billion,” said Dr. Wayne Weber, dean of the College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture. “As America’s Dairyland, the dairy science major is a timely addition to our strong and strategic program array in the School of Agriculture.”

The “kickoff”

Last week a “Dairy Science Kickoff” was held at the UW-Platteville Pioneer Farm — the 430 acre home of some 125 cows — during which an array of University officials told of the successful efforts to install the dairy science major.

Dean Weber referred to Dr. Tera Montgomery, associate professor and coordinator of the Animal Science program at UW-Platteville as the “super women” who worked with university officials and business partners to make it all happen.

Lots of advice

“Industry partners were crucial in shaping the curriculum for the new major, especially the School of Agriculture’s Advisory Council, which is made entirely of alumni in the agriculture field.” Dr. Montgomery  explained. “We were really able to bounce ideas off of people who had the level of understanding that we needed, and who are vested in this.”

Industry sponsors

Dr. Montgomery  (and other speakers) referred to lead sponsors Badgerland Financial, headquartered at Cottage Grove, Organic Valley , based in LaFarge ($50,000 each) and Platteville — based Mound City  Bank ($15,000) as inspirational to the new program and showing their faith in the university and to the dairy community.

Rochelle Ripp Schnadt, marketing specialist at Badgerland Financial and an agribusiness graduate of UW-Platteville said that although there has been an animal science degree offered for over 30 years at UW-Platteville, we are pleased to see a dairy science major now offered and are proud to be a part of that effort.

Keith Wilson, member of the Organic Valley board of directors, dairy farmer and Platteville graduate said the dairy science major is important to his family and dairy agriculture: Dairying is changing rapidly and education is important to farmers and the industry, he said.

“Promoting agriculture and education is only going to be something that helps us in the long run, and we want to partner with UW-Platteville on this,” Jerry McGeorge, vice president of cooperative affairs for Organic Valley said.

“We are proud to partner with UW-Platteville on the new dairy science major because we understand the positive economic impact this new program is going to have, not only in the communities that we serve, but for the entire state of Wisconsin,” Donna Hoppenjan, president and CEO of Mound City Bank in Platteville.

Students say

Jenna Achterhof, junior dairy science student and president of the Pioneer Dairy Club summed up the value of the new major to students: “Prior to the dairy science major...you could only get a degree in Animal Science with an emphasis in dairy. The dairy science major will bring the dairy industry to the forefront of student’s education. This will help students focus on the dairy  industry specifically and specialize...in nutrition, genetics and technology in the dairy industry.“

Achterhof asked a number of dairy science students why they are in the program: Rachel said “I want to help dairy farmers meet their goals in the future:” Alan said, “This will allow potential employers to know what to expect  from a dairy science major vs. an animal science major;” Tim said he is a dairy science major because of his passion for dairy cattle.

She concluded by commenting on Dr. Montgomery’s drive to try new things and her passion for the dairy industry. “That passion leads to motivation which leads to making a difference in someone’s life or the dairy industry,” Achterhof says. (Note: Jenna Achterhof  plans to return to the family dairy farm in St. Croix county after graduation.)

The Dairy Science program will offer a number of hands-on learning experiences for students, especially with the new Adopt-a-Heifer program. New students will be assigned an animal to follow throughout the course of their schooling. They will be responsible for understanding what vaccinations are given, tracking colostrum levels and more. They will also have the opportunity to make recommendations for decisions on the heifer. They  will put the recommendations in a presentation form, though the ultimate decision will still rest with the dairy enterprise manager. “These are the types of decisions they’ll make in the real world, so we’re trying to make a microcosm of that experience,”  Montgomery  says.

Since 1866

A bit abut the UW-Platteville: UW-Platteville began in 1866 as Platteville Normal School, the first state teacher preparation institution in Wisconsin. In 1959 the Wisconsin Mining Trade School/Wisconsin Institute of Technology merged with the Platteville State Teachers College to become the Wisconsin State College and Institute of Technology at Platteville. In 1966, the name was changed to the Wisconsin State University-Platteville and in 1971 the university and all other public institutions of higher education in Wisconsin merged to form the UW System and the name was changed to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Now

Today the university has 7,793 undergraduate and 900 graduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts and Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture. The School of Agriculture has 800 students studying in seven majors (Ag Business, Ag Education, Animal Science, Dairy Science, Environmental Horticulture, Crops and Soils and Reclamation).

Farming has always been a profession that required lots of smarts, business ability, management skills and motivation. Of the many different farming enterprises, dairy farming and the dairy industry may be among the most complicated and challenging. Working with animals, the weather, perishable products and consumers leaves little room for error and the rapidly changing technology means education is increasingly important.

Wisconsin is fortunate to now have three UW dairy science departments at Madison, River Falls and Platteville — it’s right for the times.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.

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