PDPW program manager grew up with organization

Jan Shepel

Madison - The demand for educational programs from the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin has been great, ever since those programs and events began 25 years ago. Those who have been involved since the inception of “dairy’s professional development organization” recall fondly that at the first business conference sponsored by the group they ran out of food because so many people came -- they had to order pizzas to feed everyone.
            Since that time the PDPW has grown almost exponentially. In fact, it has almost outgrown its name – at least the Wisconsin part. The organization now has roughly 1,700 members in 39 states and its reach continues to grow. Some of its educational events have been held outside of the state.
            Cassandra “Cassie” Mayer, who is also 25, is now the program manager for PDPW and says she “grew up with the organization.” She is the daughter of PDPW’s executive director Shelly Mayer who has been with the PDPW since the start.
            Cassandra said the passion and inspiration for dairy producers that is generated by the group is “mind blowing” and has moved beyond state borders and beyond any single type of dairy farming operation. “We have members that are heifer raisers and people who milk from three to 3,000 cows. Our members may be organic farmers, conventional dairies and small, medium and large dairies,” she said.
            “Our membership is just like Wisconsin really – it’s a wide variety of producers from all aspects of the industry. With our focus on continuing education everyone is welcome and they can see that.”
            As program manager for the last year and a half, Cassandra works with a number of committees made up of dairy producers who offer their advice, suggestions and input on the programming for PDPW. That ability to talk with fellow dairy producers, she said, makes her job exciting as she works to help construct programs that are of value to dairy producers.
            Last year there were 61 educational events planned and executed by the PDPW, with supervision from the organization’s nine-member board of directors and four advisors. Those events ran the gamut from farm tours to webinars, from calf care to the environment. “There’s a committee for every category,” she explained.
            A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in life science communication, known at other universities at ag journalism, she said she always knew she wanted to be involved in the dairy industry. She had observed and helped with the inner workings of the PDPW all her life but after college took an internship there and remembers thinking, “this is really cool. I really want to do this.”
            The 25th annual business conference, March 15-16 in Madison at the Alliant Energy Center, will feature some “sentimental looks back” at the organization and its history and evolution, she said.
            She’s so young she wasn’t there for the group’s formation, but Mayer said that those who were there tell her about the creation of the PDPW as a way for dairy producers to give each other hope and find ways to present important resources for the dairy industry that they felt were lacking. “It was on that foundation of self-preservation for the dairy industry that we expanded and grew,” she adds.
            While they wanted to “salute the past” accomplishments of the PDPW at this year’s event, she said they also wanted to celebrate and look ahead, so they packed the seminars and educational events with things that will be of value to those who attend.
            They packed the program with panels that offer snapshots of producer interaction with lenders, communities and others that affect dairy farms. The panels touch on multi-site dairies, adaptive management, genomics, expansion, marital property issues, dairying without rbST, value-added enterprises on the dairy, lending and farm safety.
Mayer said the PDPW has worked for years to earn its title as “the premier educational event in the dairy industry.” This year’s program will feature 74 expert speakers and panelists, she added.
Shelly O’Leary, PDPW’s communications and outreach specialist, said they want to make the programming special every year but really wanted the “wow” factor at this year’s event in celebration of the 25th anniversary.
“We have more content this year than ever and it’s not just about the 25 years. We’re really feeling the excitement and looking forward to what comes next.”
One of the keynote speakers, Dr. Dave Kohl, is a great resource, she said, but is also notable since he spoke at the very first PDPW business conference. “He will talk about how far the organization has come, bringing dairy producers together and collaborating on ideas we can use.”
“We have got a lot on the program for producers and the media,” she said. They are especially excited about a weather specialist who will talk about weather prediction and how it can be used on the farm.
Eric Snodgrass, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will present two sessions highlighting how dairy producers can use new technologies to predict weather patterns to the degree that they can make better herd management decisions – not just on a day-to-day basis, but over longer durations as well. This knowledge may be useful in areas like seed buying decisions.
O’Leary said they are also really excited about the “Research Preview Stage” which debuts this year in the Hall of Ideas and will showcase 12 dairy-related research studies happening now at the UW-Madison. Master’s degree and PhD candidates will talk about their ongoing projects that will be of interest to dairy producers.
“This research stage will be set up in the left-hand corner of the Hall of Ideas as you enter,” she explained. “Students will be presenting both days.”
The sessions will be facilitated by UW-Madison’s Dr. Paul Fricke and Dr. Kent Weigel and seven additional UW-Madison professors who serve as advisors to the grad students in these studies.
The Hands-On Hub sessions, featuring cow and calf necropsies, a session on farm disaster readiness, live ovum collection and a study on hoof structures, will be featured in the New Holland Pavilions.
O’Leary noted another session in the Hall of Ideas “Learning Lounge” that they are excited about is one from Dr. Kristy Wanner on balancing life and farming. She will help producers sort through business, work and family issues to help prevent mental overload.
Those Learning Lounges will be in three separate locations in the Hall of Ideas and Equipment Show, O’Leary said. Other topics over the two days will include compost bedding, avoiding drug residues, team meetings, the FARM animal care program, energy savings, farm safety, dairy farming in Ireland, solar energy on farms, effective business planning, working with your banker and capital structure on the farm.
Conference registration is open to the public for one-day or two-day attendance. Registration can be completed online at or by phone at 800-947-7379. Walk-ins are also welcome at the door on either day.
To learn more about the 2017 PDPW Business Conference “Mission Driven” and to celebrate 25 years of PDPW, visit or follow the social media presence with []#myPDPW.

Professional Producers of Wisconsin