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NMSU, Penn State collaborate in dairy management program

CLOVIS, N.M. - While dairy producers in New Mexico and Pennsylvania certainly have different approaches to getting the most from their herds, they found out in a unique dairy management program last month that they also have a lot in common.

Participants in the East Meets West dairy management program touring calf pens at the Rajen Dairy west of Clovis, N.M., include, from left, Richard Stup, director of the Penn State Dairy Alliance; Paul Gutierrez, vice provost for Outreach Services, associate dean and associate director for Cooperative Extension at New Mexico State University; Sybrand Vander Dussen of Rajen Dairy; and Victor Cabrera, Dairy Extension specialist at NMSU. The tour took place on the third day of the April 10-12 program. (NMSU photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

The East Meets West Penn State Dairy Management Program was presented in Clovis by the Penn State Dairy Alliance, in collaboration with the Dairy Extension program at New Mexico State University. Sixteen top managers from both states represented dairies with a combined 27,000 cows.

Participants said they learned from both the course and the chance to compare notes with their fellow dairy producers from across the country.

"I think it was a great success, mostly because our producers told us so," NMSU Vice Provost for Outreach Services Paul Gutierrez said, "but it was obvious from the quality of the material presented and the discussion and dialogue between the producers."

Gutierrez, who also serves as associate dean and associate director of Cooperative Extension at NMSU, said the collaboration is a good way to create meaningful opportunities for New Mexico producers.

"We are able to bring proven educational programs and experts to New Mexico to work with our producers and their employees," Gutierrez said. "It would take considerable time and effort to 'reinvent' the wheel. Secondly, and possibly most importantly, the bringing together of producers from Pennsylvania and New Mexico provides for a great opportunity to share different management philosophies and ideas that could be beneficial to our producers - to look at the dairy industry through another set of eyes."

Organizers anticipate that the dairy industries in both Pennsylvania and New Mexico will be strengthened by the collaboration.

"Our objective in partnering with New Mexico State University on this program was to accomplish two goals - to provide the producers with management and human resource strategies and techniques they can implement on their own dairies, and to bring New Mexico and Pennsylvania producers together for networking that will benefit the industries in both states," noted Richard Stup, director, Penn State Dairy Alliance.

The collaboration enables Penn State Dairy Alliance to expand its educational and networking goals for Pennsylvania producers as it helps New Mexico State University build its own Dairy Extension program.

"We are extremely pleased with the outcome of the program," said Robert Hagevoort, NMSU Dairy Extension specialist, who initiated the talks leading up to this unique event during the PDMP visit to New Mexico in 2006. "Penn State Dairy Alliance for us has all the components a Dairy Extension program should have, and with limited resources, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Collaboration and sharing of resources and mutual interests are key. That is how I envision we will be able to offer our producers programs that would otherwise take years to develop. An additional benefit is the interaction with producers from other parts of the country."

The three-day program offered courses on efficiency and management of projects and human resources, as well as organizational structure; interpersonal styles analysis; strategic and tactical planning; and capital management vs. operational management. Faculty from both universities taught the coursework. Producers also took part in hands-on activities like calculating income over feed costs; identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the industry in each state; and evaluating their own interpersonal communication styles to improve communication with employees.

An optional tour at the conclusion of the program gave participants a chance to visit the 4,800-cow Rajen Dairy, west of Clovis. A Pennsylvania producer who took the tour said he learned that producers from the two states share many of the same challenges and opportunities.

"I always felt that New Mexico producers had an advantage over us, but getting to know them I realized that, while their dairies may be bigger, they are dealing with many of the same issues we are in Pennsylvania; issues like environmental regulations and the anti-agriculture movement," said Logan Bower, a producer from Blain, Pa., and president of the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania. "The take-home message for me was that we are really all on a level playing field and Pennsylvania producers need to take a look at the advantages we do have in this state and amplify them. It's all about working with your strengths, no matter where you are dairying - East or West," said Bower.

When Portales dairy producer Gary Bonestroo heard the program would be offered, "I was skeptical at first." After attending the first day, Bonestroo, who also serves as president of Dairy Producers of New Mexico, was impressed and decided to attend the full conference. "We don't see training like this in New Mexico; nothing for upper level dairy management has been offered here before. I had never seen such in-depth information on evaluating cost and profit. It was a really interesting program and it opened my mind to some new management options I can use on my own dairy."

Like Bower, Bonestroo appreciates the interaction with his peers from another state. "The experience wouldn't have been the same if they weren't here," he said of the Pennsylvania producers. "Being a dairyman, I am interested in how other producers think and dairy. Their input was important to the success of the program."

The collaboration also was a chance for faculty at each university to learn from one another.

"The Penn State Dairy Alliance has vast experience in Dairy Extension programs that New Mexico dairy farmers can take advantage of," said Victor Cabrera, NMSU Dairy Extension specialist. "Pennsylvania farmers and faculty can expand and re-think their current programming because they learned about new ideas and challenges facing New Mexico farmers. Personally, I learned a lot from the faculty and mostly from the producers. I will be much better prepared to deliver a similar course in the future."

As a result of feedback from attendees, plans call for future courses to include a young producer forum, a middle manager conference, and another high level manager training, Cabrera said.

Gutierrez said the Clovis program was a first step.

"We would like to continue to build on the Penn State/NMSU alliance to offer a number of educational opportunities to our producers and their employees," Gutierrez said. "We would like to also have our faculty participate in educational programs in Pennsylvania. Eventually we would hope to add other universities to the alliance to further add to the intellectual capital - if you will, to help ensure that our producers are getting the best educational opportunities possible. It is our vision that well-defined research and teaching programs will evolve from this alliance that will proactively address not only the needs of producers, but help define the educational needs of the next generation of dairy professionals."

The next step in the collaboration may include networking at the Washington, D.C., legislative forum hosted in spring 2008 by the Dairy Producers of New Mexico. DPNM Executive Director Sharon Lombardi said, "Producers from dairy states have to work together so we are all on the same page, with uniform ideas to present to our legislators and policy makers. We may be from different regions, but the bottom line is we are all in the same industry."

Bower agreed that building relationships with producers in other states offers the chance to discuss policy issues and come to a consensus, giving producers a stronger voice in policy-making on the regional and national levels.

"The industry across the U.S. is shrinking. In order to survive, we have to work together on the issues and challenges we face," explained Bower. "The experience in New Mexico showed me that we need to look at producers in other states as partners, not competitors."