Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Foundation Watch: Foundation keeps eye on the future, cultivates dairy’s best and brightest

Contributed by Janet Keller Published on 11 June 2021
Students listen

See a need

This is not our grandfathers’ or even our fathers’ dairy industry.



Today we face rapidly changing technologies, evolving research, increasing social pressures and higher visibility – and that means we need to attract and retain the best and brightest talent to help us manage, grow and thrive now and into the future.

While there are a number of excellent education and leadership development programs across agriculture, none are specific to drawing talent into the dairy community. Neither do existing programs consistently support a young person’s early career by providing access to practical resources and ongoing training. These days, so many people entering the dairy sector aren’t from a farm – or even a rural background. The need to reach a diverse range of backgrounds isn’t being sufficiently met by traditional youth-oriented organizations.

One conference or program isn’t enough. Just as every dairy is different, every individual’s needs for training, support and encouragement is diverse. It takes a wealth of resources and dedicated focus to cultivate the strong base of future leaders our industry needs.

Fill a need

For nearly 20 years, the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation (PDPF) has focused on attracting, supporting and cultivating the future of the dairy industry. Also known as Dairy’s Foundation, PDPF was established as the charitable arm of Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW), an organization formed by Wisconsin dairy producers a decade earlier. Developing the next generation of dairy industry leaders has always been a priority, but it has intensified in recent years and has grown to include meaningful programs across the nation.


Dairy's Foundation supports educational programs

Dairy’s Foundation recognizes the critical need to grow the next generation of leaders, doers and managers in the dairy community throughout America. We need the best and brightest in every role, from milking cows and caring for calves to managing the land, communicating with and leading our communities, and feeding the world in a sustainable way.

Regardless of the economy, milk price, global challenges or other issues that come up in the dairy sector, youth and youth leadership development will always be an ongoing need. Dairy’s Foundation understands the need to keep our collective eyes on the bolstering of the next generation. As an independent organization, the foundation can do just that while also ensuring there’s a consistent source of funding to support the work that needs to be done.

We know leaders are not born. They are developed and grown. And just as dairy producers have detailed plans to grow and cultivate their crops and cattle, our industry needs deliberate and ongoing efforts to grow new leaders and encourage the development of innovative, forward-thinking programming nationwide.

Many of the programs supported by Dairy’s Foundation plant seeds with teenagers – and not just those who already know a future in dairy is their goal. Foundation-supported programs stay the course with these youth, following up by providing tailored opportunities to grow new skills while they move through the course of their further education and early career.

The idea of offering dairy-centric educational and experiential support for a years-long stretch of time is unique to the foundation. A consistent availability of training, mentorship and internship opportunities is essential to every young person whether they’re looking to join their family farm or another farm or pursue a career in allied industry. Programs supported by Dairy’s Foundation also serve to help young people understand the broader scope of opportunities in the dairy industry, from computer programming, drone operations and robotics to human resources, finance, law and communications.


While PDPW facilitates some of these instrumental programs, such as Stride Youth Leadership Conference, Cornerstone Dairy Academy and the PDPW Mentorship Program, many other organizations are also able to fill the need for ongoing dairy education through foundation support. Some of those include Boots in the Barn: skills for dairy women, hosted by Iowa State University; the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, established to support farmer-led watershed conservation initiatives including Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance Milkshed pilot project; Animal Agriculture Alliance program for advocating communications skills; and the American Embryo Transfer Association educational video for the National Dairy Shrine Museum.

Dairy’s Foundation is able to develop and fund these programs through support of both dairy producers and industry partners. Currently, the foundation is 60% funded by dairy producer contributions with the balance gifted by allied industry partners. One of the most convenient ways producers can give to the foundation is through its “Two Cents for Tomorrow” campaign. This automatic withdrawal contributes 2 cents per hundredweight of milk sold from participating farms. Another recurring campaign, “Plant a Seed, Inspire a Dream,” gives dairy supporters an opportunity to financially contribute in lump sum amounts of their choosing.

The foundation also provides several options for planned giving, including honoring loved ones by leaving a legacy gift in their name. Also available is a twice-a-year grant program for organizations in search of funds to support initiatives that fill a specific need in the dairy sector.

Without the foundation and the support it provides to programs, the best and brightest students may never realize the wealth of opportunities open to them in the dairy industry. Just as the sower in the Biblical parable cast seeds in hopes of a hearty future crop, the foundation is casting seeds for a stronger dairy industry.

By supporting and building a sound financial foundation today, we can ensure there are innovative and impactful programs in place to attract, recruit, encourage and grow the next generation, who will not just milk the cows and manage the dairies but also publish the information, represent dairy as agricultural attorneys, teach school agricultural programs, promote dairy products to the world and ensure the dairy industry continues to sustainably feed a growing world population. end mark

PHOTO 1: Students listen attentively during a portion of the two-day Cornerstone Dairy Academy, held annually in conjunction with the PDPW Business Conference. The leadership development program builds on three core pillars of leadership and engages attendees in activities and real-time networking at the business conference.

PHOTO 2: Dairy’s Foundation supports educational programs that develop idea-sharing abilities and communication skills. Courtesy photos.

Dairy’s Foundation is farmer-led and supports educational programs that benefit the dairy community. To learn more about the foundation, visit Dairy's Foundation or call (800) 947-7379.

The following update is provided by the Professional Dairy Producers Foundation, which raises funds nationwide and awards grants and sponsorships for educational programs and initiatives that benefit the U.S. dairy community. PDPF is committed to uniting the dairy community on issues of common concern to achieve its vision of a professional, proactive and prepared dairy community.

Janet Keller
  • Janet Keller

  • Executive Director
  • Professional Dairy Producers Foundation