Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Foundation Watch: Donations mentor the next generation of dairy farmers

Published on 18 April 2018

America’s dairy community is controlling its destiny by funding programs that address the ongoing needs of the next generation of dairy leaders. Farmers are nurturing dairy’s future by sharing their knowledge with technical college and university students.

Programs like the PDPW Mentor Program are ensuring that, in addition to land and animals, a legacy of learning is passed to the next generation.



See A Need

Rachel Gerbitz

Rachel Gerbitz: Students need a chance to dive deeper into what they learn in the classroom. On tours and in the classroom, we get an overview, but students need real-time, real-life, rounded experiences to supplement classroom learnings. We have great speakers in the classroom, but nothing compares to the hands-on behind-the-scenes experience on the dairy. The opportunity to engage with the industry and producers is something all students need to fulfill their dreams of a dairy career.

Tom Cully

Dr. Tom Cully: Mentorship of the next generation is pivotal for the continuation of all dairies. Education and having the opportunity to ask and answer questions is important because as we ask questions, we raise doubt and perhaps look at different solutions to drive the dairy industry forward. Part of the improvement process is being vulnerable, and hearing questions is a chance to grow and follow a path of continual improvement.


The dairy community must grow its culture of mentoring and creating opportunities for educating others about dairy farming. We see great value in education ourselves and must do what we can to facilitate student learning. It is an enriching way to give back to the industry.

Fill A Need

Rachel: For my first mentee experience, I wanted exposure to something different from the traditional dairy I grew up on. Holsum Irish was my first experience on a large dairy. I had the opportunity to tour the dairy, work with Dr. Tom on herd check, treating hospital cows and fresh cow checks. I was surprised by the efficiency of milking cows in a rotary parlor, and it was obvious cow care and comfort were a number one priority.

The staff is passionate about what they do, and the employees are dedicated to their cows. They did a great job teaching about the dairy, no question was off the table, and I had complete access to all areas. I never anticipated the care given to cows; I had studied animal well-being at school, but to see the systems required and the cows so well taken care of was truly enlightening.

Dr. Tom: I found the mentor experience valuable but was not sure what to expect out of the day. I learned what a life sciences communication major involved. Rachel’s career interest is on the industry side, and I realized how important it was for her to experience a large dairy.

Someday, Rachel might be writing about the industry, and I might look to her for information as someone with journalism experience and a background in dairy science. Dairies need to grow their online presence and understand the influence the next generation will have through social media.


Rachel: My family has been very involved in dairy; my dad has been in the A.I. industry, coached Dairy Bowl, and we have showed cows as a family. My dad financed my first show calf, and I had to get a summer job at McDonald’s to pay it off. Not living on a farm, many people have made my herd and show career possible.

It has been inspiring to be supported by the dairy community and the investment they have made in me to make my dream of dairy come true. I could not have achieved what I have without community support from others who wanted to keep me involved. I have mentored others as a dairy youth intern for the Dairy Science Extension Youth Program and have loved the opportunity to give back. It is important to me to make that experience real for someone else. It is inspiring to see kids so excited and motivated to participate and volunteers excited to help.

Dr. Tom: As a young aspiring vet, people mentored me early and often, personally and professionally. I leaned on them, and they were interested in me. I had the opportunity to shadow my hometown pet vet as a youngster; my brother was someone I looked up to, as well as Dr. Gary Oetzel at UW – Madison Vet School.

At home, I helped on the farm and developed an early love of agriculture. I spent many hours on a Massey Ferguson 1105 in a car seat as my mom and hired man worked land. I developed a strong work ethic and decided if I could get a piece of that work ethic, I could achieve my dreams.

I would encourage any dairy farmer to be a mentor because they are the expert on their own home field; they know their cows and farm better than anyone else. What we do on our farms is not willy-nilly, careless or by chance but intentional and deliberate. It is a great way to share your story.

Rachel: Any dairyman can be a mentor, as they are all experts on their own farm; no mentee knows as much as you about your farm, your dairy, what works, and the student has much more to learn from you than you do from them. As they say, people do not care what you know until they know how much you care. The deep passion of dairymen is astounding.

A student will always learn something and will not regret the mentor experience. As they pursue their career goals, it is more knowledge to build on.

Dr. Tom: I would say to others investments like mentorship are not a direct return on a milk check but rather an investment in the future. Times are tough, prices are low; it is difficult financially, but the idea of an investment is to put something away now for a return later. Investing in more broadly educated students will ensure the next generation returns to the industry as a journalist, employee, vet or dairy farmer.

To have influenced a person, invested in educating students or making an investment in one’s education in hopes it will make a positive return in the dairy community is a legacy worth having.

I believe you do not have to grow up on a dairy to be in dairy farming. This can be intimidating to many and perceived as a barrier to dairying. If you set your mind to it, dedicate your education and career, you can attain your goals. Many great herdsmen have not grown up on a dairy.

There are lots of opportunities in dairy farming, journalism, robotics, veterinary medicine and agronomy. We can teach the dairy skills, but we can’t teach attitude, work ethic and personality. You must have the fire in your belly.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Mentee Rachel Gerbitz, a sophomore studying dairy science and life sciences communication at University of Wisconsin – Madison, share why they found the PDPW Mentor Program valuable.

PHOTO 2: Mentor Dr. Tom Cully, veterinarian at Holsum Dairy 

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.