Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

1309 PD: Do you have a professional improvement plan?

Chuck Schwartau Published on 25 August 2009

Many professionals depend on a professional improvement plan to keep themselves up-to-date in their chosen profession.

As a dairy farmer, you are no less the professional than many of the people who provide services to you and your farm. Just as they need to keep up-to-date on health management, new ideas in nutrition or equipment, you need to keep up-to-date on the latest management systems that can make you a better dairy manager.

One factor of "operational excellence" is having a professional development plan for everyone on the farm; that includes the management team. The specific plan will be different for each category of manager or employee, and may be different for each person, depending on the skills and abilities they bring to the dairy.



A plan should provide answers to two questions:

What is this person expected to do or contribute on the dairy?

What skills or knowledge do they need to add or hone in order to better meet those expectations?

By participating in professional improvement, you demonstrate to others on the farm the value you place on improvement. You will lead by example.

An article by Dan Simmons in the Animal Science Monitor gives four good reasons for attending conferences.


This is often thought of as the first reason to attend any conference or program.

You can connect with other people of similar interests. This is where you learn of new opportunities and new ideas that might fit your farm.

Other people's knowledge
If you have a situation that you aren't quite sure how to address, it is very possible someone else at a conference has faced the same issue. What you learn from their experience could be valuable.

Refresh yourself
Everyone needs a break from the routine once in a while. While attending a conference in your chosen field isn't exactly a vacation, the break from the normal routine can still recharge one's batteries.

Professional development might be off-farm seminars and workshops, or it might be something right on the farm. Commercial companies often offer programs for the benefit of their customers, some of which don't even try to sell you anything! Some training and development opportunities offered by the Extension service can be conducted for a farm or small group of farms cooperatively if requested.

Some people prefer on-farm opportunities for professional improvement. Why not have subscriptions to some good industry magazines on the rack or table in the employee lunch room? If your employees happen to be Spanish-speaking, some of these magazines offer selected articles in Spanish.


Many sources offer videos for loan or purchase. Having a library of selected videos available can help sharpen the skills of employees without having to leave the farm.

Take the time to develop professional development plans for yourself and your staff. The potential for smoother and more efficient operations on your farm could pay off in healthier stock, more high-quality milk, greater profits to the farm and more satisfied employees who take pride in their work. PD

Excerpts from University of Minnesota, November 2008

Chuck Schwartau
Extension Educator
University of Minnesota