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Dairy director has Texas-sized heart for women in research

Somula Schwoeppe for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 November 2017
Varbara Wadsworth Jones

It is a fact; inclusive leaders make everyone feel welcome and appreciated, and when Barbara Wadsworth Jones is around, no one feels left out or out of place. Immediately upon meeting her, you feel like you are talking with a lifelong friend.

Recently hired as director of the Southwest Regional Dairy Center at Tarleton State University, a member of the Texas A&M University system in Stephenville, Texas, Jones is looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of developing the dairy science program in the rapidly expanding dairy center of the state of Texas, where she says she feels right at home.

Often labeled as the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” with more roping arenas and cowboys per square mile than any other place on Earth, Erath County ranks first in the number of milk cows in the state. To recognize the economic impact of dairy to the area, all one has to do is look at “Moo-La,” the large fiberglass Holstein cow statue in the center of Stephenville. Lettering on the statue states, “Erath County is the No. 1 Dairy County in Texas.”

Moo-La the large fiberglass Holstein cow statue in the center of Stephenville

Initially for Jones, the seeds of interest in production agriculture were planted while growing up in Maine on a small hobby beef farm. She fell in love with the Holstein cows belonging to a neighbor when she was 8 years old. Her parents bought her four grade Holsteins, and that was the beginning of her career in the dairy industry.

Throughout school, she raised replacement Holstein heifers for college funds, was a 10-year 4-H member, participated in the beef club and raised market steers.

Her love of the dairy cow and production agriculture has taken her in a diagonal path across the country, from Maine to Texas. Following high school, her interest in dairy took her to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she worked at the university dairy research farm and earned her bachelor’s in agriculture economics.

Following graduation, Jones then moved back East to the position of co-herd manager at Arethusa Farm, where she had the opportunity to work with high-type and high-production cows while gaining experience with marketing genetics, managing interns and organizing tour groups.

Following her time at Arethusa, she worked at Idexx as a customer support representative, then set her sights on graduate school at the University of Kentucky.

UK bestowed multiple opportunities, including the publication and presentation of cutting-edge research projects that included international travel and the chance to network and build relationships with people all around the globe based on her herd management and precision dairy technology expertise.

Jones’ concentration of study has been on cow comfort and lameness detection using precision dairy management technologies. She collaborated with graduate and undergraduate students on their various research projects and actively managed technologies for research projects.

Her enthusiasm to help others did not go unnoticed and, in 2016, she was chosen as the recipient of the Passing of the Torch Student Award, which recognizes the willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to empower fellow students.

During her six years at UK, Jones earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in dairy systems management while serving as a research assistant. She also assisted with extension and teaching programs by helping to facilitate dairy youth activities through 4-H and FFA as well as Dairy Challenge.

She participated as a judge and contest assistant at events such as the Kentucky State Fair, the National FFA Convention and the North American International Livestock Expo.

When asked about her transition from the Northeast to the University of Kentucky, and the Southeast to Tarleton State University and the Southwest, Jones says, “It has been very easy – people in the dairy industry are the same everywhere.” Her enthusiasm and positive energy flow through the telephone as she speaks about her new home.

“Here in Texas, we are all like one big family and live in a big farming community. The food here is great, and I love how much ag is thought of in Texas. Agriculture is the lifeblood of all communities, and it garners respect here in Stephenville.

There is so much diversity in ag here; from grapefruits to greenhouses, sheep and goats, horse and cows, it is all here. The dairy farmers are very progressive and, like everything else in Texas, they are big.”

Mentoring is very important to Jones. When asked about her favorite part of her work, she states, “The students are the best part of the university, and mentoring students is the best part of my job. They are fun to work with because they are so positive about the future of the dairy industry, and they are so curious to experience and learn new things.”

Barbara Wadsworth Jones, left and graduste student Ellisa Jimenez right

With her appointment and the addition of a ruminant nutritionist, the dairy department offers many new opportunities to students. They will be focusing on growing the program and increasing the research opportunities available.

Jones says growing a new program at Tarleton is exciting and, as with all challenges, there are both positive and negatives to consider. “The good: I can go any direction with the program,” she says. “The bad: The expectations are unclear at this point.

Our goals are to grow the program [and to] build research, consumer awareness and consumer trust.” Her strategic plan is built around community outreach with recruiting prospective students through activities like the Texan Tour, where high school juniors come to experience the dairy science program at Tarleton, and opening the farm and encouraging more consumer tours to share the story of Texas agriculture.

Jones is always excited to see others experience success and share the news of their accomplishments. When asked what she likes best about Texas, she replies, “The highlight is my graduate students’ research project; they have named themselves the ‘Milk Mafia.’”

Another highlight for Jones is graduate student Ellisa Jimenez leading a group of all-female students to run her master’s thesis project. Jimenez is an aspiring nutritionist, and she currently has a feed trial running at the dairy.

“Some of the girls working on the project have never worked with dairy cows before and are doing an outstanding job,” Jones says.

Texas is showing the largest dairy growth area, with cow numbers up 30,000 over August 2016. Jones says she is excited to be part of the rapidly growing dairy community in Texas and is looking forward to the opportunity of working with the young people who will be shaping the future of the industry.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Barbara Wadsworth Jones has had a wide array of both university and on-farm experiences. Along the way, she has become known for her ability and willingness to mentor and encourage the dairy industry’s up-and-coming leaders and researchers.

PHOTO 2: Moo-La, the large fiberglass Holstein cow statue in the center of Stephenville, Texas, helps visitors recognize the economic impact of dairy to the area. Erath County ranks first in the number of milk cows in the state.

PHOTO 3: Barbara Wadsworth Jones, left, and graduate student Ellisa Jimenez, right, assess feed samples Jimenez is using for a digestibility project. Jimenez just completed a nutrition trial that evaluated three different diets and their effect on milk production and components. Photos by Kristen Phillips. 

Visit Southwest Regional Dairy Center to learn more.

Somula Schwoeppe is a dairy producer and freelance writer based out of Huntingburg, Indiana.

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