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Jersey Youth Academy – the future of the Jersey breed

Erica Louder for Progressive Dairy Published on 11 September 2019
Students met with Neal Smith

“If you want to be part of the Jersey industry, we can find a place for you.”

That is how one student summed up their experience at the Jersey Youth Academy, a biennial leadership training program founded on the purpose of securing the next generation of dairy leaders.



The most recent Jersey Youth Academy, held in July 2019, welcomed 36 high school and college-age students for a week-long experience on the Ohio State University campus. The curriculum is a Jersey-lover’s dream – combining classroom instruction, guest speakers, industry tours and Jersey farm visits – to facilitate networking and education.

“Altogether, the academy is a dynamic and unique program that gives students new perspectives, provides career exploration and extensive networking opportunities,” says Danielle Brown, Central Plains area representative for US Jersey. In fact, Brown is a graduate of the first academy herself, and she continues to come back and help out today as a chaperone.

The very first Jersey Youth Academy was held in 2009, with the mission bestowed from the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA) board “…to attract, educate and retain talented young people for careers in the Jersey dairy business.” It began as an extension to other youth programs offered by the association, and with a kick-start from a generous donor, the program was up and running. Well-known California Jersey breeder Bob Bignami put forth the seed money using proceeds from a bull he owned in a syndicate with Harlan Askeland, a sire that later was named BW Academy – ET. With that initial gift, coupled with ongoing fundraising efforts, the academy brings world-class education to young Jersey enthusiasts.

For Brown, participating in the academy has been an experience that impacts her career today.

“For me, and for a lot of the students that go through the academy, one of the greatest benefits is the networking opportunities,” she says. “It’s not unusual for me to be in contact with past graduates of the program or industry people I met through participation in the academy on a weekly basis. Many of those connections are invaluable in my career.”


Education is another prong of the academy’s focus, giving students an intensive look at pertinent Jersey topics, like genomics, breed promotion and the history of the Jersey breed. The farm and industry tours help students understand the range of production models and breeding philosophies of the dairy industry, as well as how the Jersey breed works into each unique operation.

This range of topics, Brown says, brings a great deal of exposure to the students and oftentimes, that exposure impacts their career focus. “About a third of our students are interested in herd management, either going back to their own family farm or managing a dairy. Many are interested in A.I. or genetics, and we have quite a few that are in communications or public relations in the dairy industry,” Brown adds. “And there is an increasing number of our [US Jersey] staff, like me, who are graduates of the program.”

During the Jersey Youth Academy, students visited dairies for a hands-on learning experience

While the opportunites and experiences available to Jersey Youth Academy attendees are priceless, the cost to attend is free. It is a fully-funded program with an application and selection process. AJCA says participant selection is based on merit, motivation and preparation for the program. It is open to both members of the association, as well as non-members. Students are required to be entering their senior year of high school or with at least one year left in their post-secondary education. Most importantly, however, the applicants need to show a true passion for the Jersey breed. “Simply put, the academy is open to young people who want to help shape the future of the Jersey dairy breed,” Brown says.

The youth selected for the academy represent a range of geographic locations and backgrounds.

“Some students have almost never left the family farm and others are widely traveled,” Brown says. “We have students that come from the major Jersey pockets in Ohio, Wisconsin and California, but lately we have more and more students from more non-traditional Jersey regions in the United States. Some of the participants are 5th generation dairymen and others have a couple animals they showed in the show ring.”


With Class VI just completed, the next program will be held in the summer of 2021, with applications due the preceding December. Visit for more information on the Jersey Youth Academy.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Students met with Neal Smith, executive secretary and CEO of the American Jersey Cattle Association and National All-Jersey, Inc., during the Jersey Youth Academy.

PHOTO 2: During the Jersey Youth Academy, students visited dairies for a hands-on learning experience. Photos courtesy of the American Jersey Cattle Association.

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.