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Shaping dairy industry leaders of the future: How Young Dairy Leaders Institute stays relevant

Progressive Dairy Editorial Intern Madison Leak Published on 22 July 2021

For almost 25 years, young leaders of the dairy industry have gathered once a year to exchange ideas, receive training and network with fellow professionals through the Holstein Foundation’s Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI).

It’s a program that takes place over the course of one year in three separate phases, each with the goal of helping young professionals hone their advocacy, communication and team-working skills.



072221 leak first class

How it works

“The purpose of YDLI is to educate and develop future leaders for a vibrant dairy community,” says Jodi Hoynoski, Holstein Foundation’s program manager and the lead for YDLI. “We start with finding your personal why [and] really encourage you to be open and vulnerable with fellow young professionals to help you grow.”

The first phase is held in person. Participants meet their fellow class members and begin learning ways to effectively communicate with others and skills to help them become better advocates for the industry. Heavy emphasis is placed on understanding yourself and how you function as an individual, so you can use your talents effectively.

Phase two is conducted individually; participants receive assignments and projects they are expected to carry out on their own. In the past, these assignments have included introducing yourself to a local legislator or interviewing consumers about how they make their purchasing decisions.

The class meets again in person, one year after the first meeting, for phase three. This is an opportunity for participants to share what they learned over the course of the past year with fellow class members. Participants also discuss industry hot topics, such as animal welfare and animal activists, while receiving training on how to effectively inform consumers that they are receiving a safe, nutritious product.

 “YDLI was a great opportunity to meet other like-minded young professionals,” says Nathan Ulmer, Class 11 graduate and strategic account manager with Semex. “It was re-energizing to meet others with the same passion and drive as I have from all around the country. I felt that it was a great investment of my time, and the principles I learned in the legislative sessions and mock debates are skills I’ve taken with me in my career.”


072221 leak first class 3

Staying relevant in an ever-changing industry

“YDLI has always been on the cutting edge of the industry,” says Laura Daniels, Class 4 graduate of the program and founder of Dairy Girl Network. “A lot has changed since Class 4, but YDLI is still delivering value to the future leaders of the dairy industry – that hasn’t changed.”

As technology advances, dairy farming looks slightly different than it did 25 years ago. With the changing industry, YDLI has adapted to fit the needs of young professionals. The growth of social media has been a great resource for dairy producers, as it allows them to share directly to consumers.

“The program stays relevant and time sensitive, especially with the media training,” says Rebecca Shaw, Class 10 graduate and member of the YDLI advisory board. “YDLI puts you in a room full of people that you feel like are smarter than you, which is a driving factor and pushes you but also kind of intimidates you. Being asked tough questions up on a stage or with a camera shoved in front of your face in front of all those people is hard, but the feedback and the support you get after doing something like that really helps you improve personally.”

“The tactics that we help train people to use can translate to different platforms,” says Hoynoski, “whether that’s a tweet or a Facebook post or putting out a video. Those pools of confidence that we helped build could translate to any of the plethora of technology and media platforms we have today.”

Expectations for the future

YDLI was not “sitting on their hands” during the global pandemic. The team decided to step back and reevaluate the program, making a few changes that will benefit participants. “Post-pandemic, there’s a lot to be learned [and] shared within our community,” Hoynoski says. “Everyone had to embrace a lot of change, and I believe that will make some interesting discussions among participants this year. A lot of personal development and training will be part of this year’s program, as always, but kicked up a notch.”

This year, Class 12 will be meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, a new location for YDLI. Hoynoski is hopeful that this change will provide a new opportunity for participants to network with others in the agriculture industry, as the Fort Worth stockyards are a great place to do so.


 “YDLI will continuously improve,” Shaw says. “I think some of the biggest changes are in this year to come; it’s something we’re all excited for.”  end mark

Applications for YDLI Class 12 are due Aug. 1, 2021. Click here for more information, or email Jodi Hoynoski.

PHOTO 1: Cara Biely and Brad Wamka converse during a leadership activity.

PHOTO 2: This is YDLI’s first class photo in 1995.

PHOTO 3: Mike Opperman, Peter Coyne, Jean DeBruin and Mary Ann Keith participate in a training session during the first YDLI. Photos provided by Jodi Hoynoski.

Madison Leak
  • Madison Leak

  • Editorial Intern
  • Progressive Dairy
  • Email Madison Leak