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Two students find lifelong love at dairy program

Callie Curley Published on 11 September 2015

Nicole Hoff and Tony VanderploegFor the approximately 50 students who attend the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium (USDETC) in Clovis, New Mexico, each year, reasons for attending the program often involve a desire to expand their knowledge of the dairy industry, an interest in the management practices of large dairy herds or an aspiration to study dairy science – an opportunity available within only a limited number of land-grant universities today.

Few, if any, set off for the six-week program expecting to meet their future spouse.

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For Nicole Hoff and Tony Vanderploeg, however, this is exactly what happened.

As 2011 graduates of the USDETC, Vanderploeg and Hoff met for the very first time shortly after arriving at the consortium in May 2011. Vanderploeg, then a student at Michigan State University and an Ithaca, Michigan, native, was encouraged to attend the consortium by his father, who read about the opportunity in Progressive Dairyman. It was there at the nationwide event, he met Texas A&M student Nicole Hoff of Windhorst, Texas – the woman he would marry four short years later.

“We met the first morning of the consortium at breakfast,” Hoff says. “Since I had been there the year before, I knew a lot of the people and had many friends return also. Tony was sitting alone at breakfast, and I sat with him to introduce myself and a few others. From then on, we spent a lot of time together.”

While the couple hit it off right away, they didn’t officially begin dating until months after the consortium had ended.

“I wouldn’t say we actually had an official date while we were there. We usually were always together with a group of people,” Hoff says. “We both knew that we wanted to date but also wanted to see how it would work out. We took turns going out to see each other.

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When World Dairy Expo came around, we met each other there. Other than that, we relied on technology to talk with each other. We talked and texted on the phone, and we even used Skype a few times. After we both met each other’s families and spent some time at both homes, we decided we could make it work.”

The couple made their long-distance relationship official in late summer 2011 – and then, after nearly four years of traveling 1,000 miles to see each other and talking regularly on Skype and over the phone, they were engaged in September 2014 and began working toward building their lives together on their family farm.

The couple’s July 11 wedding took place in Hoff’s hometown – more than 1,000 miles from Vanderploeg Holsteins, where the couple now calls home. On the farm, Vanderploeg works with his parents on the family’s 3,600-cow dairy in Michigan. Hoff is a sales specialist for NorthStar Cooperative and helps out on the farm whenever needed.

“Since Tony is taking over his family dairy, we now call Michigan our home,” she says. “That’s why we decided to have the wedding in my hometown. I have a very large family all in the same area of my hometown. His family is spread out through the U.S., Canada and Netherlands.”

Being newly married and preparing to begin the next new and exciting chapter in their lives, this dairy couple can’t help but look back on that summer and the program where it all began.

“[The USDETC] is a great program for anyone looking to work with the dairy industry or on a farm,” Hoff says. “Each week, a different instructor presents a topic pertaining to farm management. The program is an awesome opportunity for college students to meet companies and employers.”

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Over the course of the six-week program, student participants attend daily classroom learning and farm visits as well as weekend trips to visit other dairy and agricultural businesses. Each week, a different instructor is invited to present on a topic pertaining to farm management.

These topics range from nutrition to mastitis to facility management and reproduction. While this may seem like a wide range to be covered in such a short amount of time, according to Hoff, the lessons learned at the USDETC are ones that last a lifetime.

“I actually attended the consortium in 2010 and enjoyed it so much, I returned for the second-year program in 2011 – when Tony and I met,” Hoff says. “I learned what part of dairy production I wanted to work with. I was able to learn more about which aspect I enjoyed working with the most. I now work with reproduction and genetics. I still refer back to many things I learned during those six weeks.”

At the time he attended the USDETC in 2011, Vanderploeg’s family was in the midst of expanding their dairy from 1,800 cows to the 3,600 they milk today. The lessons Vanderploeg learned in how a variety of large herds are managed help him make decisions in his work every day.

While the newlyweds have yet to take their honeymoon (the summer and fall months being quite busy on the farm), they are considering a trip to New Zealand in the winter months.

Hoff and Vanderploeg continue to promote the USDETC and encourage students to attend the program.

“For anyone interested in attending the consortium, definitely go,” Hoff urges. “The six weeks is packed with learning experiences you won’t get anywhere else. You will meet lifetime friends that share similar interests and goals.”

Students interested in applying for the opportunity to attend the 2016 USDETC can apply beginning Sept. 1 by completing the application on the website.  PD

Callie Curley is a communications student at Penn State University – Berks campus.

PHOTO: Photo provided by Nicole Hoff.

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