National and local dairy checkoffs fund the programs at universities across the country, and they each have their own unique strengths. Students learn things like food safety expertise and cheese production from technical experts to improve the industry and introduce products into the marketplace.
The programs exist at the University of Minnesota, South Dakota State University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, Cal Poly State University, Cornell University, North Carolina State University, Utah State University, Brigham Young University, Oregon State University, Texas A&M, University of Idaho, Weber State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Each school program collaborates with farmer-founded organizations like the National Dairy Council, the Innovation Center for US Dairy and the US Dairy Export Council, as well as local processors and manufacturers.
100% job placement
Program directors and educators said they have seen great success among the students following graduation, supplying the market with qualified workers who immediately find jobs in dairy production, manufacturing and food science.
South Dakota State University (SDSU), in particular, has produced several innovators in the cheese sector. Students have recently created Jack Daniels Cheese and maple bacon cheese.
Dr. Vikram Mistry, head of the Dairy and Food Science Department at SDSU, said, “What’s unique is that we’re a farm-to-product program that offers students hands-on training. For this reason, graduates have an incredible opportunity for placement; in fact, 100% placement. I’ve been here since 1986 and have seen that most students graduate with one to five job offers within the industry.”
The dairy industry has seen a lot of changes in the 30 years the program has been running. Agriculture in general has seen a decline, dairy consumption is falling and technology has completely overhauled the way manufacturing and processing happens.
But still, many job categories in the dairy industry have remained mostly the same. According to Bill Graves, senior VP of product research for National Dairy Council, technology has allowed dairy jobs to be more sophisticated than they have ever been.
“The dairy research centers are a great resource to help the broader industry adapt to technological advances and to stay on top of these new sophistications,” he told DairyReporter.
Modern dairy facilities have things like advanced filtration systems in processing plants, fermentation and bioconversion as a part of the industry’s everyday workplace and advancements in reproduction, drones and robotics.
“What’s so important about this network are the research outcomes that are helping to drive innovation, plus the pipeline of dairy leaders and advocates that are developed by these centers. That’s your future workforce,” Graves said.