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- Show Notes
Let us Toast to the Dairy Industry! Johanna Rohrer interviews Jayne Sebright, Executive Director of the Center for Dairy Excellence. A dairy farmer herself and an active industry advocate looking forward to the bright spots in the dairy industry. Jayne shares with us an update on dairy producer outreach and connecting consumers with dairy through various educational efforts within the Dairy Excellence Foundation.
Welcome to Farm Credit AgVocates podcast. I'm your host, Johanna Rohrer, Outreach and Educational Program Specialist at MidAtlantic Farm Credit. Today's guest is Jayne Sebright, Executive Director with the Center for Dairy Excellence.
Jayne has over 20 years of experience working in the dairy industry. For the past five years, she's been responsible for overseeing her team at the Center for Dairy Excellence. She works closely with Pennsylvania’s dairy industry and provides key oversight to the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation.
Jayne and her team are passionate about the dairy industry and seeing dairy farm families thrive. In addition, she and her husband Robby operate a fourth generation dairy and crop farm in East Berlin, Pennsylvania. Welcome Jayne.
Thanks Johanna. It's great to be here.
I'm so happy that you were able to join us today and to start a conversation about the dairy industry.
Can you share with us a little more about your family's farm and your dairy operation?
We'd love to hear more about your roots in the dairy industry.
Like you said, my husband and I have a dairy farm in East Berlin Adams County. It's been in his family, I believe since 1848. So it's been around for a long time. We have three boys, their ages are 20, 18 and 14. I think our real passion on our farm is growing it and building it so that it can one day be passed on to the next generation.
I'm excited to say that my oldest son is a rising junior at Virginia Tech studying Dairy Science and my middle son just got accepted to Purdue and is studying Ag Engineering. So they're both really interested in agricultural careers. Not sure what my youngest son's going to do yet, but they're all passionate about dairy. They all help on the farm and it's really a family operation.
My roots in dairy started in Gettysburg, Adams County. I grew up on an 1100 cow dairy, its JoBo Farms in Gettysburg. All of my brothers and sisters are now involved in the farm. I'm the odd one that is not. But that's still very much a family farm and it's really where I first fell in love with the dairy industry.
It's so exciting I think to see farm families, especially in the dairy industry, when there's multiple people in the family that enjoy working in this industry. That leads me to talk about the month of June, which June is dairy month.
I'm curious what makes this month stand out in your mind as a dairy farmer and also as an industry leader?
I think June dairy month is really a time where we can celebrate as dairy farmers and as dairy industry advocates, what we bring to the table and not just in terms of dairy products, but also in terms of all the things that dairy provides.
I think there's many reasons to believe in the dairy industry and to support dairy. We bring valuable economic revenue to our local communities. The average farm in Pennsylvania contributes more than $1.5 million in annual economic revenue. Every 10 cows supports one job somewhere in the state.
We work diligently to provide wide open spaces to take good care of the environment, and we take good care of our animals. Many of our dairy farmers are community leaders in their local regions. There's just so many things that dairy provides to our Commonwealth, provides to our communities, provides to our world, not just the nutritious dairy products, but all of those other attributes too.
I think June dairy month is really a time to celebrate our heritage and who we are and what we can offer. It's also a time for us to help others see all the things that dairy provides to our world.
The Center for Dairy Excellence
Every time June comes around, I'm always looking forward to enjoying some extra dairy treats, I think, just to help celebrate the month. So let's dive in and talk about the Center for Dairy Excellence or CDE. What is the CDE?
The Center for Dairy Excellence is really a public, private partnership supported partly through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but also through private supporters like Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit. Our vision is to serve as a catalyst to strengthen Pennsylvania's dairy industry by offering resources and support to help dairy farm families and dairy businesses thrive.
We've been around since 2004, and we really try to be that small business development center for Pennsylvania's dairy industry. Trying to address the opportunities, the challenges, and bring the resources that our dairy farmers, our dairy processors and others in the dairy industry need to take advantage of the opportunities and to really thrive here in Pennsylvania.
What types of resources can the CDE offer dairy farm families?
So really our flagship program at the center is that we offer grants to help dairy farmers with business planning. We help them bring together their advisors into a team to address things like profitability, transition, and transformation. We also offer other grants, we've offered business planning grants, and risk management grants.
Our latest grant that we offer, we've actually provided to 80 farms across the Commonwealth, was a dairy excellence grant in which we supported projects that assist with cow comfort and enhancing the facilities on the farm to improve profitability. We also offer a wealth of resources.
We have Zach Myers on our team, who is a Risk Management Education Program Manager. He can actually help farmers put together a risk management plan. We work closely with Penn State Extension, to try to bring their resources to farmers. We have a wealth of resources on our website, anything from transition and transformation planning to risk management planning, stress wellness, and mental wellness assistance.
We also have a whole section devoted to markets and management, and really trying to help farms understand what is happening in dairy markets and what they can do to manage and navigate the volatility that exists in the marketplace. So we offer a whole wealth of resources, it's hard to list them all, but that is just a few things that we bring to farmers.
The Excellence Foundation
That's great that dairy farmers in the state of Pennsylvania are able to come to the center as a resource. I know as an industry partner, it's really important for us to be able to support you in the efforts that you're making to support our dairy families. So let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the great educational efforts of the Dairy Excellence Foundation.
What is the Excellence Foundation and what type of education outreach does the foundation offer?
The Dairy Excellence Foundation was created in 2010. It's a 501C6, so it's set up as a charitable organization, really to strengthen the future of Pennsylvania's dairy industry. We focus on next generation programs, we have scholarships that we offer, and we coordinate an internship program with our partners, Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association and the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania. Then we also host curriculums that are available to high school, middle school and elementary school.
Our high school curriculum is called Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow and that is a curriculum that offers dairy herd and dairy business management certification to kids that are interested in dairy careers. We also have the Discover Dairy program, which is offered to middle schools and elementary schools, which is really to help them understand where milk comes from and how dairy farms contribute to our world. We started that program in 2008 and basically, to give all schools the opportunity to really explore a dairy farm, even if they couldn't go out and actually visit a dairy farm.
Adopt a Cow Program
I think it's cool that you not only do industry education for young people that want to get involved in dairy production, but then the foundation also does a lot of consumer education as well and outreach in those earlier, younger years.
So I've heard really great things about the Adopt a Cow program and I'm curious if you could share with us a little more about that educational effort and the reach of the program.
Discover Dairy is actually something I'm really passionate about. When I started with the Center for Dairy Excellence in 2006, it was really what I was brought on for and I worked in communications, but I also was charged with creating this educational program that we could teach kids in the middle school and elementary school about dairy.
We started with creating lesson plans that we offered online. They had videos and worksheets and they were tied into educational standards, so teachers could use them to teach about Math, Science, and English, but really show kids what happens on a dairy farm. So about three years after we started the Discover Dairy program, my son, who is actually a graduating senior now, came home from school and he was all excited. He said, “My classroom just adopted a Jaguar!” and he was so excited. Their whole classroom was decorated in a Jaguar theme. They were going to talk about this Jaguar all year in their classroom. I thought, well, if they can adopt a Jaguar, they can adopt a cow. So that's how the Adopt a Cow program started.
When we first started that program, we weren't really sure how much we could handle. So we accepted, I think the first time we did it, it was like 30 classrooms and then the next year it was 100. Basically what we would do is we would pair them with a calf. The first few years it was calves through my farm. We just paired them with a calf then we would send them three installments a year. Then at the end of the year, we would basically Google chat with them to answer their questions. They'd write letters about their calves and they would share information.
Well about three years ago, we brought this person onto our team, Brittany Snyder, who is just really, really passionate about the Adopt a Cow program and just wanted to see it grow. So she put a huge lot of effort into it and she formed some partnerships with regional checkoff associations across the country, and really set a goal of growing that program. I would say the growth has been exponential.
We had 77,000 classrooms participate in that Adopt a Cow program, just huge growth. We have 26 dairy farms across the country who have contributed calves for these classrooms to adopt. We have classrooms all over the country, and actually all over the world, involved in Adopt a Cow. We have, like I said, 26 dairy farms, they're all from different states and they provided a combined total of nearly 100 calves. These hundred calves are adopted out to the 77,000 classrooms, so throughout the year they receive PowerPoints, they receive lesson plans, and they receive activities that they can do in the classroom just really to bring this calf to life in their classroom.
Then they just fully embrace this program, they draw pictures of the calf, they do lessons on the calf, they hear stories about the calf and they see videos. While they're learning about this calf, they're also learning about the dairy farm that the calf comes from, they're learning how that dairy farm takes good care of its animals, how it provides proper nutrition and they're learning about the family and how the family works together to take good care of their animals.
Then at the end of the year that Adopt a Cow opportunity, really culminates with a live chat. It's done on YouTube so that these classrooms can talk to their farmer. The farmer provides a tour, they can chat their questions through YouTube, to the farmer and the farmer answers those questions during the live chat, they get to see their calf, and they get to see how it grew up. So it's just a really amazing experience. These kids are so excited about their adopted calf and about their farm.
In fact Brittany is working on concluding those adoptive cows now, and we've had up to a thousand classrooms, get on some of those chats to learn about their calf. They're so excited and it's just been a really great program to promote dairy across the country and really to help these kids understand all the great things that happen on the farm to produce dairy products, to take good care of their animals today to take good care of the land to recycle nutrients, all of those types of things.
You know, I was really lucky to grow up on a farm that did direct marketing to consumers. So I feel like I've always been connected with the people that were buying our products off the farm that we were growing, but sometimes in the dairy industry, making that connection a little bit harder if you're not direct marketing.
So I just think that's an amazing opportunity for our youth and our consumers to be able to connect with such a program. I'm sure going through this specific period of time, you know, with COVID being able to connect digitally has definitely been a tool to help share that story.
That story is bigger than just Pennsylvania dairies, these are dairies from across the country that have joined in with your effort. It's interesting to think about it all. It all came back to an idea of adopting a Jaguar. What a cool story.
Let’s toast to the dairy industry. June is dairy month, let’s grab an ice cream cone, milkshake or a glass of milk and salute all of the dairy farm families who are dedicated to providing delicious and nutritious products for everyone to enjoy all year long.
Farm Field Trip Grant Program
Another effort with discover dairy is your Farm Field Trip Grant program.
So I'm interested what the impact of that program has been like, especially over this past year and any success that you've seen in the program so far.
What you're actually talking about is two different programs, we offer farm field trips for Farm Field Trip Grants for schools to actually take a tour. They take a bus out to a dairy farm and tour, unfortunately, because of COVID, that program hasn't gotten a lot of use in the last year. Just essentially because people aren't taking actual field trips, but what we are seeing is an incredible rise in the virtual farm tour component.
Through the Discover Dairy and the Adopt a Cow program, like I said, we offer the live chats and the farm field trips to the farms where they adopted their cows. But we also promoted all of the virtual farm tours that the dairy checkoff programs have been hosting over the past couple of months.
We've promoted ones in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland that the ADA Northeast has done. Then we promoted Michigan tours, Wisconsin tours, and those have had a huge reach. Some of them have had 26,000 views. So there's definitely a lot of kids that are plugged into their computer watching these farm field trips and actually feeling like they're right there on the farm with the farmer.
Yeah, I can't imagine, that virtual space has just become so popular this year, but what a cool experience for kids to be able to connect with a dairy farm.
So if you're an educator and you wanted to get connected with some dairy education and outreach efforts, where can we find more about that information to connect with you?
So if you're an educator, just looking to expose your kids to more information about the dairy farming, to connect with the Adopt a Cow Program or Discover Dairy, you can go to our website, https://www.discoverdairy.com/ to find all the resources.
You can enroll as a teacher and then get access to all the lesson plans or you can register for Adopt a Cow Program. The registration for Adopt a Cow in 2021-22 won't open till August 1st, but you can still find information about the Adopt a Cow Program at https://www.discoverdairy.com/adopt-a-cow/.
If you're a high school teacher who has a student who's interested in careers in dairy, or once to gain more experience, understanding what it takes to run a dairy farm, I would encourage you to check out Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow, and that can be found at https://www.dairyleadersoftomorrow.com/. And again, you can enroll in that program at that website.
We also have lots of information on our actual Center for Dairy Excellence website at https://www.centerfordairyexcellence.org/.
Future Dairy Farmer Educational Opportunities
So do you have any new future dairy farmer educational opportunities in the works, like anything new that we haven't talked about?
So we're really excited, we've done our on-farm internship program for quite a few years with PDMP and Dairymen's Association and we continue to be able to get college students pursuing careers in dairy on the farm to get that hands-on experience. But we are really seeing a void in students who are coming out of high school, who don't really want to go to a four or two year college program, but they'd really like to work in dairy herd management, whether it's on their own farm or on a larger farm where they would need a dairy herd manager.
We actually also see an opportunity from the other side with many dairy farms looking for well-qualified dairy herd managers. So there's actually a shortage of them right now. They're having trouble finding well-qualified dairy herd managers, so we've decided to move forward with a Dairy Herd Manager Apprenticeship Program. We're going to be piloting it in the coming year, where we're going to try to pair kids that are right out of high school, who may have some dairy farm experience, but don't have a lot of experience in dairy herd management, don't have the training in dairy herd management, but aren't really interested in the college route with dairy farms. Where they can receive that training and they can be groomed as dairy herd managers to one day, either work on that particular farm or work on another farm that's in need of a dairy herd manager. So we're really excited about this apprenticeship opportunity.
Apprenticeships are growing in popularity with many young people. We're seeing them in the machinist industry and the welding industry and many other industries. We do think there's definitely an opportunity for this type of an apprenticeship to prepare dairy herd managers for the future.
I think you're seeing such an increase in apprenticeship programs and I know when I had heard that you guys were working on something, it was exciting to me because I think it's another path and journey for us to get some young people, again, involved in the dairy industry. If they have interest, it's also a good place to learn those hands-on skills. So I'm looking forward to seeing how your program works out.
We're really excited to see it come together. I think it's something if we can pair farms with really well-qualified, well-trained kids that are interested and passionate about dairy, it really seems like a win-win for everyone.
Words of Encouragement for Dairy Families
So throughout COVID, we've seen some challenging situations happen in the dairy industry.
Do you have any words of encouragement for current dairy farm families?
I think when I talk about COVID and the pandemic that we've been through the last 12 months, I like to talk about the silver lining. I think for dairy, there were a few silver linings that we're very fortunate that came really as a result of COVID. The first and probably best silver lining, is it just gave consumers a window into the fragility of our food system and how important and how essential our dairy farmers and our food workers are.
I think we always knew that dairy farms were essential, but I don't know if consumers always recognize that. I think in many ways they took their food for granted. They went to the grocery store, they knew it would be there, they bought it, as long as there wasn't a snow storm they really didn't worry about it. But with COVID and with the early stages of the pandemic, they really saw how critical and how important farmers and food workers in general are to getting their food to their table.
A couple other silver linings that I saw, is it just gave us an opportunity to see where there's weaknesses and opportunities in our food supply chain and where we can make improvements. I think anytime that something can expose you to where there's opportunities for improvements, it's a good thing. I think that what we went through, like we always talked about this black swan that could swoop into the dairy industry and really affect us, and I think COVID was a black swan that swooped in and really its impact, in many ways, could have been much, much worse than it was.
So it really exposed us to some of our vulnerability without crippling us and gave us the opportunity to learn from this past year. We saw huge volatility in the marketplace because of COVID and it really encouraged many, many more farms to think about risk management. We've seen an increase in the farms using risk management and I would say to stay in the dairy business, you really have to think about risk management, whether it's having cash reserves or using one of the many risk management plans that are out there, you have to think about it. I think COVID made many more farms aware of how critical that was.
I think going forward, I think the words of inspiration I'd offer going forward, is that now we have the opportunity to take what we learned during the past year in this pandemic and mix it. We can kind of take the best of the best. So, I mean, just for instance, in my own job, now we're talking about hosting both in-person and virtual events, and maybe we don't have to drive four hours to have a meeting together.
Maybe there's opportunities to use technology, to coordinate discussion groups with farmers who are like-minded, who share common interests. There's a lot more opportunities because of what we went through to COVID. Now we can kind of take what we learned and take what we've done traditionally, and kind of blend them to find the best.
Rapid Fire Round
You know, I think you definitely hit the spot when you say, it's important to find the silver lining. I know personally, I definitely have, I've enjoyed the last year of being home after work and enjoying meals in my kitchen. Primarily before this in my career, I've done significant travel and so I've been able to find a silver lining as well.
But I do think, I agree with you, I think the first one that you talked about is really important. We were able for the first time to really connect consumers with their food products and sure, there were some challenges in the supply chain, but with some changes and some adjustments, our dairy farmers and farmers in general, were still here, going to work every day and supplying us with those wholesome agricultural products we all have grown to enjoy.
So with that segue, I thought we’d shake up a little bit of the episode and talk about some rapid fire questions. So the first one, again, June is dairy month and we want to celebrate those great dairy treats that we all love so much.
So what's your favorite ice cream treat? Are you a traditional banana split or hot fudge kind of person?
Actually a milkshake is my favorite ice cream treat.
Yeah, I can love a good milkshake too. Absolutely.
What's your go-to bagel topping in the morning cream cheese or butter?
So honestly, you're not going to like this. I eat a bagel every morning, but it has peanut butter on it. But if I had to choose between butter and cream cheese, I would pick cream cheese. But I like peanut butter with a small layer of butter on my bagel.
Hey, I'm sure there's some peanut farmers out there that are really excited that you love your peanut butter.
Would you prefer a loaded baked potato or a plain potato with butter?
Definitely a loaded baked potato. I love sour cream and cheese and bacon and all that good stuff.
So what's your favorite kind of cheese?
I would actually say that it is any combination of the many wonderful artisan cheeses we have out here. We had a summit cheese tasting in February and we got cheese samples from some of the artisan cheese makers across the state, and I remember there was a really good blue cheese from Sue Miller's farm, Birchrun Hills Farm that I absolutely loved.
There was, I can't remember all the names, but there are some really, really good artisan cheeses out there. Now, if you're just talking traditional to use it, you buy at the store, probably sharp cheddar is my favorite, but I think that even that is trumped by those artisan cheeses.
Yeah, I love when you find a good cheese maker. It's always worth the visit, I think.
So cheesecake or ice cream cake?
That's really tough because I love them both, but I would have to say ice cream cake.
Yeah, and shaking it up with the last question, chocolate or strawberry flavored milk?
Or if it's neither of those flavors, which is your favorite flavor?
Indefinitely, chocolate milk is my favorite.
Yeah. It's always good to end the end the day with some good chocolate milk as a nice, great treat.
So Jayne, any upcoming efforts that you'd want to promote or talk about with our listeners today?
Well, I think if you're interested in learning more about the Dairy Excellence Foundation and the great work we've been doing in the schools, with the internships and the scholarship program. I’d invite you to purchase tickets, come out to our Toast to Dairy event.
We're having a Toast to Dairy fundraiser dinner on June 17th at Historic Acres in Hershey. We're going to have cheese and charcuterie board making, we're going to have cheese tasting, we’re going to have wine stations from local wineries, we're also going to have live music and some really, really good food. It'll be a great event for anyone who wants to come. Tickets are on sale now on our website at https://www.centerfordairyexcellence.org/.
I would encourage you to check it out and consider coming, it'll be a really fun evening. We're really excited about it because we haven't been able to do this kind of event for a while. So we're excited to have this one in June.
What Jayne Advocates for in Ag
That sounds like a great opportunity.
So before we wrap up today, what do you advocate for in agriculture?
I think that's a really tough question for me because I actually advocate for dairy and for all of agriculture. I am very passionate about agriculture and about our role in feeding a hungry world. But I would say if I wanted to talk about what I advocate most is really our future.
Sometimes you can get really bogged down by all the negativity out there and if you listen to the naysayers that can really weigh on you. I just see so much opportunity in our future and the young people who are joining our internship programs, who are getting our scholarships, who are part of our Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow program and also in the young people that are in our Discover Dairy program, who are just so excited about meeting their calf for the first time or learning about the dairy farmer, where their calf comes from.
I just think there is so much opportunity that is in our future, in the dairy industry and in all of agriculture, but it's really up to us to seize it, to take advantage of it, to look for the positive and just to inspire that future. It's really at the end of the day up to us.
I always find when I spend time with 4-H youth and I volunteer with them that I always gain a little extra energy from it. I think when we're looking to the future and we're seeing the young people that are either connecting with the commodity that we're producing or they're getting involved in the industry that we're all a part of. It’s so great to see the opportunity open up and to talk about that from a very optimistic approach.
So with that, I'm just going to wrap up today and I want to thank you so much for being our guest today. Remember to pick up some extra dairy treats for your family to enjoy this summer and together let's honor our dairy farm families. For more information about the Center for Dairy Excellence, visit https://www.centerfordairyexcellence.org/.
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