SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – With an aging population of farmers and producers, preparing agriculture’s next generation is more important than ever.
University of Missouri Extension has been teaching dairy producers how to hand over their operations to that next generation. “That’s very important if we want to keep the industry alive,” said Karla Deaver, MU Extension 4-H youth specialist.
Missouri 4-H is also working to create that generation through its annual Dairy Cow Camp.
“We try to keep them excited and interested,” Deaver said. “If we really focus on keeping teenagers involved in the program, then that really inspires them to stay in the industry.”
Keeping young people in the dairy industry is one of goals of the Dairy Revitalization Act, signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in April. Part of the revenue generated from this law will provide scholarships to entice young people to enter the dairy industry after college.
For several days every year, participants come from around Missouri and surrounding states to Dairy Cow Camp. Not only do they learn animal husbandry skills, they also get an opportunity to network.
“In any industry, it’s about knowing people that are doing that and being able to bounce ideas off them. So they make connections to people that live three counties away or three states away,” said Eric Ling of Robthom Farms in Springfield, which hosts the MU Extension 4-H Dairy Cow Camp every year.
A recent MU Extension study took a close look at the dairy industry in Missouri. According to the study, Missouri farms had 226,000 milk cows in 1990. By 2014 that count had fallen to 90,000 cows. The researchers concluded that if dairy is to continue as an economic driver in the Show-Me State, young people will need to be prepared for a career in the dairy industry.
“We’re eager to participate in the Dairy Revitalization Act that Gov. Nixon signed,” said Reagan Bluel, MU Extension dairy specialist and a trainer at the Dairy Cow Camp. “This is an opportunity for MU Extension to help identify the needs of the industry to insure that the dairy industry is able to succeed and continue to flourish and attract younger producers to the state of Missouri.”
Beyond learning the nuts and bolts of the dairy industry, Dairy Cow Camp participants hone their leadership skills too.
“Being at Cow Camp helped them improve in certain life skills like communication, public speaking, teamwork, problem-solving. All things that are marketable and helping prepare our 4-H members to be the leaders of tomorrow,” Deaver said.
Gabrianna Gardner, a Cow Camp volunteer and former participant, says the camp helps pass the agriculture baton to young people.
“I love watching kids learn and grow, especially in agriculture,” she said. “We need more kids in agriculture because agriculture is our future.”
For more information about Missouri 4-H, go to 4h.missouri.edu or contact your local MU Extension center.