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Farming mentor program helps set younger generation up for success

Posted: 5:03 PM, Feb 05, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-05 18:25:37-05
Farming Mentor Program 2
Farming Mentor Program 1
Farming Mentor Program 3

NEW HOLSTEIN (NBC26) - It's a passion, a love, and a drive to be a part of today's Wisconsin dairy industry.

"We aren't growing dairy kids anymore and it's a challenge to teach some of those dairy ethics, like a strong work ethic and being fully engaged in what you’re doing,” said Deb Reinhart of Gold Star Dairy Farms L.L.C. “I can teach the skill, but I cannot teach that attitude.”

Gold Star Dairy currently milks 500 cows. Deb and her husband David have been on the farm for 45 years, which they operate alongside their son Josh and Manuel Valenzuela.

“The dairy I live on now is not the dairy I came to in 1975,” Reinhart said.

That’s why Reinhart chooses to be a part of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin’s mentor program. The program is for post-secondary education students aspiring to be a part of the farming industry. Wednesday, UW-Madison junior Emma Gwidt shadowed the farm in New Holstein. The Pulaski-native is looking to learn everything she to help her be successful after college.

"I'm interested in the repro-genetic side of things,” said Gwidt who is studying dairy science with a certificate in agriculture business. “So I’m hoping to spend more time with the herd manager to see what his goals are for the future here.”

This is Emma’s second year in the PDPW program where she gets to spend at least a day, shadowing a local farm. Last year, she was matched with a farm in Door County. Gwidt said she’s hoping to take that experience and expand it, as she spends the day with Reinhart.

"Growing up on a small dairy I don't think I was exposed to some of the management practices that are on large dairies like this one,” Gwidt said, who grew up on a 120 cow dairy. “So I thought this was a really valuable program to be immersed in, more of the different protocols used on the farm throughout Wisconsin.”

The mentor program started in 1996 offering students an opportunity to get hands-on experience at farms around the state. Emily Franke, the communications and outreach intern for PDPW, works with students to match them with local farms.

"Any opportunity to get to go on a farm is a great opportunity as it is,” Franke said.

Franke said this year Emma is 1 out of 81 students involved. It’s a record high for the program; some farms, taking on more than one student.

“We’re seeing a lot more students come in to ag-related fields not growing up on a dairy. I think they want to get as much experience on a dairy as possible,” she added. “This program is no cost to the students. The only cost is for gas in their car to go to the farm.”

To be matched with farms, students fill out a form with their interests. Those can range from topics like cow or calf care, herd management, genetics or feed. Reinhart who has been a mentor with the program for years, has plenty of advice and wisdom to share.

"We believe it's really important to invest in the next generation and to grow those around us both on our dairy and off our dairy,” Reinhart said.

Reinhart adds, some of the best advice she can give not only comes from the hands-on experience, but from behind the scenes.

"After being in the dairy business for 45 years, I will tell you I spend the bulk of my day in an office looking at numbers, looking at trends, looking at cost of production, looking at what it costs me to raise a calf, what rented land is costing me, what a crop is costing me to raise,” she said. “So that business background I think is critical.”

Another piece of advice she shares is the importance of making connections, whether you’re in the dairy business or not. She also adds, learning Spanish in today’s industry is a very strong tool to have.
Emma shadowed Reinhart all of Wednesday, adding she’s not quite sure where she wants to end up after graduating, but the program is giving her a better understanding of where she wants to be. This experience is something Reinhart said she’s grateful to provide.

“This generation is the best and the brightest,” Reinhart added. “They are so much smarter than I coming out of college. I believe education, having all sorts of experiences and not to just put on your resume, but to really engage in a variety of experiences.”

Franke said students are welcome to continue shadowing with their mentors as long as they want. At the end of the program, they’re required to write a one-page essay about what they learned. Then, all students and mentors are invited to their annual business conference in March to reconnect.