Young Farmer: Preparing for a future on the dairy farm

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click image to zoomYoung FarmerMatt Harnish is a participant in the Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow program. Although his family sold their dairy herd, he has aspirations to resume dairy farming, and already has plans on how he will manage his future 150-cow herd. Challenging classes, a modern perspective, improved decision-making abilities, and the hands-on approach are just some of the phrases you would hear sophomore Matt Harnish use to describe what he loves about the Dairy Leaders of Tomorrow (DLT) program. The program, successfully piloted in 20 high schools during 2012-2013, is available throughout all of Pennsylvania now. It offers business and herd management classes to students interested in the dairy industry.

Along with his parents, Barry and Vicki, and his younger sister Erin, Matt has lived on a dairy farm in Willow Street, Lancaster County, Pa., for the past 13 years.

We milked 90 cows in a double-four herringbone parlor, along with raising about 60 replacement heifers,” he said. When his parents recently decided to sell the cows, “it was bittersweet to see them leave.”

Matt is confident he will one day be milking cows again. To prepare for that future, he has enrolled in the DLT curriculum. Two years ago, he stumbled upon an advertisement that introduced him to the program. After looking into all the course had to offer, he was excited to sign up.

“I had no idea what kind of opportunities were about to be unveiled,“ he said.

Since entering the program, Matt has participated in several DLT classes, workshops and in an on-site farm tour.

“There were 35 students who went on the tour to three dairy farms last April. I specifically remember the farmer on the second farm we visited,” he said. It was Mercer Vu Farms that created a lasting impression on Matt.

“I was in awe of the cow quality, the flush system for manure removal, the comfortable sand bedding and the sand separator,” he recalled. “I was inspired by the fact that, to dairy, I have to be open to doing things differently. I came away with a new appreciation that there is more than one way to do business. The bottom line is that if change is not taking place on a dairy, it will be hard to stay productive, efficient and profitable.”

Although Matt still has two years of high school left, he has big ambitions. To further challenge himself after high school, he is looking to attend college to obtain a two-year degree in dairy science. He is using past experiences, skills and the ideas he took away from the on-site tours, as well as various other information, and is already planning how he will operate his future 150-cow dairy farm.

“I love cows in general. It has become a part of my life, not just an after school job, and that is why I want to stay in it!” he exclaimed.

Harnish challenges any high school student who has a passion for agriculture and the dairy industry to enroll in DLT. It is a one-of-a-kind curriculum that has allowed him to experience the industry he loves in a variety of ways. The curriculum includes industry-recognized certifications in both herd management and dairy business management.

“It’s more than just about milking cows,” he said. “The DLT curriculum has shown me all the different career paths available within a dairy farm that someone can specialize in doing. I know that I must continue to learn to develop as a future leader in the dairy industry. The DLT program has me well on the way of achieving that goal.”

Editor's note: Amie Howes is a communication specialist with the Center for Dairy Excellence.

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