A total of 70 students from 15 southern colleges and universities participated in the fifth annual Southern Regional Dairy Challenge, November 18 through 20 in Tupelo, Miss. The Southern Regional Dairy Challenge is an innovative two-day event designed by professionals from allied industry and university educators to bring classroom training to life in the real world for students preparing for dairy careers.

The Mississippi State University hosted the 2010 contest, drawing participants from Alabama A&M University, Berry College, Clemson University, Eastern Kentucky University, Florida State College at Jacksonville, University of Florida, University of Kentucky, Louisiana State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, Santa Fe College, Southern Illinois University, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia University.

“The regional Dairy Challenge, while offering a competitive format, educates undergraduate students about the dairy industry itself and allows them to apply the concepts they have learned in the classroom to a real farm situation and then defend their practical recommendations,” says contest planning committee co-chair Donna Amaral-Phillips of the University of Kentucky. “Students learn a great deal in the process.”

Platinum Sponsor Johnny Bonnette from Genex Cooperative, Inc. added, "After attending and participating in all five of the Southern Regional Dairy Challenges, I become more enthusiastic each year about the quality, professionalism and enthusiasm of both the student ambassadors and the academic advisors of the participating colleges and universities. With continued success throughout the country with Dairy Challenge, I believe our United States dairy industry will be in good hands for many years to come."

A key objective is to present students with a real-life situation that stresses the importance of teamwork and professionalism. Teams of students from the different universities were formed to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of a working dairy farm. Afterwards, teams presented their analysis and prioritized opportunities for improvement to a panel of expert judges and the dairy owners. Hosts for this year’s Southern Regional Dairy Challenge were Jeremy and Beth Graham, Graham Dairy, Thaxton, MS; and Grandy Ladner & Darren McGee, co-owners, Heritage Dairy Farm, Holly Springs, MS.

What They Did During the Challenge

Students arrived at the Summit Center and Clarion Inn, in Tupelo, MS on the evening of November 18. After check-in and registration, participants were split into mixed-university teams. Teams got to know each other over dinner and then participated in team-building exercises led by Dave Winston from Virginia Tech. Winston worked with students to discover their teams’ strengths and capabilities, examine ingredients of effective teams, and evaluate team members’ personality styles. “I was impressed with the camaraderie that developed among students from different institutions after only being together for such a short period of time,” comments Winston.

Later that evening, teams received detailed production, financial, nutrition and reproduction records. The students had about an hour and a half to review the material and start forming their team strategies.

On Friday morning, the teams left for their farm visit to evaluate cows, facilities and management practices. After a three-hour farm visit, teams returned to the hotel to analyze their data and develop recommendations for improvement. Each team prepared a 20-minute presentation that detailed their observations and suggestions.

The evening concluded with a Rock Band contest at the Lee Country Agri-Center to provide the students a chance to relax and show off their other skills.

On the program’s final day, each team presented its evaluation and recommendations to a panel of industry judges. Teams were ranked as platinum, gold, or silver, based on how well they worked as a team and how effectively their presentations of strengths and opportunities for the dairy operation matched the judges’ evaluations. When teams were not presenting, they toured the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo where they learned about many different types of exotic animals from buffalo to giraffe.

The Dairy Challenge ended with dinner, entertainment and an awards ceremony at the Summit Center and Clarion Inn.

University of Florida will host the 2011 Southern Regional Dairy Challenge. To become a

Southern Regional sponsor, contact Gary Hay at ghay@agcenter.lsu.edu. All contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Contributing sponsors are recognized on the Dairy Challenge web site, as well as programs and news stories issued throughout the year.

The Southern Regional is one of four regional contests under the guidance and support of the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge. The NAIDC mission is to facilitate education, communication and an exchange of ideas among students, agribusiness, dairy producers and universities that enhances the development of the dairy industry and its leaders.

The 2011 National Dairy Challenge contest will be held March 30-April 2 in Hickory, North Carolina. For more information, visit www.dairychallenge.org or contact Dairy Challenge at naidc@wdexpo.com.

Source: North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge