When Bel Brands USA, the Chicago-based snack and gourmet cheese manufacturer, chose Brookings for the location of their third plant, South Dakota State University's Dairy Science Department and SDSU Extension played an important role in their decision.
"In addition to milk availability, we needed access to local talent we could recruit as well as research and development. Because of SDSU we had access to both," said Francine Moudry, project director for Bel Brands USA.
Bel Brands' experience is not unique, explained Barry Dunn, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences and Director of SDSU Extension. "It all comes down to fulfilling the Land Grant mission of education, research and outreach," said Dunn of how SDSU provides South Dakota agri-businesses with a professional, agriculture-focused talent pool while at the same time, SDSU Extension, the Land Grant's outreach arm, supplies research-based information.
"We've built strong relationships throughout the agricultural industry and, with 100 years of experience, we're good at adapting to its changing needs," Dunn said. "Within the College of Agriculture we have strong degree programs, cutting edge research and SDSU Extension specialists who work directly with producers and agribusiness to share research-based information and provide support."
Dunn points to the Dairy Science Department and SDSU Extension Dairy Specialists as an example of how the Land Grant system works to not only increase the state's overall milk production but also provide the professional talent necessary to attract local markets, like Bel Brands to South Dakota.
"SDSU is one of only two universities in the nation to have degrees in both dairy production as well as manufacturing," Dunn said. "And, because of leadership's close connection to industry, we are able to quickly adapt education and research."
This proactive model pays off in high demand for graduates of the Dairy Science Department, resulting in 100 percent job placement and competitive starting salaries of $50,000-plus.
"We produce graduates, research and education to help the industry grow. These pieces work together and are key to moving the entire industry forward," said Vikram Mistry, Professor and Head of Dairy Science Dept.
Mistry explained that in the early 2000s, as the average size of dairies across the state began to increase, the labor force demographics changed, and milk quality needed to be addressed"SDSU Extension quickly recognized that dairy production wasn't only about milking cows, it was also about managing the people who milked cows," Mistry said.