Larissa Neugebauer of Dimock, S.D., and Bethany Chapman of Winfred, S.D., both think the dairy industry in South Dakota is starting to boom.
Both South Dakota State University dairy science department seniors also plan to be a part of it.
Neugebauer, whose father, Jim, and brother, Ben, milk 55 Holsteins west of Dimock, is undecided on her career after she graduates this year, but she is part of a group of students almost assured of a job as the dairy industry experiences a shortage of trained professionals, according to David Casper, SDSU assistant professor of dairy science.
“The dairy industry is becoming more knowledge intensive and technical, and we need more people who have those qualifications,” Casper said. “That’s why I’m so fired up about SDSU and the dairy science department. We’re very good at training people on how to feed a cow. You can get a doctorate degree at other universities, but you still don’t know how to feed an animal.”
Neugebauer said she might want to be involved with Extension 4-H and work with kids, but she eventually might take the technical knowledge she gained at SDSU and return to the family farm.
“This is a great program to get kids ready for a future in the dairy industry,” she said about the SDSU program, which has a newly remodeled office and classroom building and a year-old newly expanded dairy manufacturing facility attached to the building.
It is one of only two dairy science departments in the nation with a processing facility directly associated with the department. The other is Cal Poly in California.
Chapman, originally from Wyoming, is going in a different direction in her career, which she planned out with her mom, Roxane. They plan an expansion of a dairy goat milking and cheese-making business.
The two already have 12 Alpine goats. They aren’t selling the milk yet, but only making cheese. However, when Chapman graduates, she plans to have a larger herd in place and start selling the milk at local farmers markets in Sioux Falls, Brookings and Mitchell.
“There’s a very big market out there,” she said.
She wouldn’t say the goat milk is better than from a dairy cow, but she said the key is to drink it fresh within three days to avoid a “goaty taste.”
Both seniors know of fellow students who are planning either to join their family’s dairy operation, start their own or work in the industry in South Dakota.
Chapman said the new Bel Brands dairy facility under construction in Brookings has a few of her classmates excited about wanting to work there.
However, she said another couple of students are planning to head to New York state to work in the industry there.
The point Casper wants to make, however, is that “there are jobs there that aren’t getting filled. I routinely get calls from recruiters looking for people.”
The shortage is “already here. I’ve experienced it, and talking to other colleagues in the industry, they are experiencing it, too.”
Casper, who joined the SDSU staff as a professor and researcher last year, previously worked for 14 years as vice president for nutrition for Agri-King, where he gained a lot of contacts in the industry.
He got his master’s and doctoral degrees from SDSU in the 1980s, so he is in familiar territory and knows what a degree can do in getting in a job.
With Bel Brands coming to Brookings, Casper said the industry needs not only 15,000 more cows to join the estimated 90,000 already in the state at 450 dairies to supply milk, but also a support structure to assist the dairy producers as they expand or move into the area, mostly along the booming I-29 corridor from northern South Dakota south into northwestern Iowa.
Casper sees SDSU as becoming even more of a regional training university. He said the University of Nebraska in Lincoln shut down its dairy farm, although Iowa State University in Ames has a new dairy and is adding people back into its program.
Casper said with the newly remodeled facilities on campus at SDSU, the next step will be to work on the dairy farm two miles north of the campus, where there was 150 brown Swiss and Holsteins being milked.
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, in an interview last month, said South Dakota is the most cost-effective place in the nation to produce milk considering the price of milk, availability of feed, labor costs and what it would take to get a facility up and running.
“If anyone can make money in dairy, we can do it in South Dakota,” she said.
As for dairy policy that needs approval in Congress in Washington, D.C., to help out, she said the provisions in the farm bill so far are controversial, with dairy producers on one side and processors on the other.
She calls the newly renovated SDSU facilities a big win for South Dakota.
Vikram Mistry, who heads the SDSU department, said there are about 85 students currently majoring in dairy science with either a manufacturing or production emphasis. The students come from about a dozen states.
Mistry, who has led the department for the past 10 years, said the number of students is up this year, and he added that he would like to surpass the 100-student mark.
He said SDSU student job placement already is at 100 percent and added that the multiple job offers SDSU students receive is an indication of the shortage of trained professionals in the industry.
Although it’s a tough time in the dairy industry because of feed troubles and milk prices paid to farmers, he said that the profitability will return and that South Dakota seems positioned as one of the better places for new and expanded dairies requiring more trained professionals.
Casper emphasized that point.
“There is a career here, and we need to pull in kids and tell them that we need you if you are interested,” he said.
Nationwide, other agricultural jobs also are expected to grow substantially in the next five years.
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said an increase of 35,900 jobs in agriculture will be created by 2018. That would be an increase of 16 percent from 2008.