By Olivia Norton ’16
Dr. Michael Tomaszewski is a visiting professor and professor emeritus of dairy science in the Department of Animal Science. In this role, he taught a campus-based and web-based introductory dairy management course for many years. He currently serves as the coordinator of the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium (formerly known as the Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium Teaching program). The USDETC is a multi-university organization formed to meet the educational and training needs of the U.S. dairy industry.
Dr. Tomaszewski tells about how he got involved in the dairy industry, explains his current role in the USDETC and the future of the consortium.
When and how did you get involved in the dairy industry?
I grew up on my father’s dairy farm in western Massachusetts. But at a relatively young age, a shift in dairy production moved from milk cans to tanks incurring major expenses for farmers along the way. While my home dairy decided to forgo the change, my uncle owned a similar farm which allowed me to maintain an interest in milk production throughout the remainder of my childhood.
Your choice to pursue a future in the agricultural industry took you across the country. How did you become a member of our Aggie family?
I received an associate’s degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts, one of the oldest and most prestigious agricultural programs in the country. My bachelor’s degree took me across the country to Colorado State University where I was encouraged to continue my education in the dairy cattle industry. After graduation, I returned to Massachusetts to earn my master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts followed by a doctorate from North Carolina State University in dairy cattle breeding.
While completing my master’s degree, I worked in the office of production testing which is the forerunner of the Dairy Herd Improvement program. I remained connected to that program during my time at North Carolina as I worked with dairy records and the regional dairy records processing center located at NC State. (The Dairy Herd Improvement association works with industry officials around the country to maintain and improve DHI records, organize communication between professionals and farmers both nationally and internationally, and coordinating research to further understanding of the dairy sector.) In 1975, J. W. Davis, who oversaw the DHI program in Texas, retired which opened the door for me to move to College Station where I have remained for my entire career.
As a faculty member, you’ve taught classes and served as an Extension dairy specialist. In 2006 you initiated an on-line introductory dairy science course and in 2008, you took on the additional task of coordinator of the Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium (recently renamed U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium). Explain what caused you to initiate these efforts.
Universities in the Southern Great Plains region were all cutting back on their dairy programs. No university had a strong dairy program, nor a herd of cows or adequate facilities with which large herd management training can be done. Dairy production faculty were retiring and few universities were refilling those positon with dairy educators. This was happening at the same time the industry in the Southern Great Plains was expanding, primarily due to the construction of two very large cheese plants in Portales, NM, and Dalhart, TX. Without facilities, I and the department head at the time, Dr. Gary Acuff, decided to see if an introductory course could be developed as an on-line course at Texas A&M. Historically, the classroom taught course had 15 to 20 students. The last year (2013) that I taught the course, 250 students were enrolled. Although, this course addressed introductory dairy science, nothing was available for students with added interest in dairy science and no university herd existed at which students could learn/practice hands-on dairy management practices.
With alarming statistics such as these, I began work to educate tomorrow’s dairy professionals by way of the Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium-Teaching. Inspired by similar consortiums in the poultry field, I reached out to animal science programs at the University of Arizona and New Mexico State University in search of a solution. Both universities expressed interest in founding an educational program to further the growing dairy industry despite declining university dairy programs. We were able to put together a program for students with an interest in dairy production that received tremendous backing from the agricultural industry. We were also fortunate to receive a USDA grant. Ultimately, the consortium supplies individuals with some of the training required to pursue a career in dairy management.
What does the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium look like today?
The consortium has grown into a nationally recognized center of excellence for larger dairy herd education and training. The program was started in 2008 and we had 18 students from six universities participate. This last year, we welcomed 46 students from 17 universities and three countries. The consortium continues to emphasize the cornerstones of large herd management with topics such as reproductive strategies, mastitis and milk quality issues, genetics, dairy cattle feeding and general management. To keep pace with the evolving dynamics of the dairy industry, we expanded our topics this year to include leadership development, managing the work force and the inclusion of women into the dairy workforce.
Also, in 2014, the program received its first large financial commitments towards our endowment goal. CoBank committed $25,000 per year over a four-year period with an additional $12,500 per year provided by Farm Credit of New Mexico. When the endowment is completed, the consortium will have the financial stability needed to be sustainable.
Planning is underway for the 2015 consortium. Deadline to apply is approaching quickly, Feb. 27, 2015. If you are interested in applying or desire to learn more about the dairy consortium, visit our website at http://usdetc.tamu.edu/.
For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, contact Courtney Coufal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.