For the past 12 years, Robert Hagevoort has helped place the New Mexico State University dairy science program on the map. Hagevoort, an associate professor and Extension dairy specialist at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center at Clovis, joined the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences in 2005. He helped launch the U.S. Dairy Education & Training Consortium in 2008.
Hagevoort, and USDETC co-founding member Michael Tomaszewski of Texas A&M University, were recently honored by The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy at its annual ceremony in Chicago. Hagevoort, Tomaszewski and the USDETC received the 2017 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Honorable Mention Award. The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards recognize outstanding dairy farms, businesses and partnerships for socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound practices.
“From a sustainability perspective, we need to adequately educate, train and prepare our future dairy owners, managers and workers in order for this industry to become even better at what it already does,” Hagevoort said. “The industry needs a sustainable and more technically prepared workforce, because agriculture and dairying are no exception and are becoming increasingly technical and computerized. We now have robotic milking and feeding systems, electronic IDs and monitoring systems for cows.”
And Hagevoort said it’s important for Extension Services to be a leader in workforce development.
“It’s not just about the number of people reached through Extension, it’s about the quality of outreach and education,” he said. “We have fewer and fewer resources, but greater and greater demands. How can we do more with less? That’s sustainability. It’s about utilizing resources more effectively. It’s about more effective outreach, training and education for current and upcoming producers and industry professionals, especially with more and more people in agriculture who no longer come from an agricultural background and weren’t raised on the farm.”
Hagevoort has been instrumental in rebuilding the dairy science program at NMSU. The six-week USDETC hands-on training course is held as a capstone course for college students each summer at the Clovis Community College. Over 400 students from 48 universities around the world have completed the class since its inception in 2008. From these graduates who have since entered the workforce, one out of three students is now working on or managing a dairy, while two out of three students have found employment in the dairy industry.
“We’re able to draw NMSU students to the Dairy Consortium in Clovis, where students visit 20 to 30 different dairies in those six weeks,” Hagevoort said. “They learn different management styles that are all very progressive. This experience provides the students with a toolbox of ideas.”
Josh Hoffmann was a student in the very first USDETC class in 2008. At the award ceremony, he shared his story about how the Dairy Consortium helped shape who he has become today.
“Those six weeks opened my eyes to a career in dairy farming,” Hoffmann said, as part of his speech. “This program has had a long-term impact on my career, teaching me about the many facets of dairy and allowing me to learn about modern dairy practices at a large scale. After I graduated, I began working for a breeding company, and now I run one of the largest organic dairies in the country.
“As a kid from the suburbs, the Dairy Consortium was an opportunity that was integral to my education. Dr. H and Dr. T’s work with the Dairy Consortium is vital to the future of the industry.”
Jerry Hawkes, department head for NMSU Extension Animal Sciences and Natural Resources and interim associate dean/director of academic programs, said the award emphasizes Hagevoort’s dedication and the importance of the Dairy Consortium.
“The recognition that Dr. Hagevoort and his team received is a reflection of dedication, excellence and a unique passion for the dairy industry,” Hawkes said. “The educational and experiential learning opportunities that each student gains throughout the Dairy Consortium facilitates the growth and sustainability of a very important sector of the agricultural community.”