Dairy Cows

Cattle roaming on the fields near Plantation Road, March 24, 2019.

The dairy industry in America is suffering a hit according to Katharine Knowlton, a professor in the dairy science department at Virginia Tech. Many dairy science majors at Virginia Tech are personally affected by the downfall of the industry.

“Almost half of our kids (dairy science students) go into herd and farm management on their home farm or another,” Knowlton said.

There are many contributing factors to the decline in the industry, including the over-production of dairy milk and less of a demand for dairy products, according to Knowlton.

Catherine Savage, a sophomore majoring in dairy science, said that the trend lowers the value of milk, which means less income for her family’s dairy farm.

In February, Savage found out that her family was selling their dairy farm. She always had the prospects of returning home to work the family farm, but now she is forced to alter her graduation goals.

Kavita Bushong, a sophomore, and Katelyn Allen, a senior, both dairy science majors at Virginia Tech, weighed in on the situation and pointed out that on top of trying to stay afloat economically, they also have to abide by certain regulations that can become another burden.

Allen’s farm is in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. The environmental regulations are especially important being so close to a large water source.

“The decrease in income from the fluctuating milk market has negatively impacted my family,” Bushong said. “We not only have to think about the farm and the cows in the short-run, but also the profitability in the long-run if the industry continues to have years of low milk prices.”

In addition to the financial hit, Bushong, Allen and Savage all mentioned the guilt they feel asking for money for college. All three students are active in finding scholarships and money through work in order to pay for school. Thankfully, there are many sponsors in the dairy industry that have grants in place to encourage young farmers to further their education.

This past October, Savage, Allen and Bushong were all on the Virginia Tech dairy-judging team, which select cows and evaluate their dairy production performance. It is through this experience that Savage says she was able to make some professional connections. After graduation, she aspires to possibly work in animal livestock reproduction and starting her own small dairy farm one day. Allen said that in a perfect world, she would love to return to her farm and manage the operations, but before she does that, she is planning to give back to her community by teaching agriculture in the public schools.

Bushong, like many Virginia Tech agricultural students, is pushing for veterinary school. The dairy science department offers a specific track for aspiring veterinarian students. Bushong is hoping to specialize in dairy cows.

The dairy science department at Virginia Tech is one of three in the country. Although the industry is taking a dive, the next generation of students are hopeful that the industry will survive in the future.

“I stay optimistic because I see a continued need for our products, even though the market might adjust in certain products,” Allen said. “Plus, the industry is made of really innovative people who find a way to make things work, so that’s a good sign for our future.”

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