Eleven Michigan youth participate in the 2015 National 4-H Dairy Conference

The National 4-H Dairy Conference provides youth with a unique leadership experience and nation-wide dairy industry contacts.

Michigan delegates. Back: Carmen Hicks, Mason Horning, Tom Cook, Joshua Markel, Veronica Meyer. Middle: Madeline Meyer, Forrest Nash, Cameron Cook, Jenna Kingsley. Front: Hope McAlvey, Allison Schafer, Mackenzie Delong, Melissa Elischer, Kristen Burkhardt.

Michigan delegates. Back: Carmen Hicks, Mason Horning, Tom Cook, Joshua Markel, Veronica Meyer. Middle: Madeline Meyer, Forrest Nash, Cameron Cook, Jenna Kingsley. Front: Hope McAlvey, Allison Schafer, Mackenzie Delong, Melissa Elischer, Kristen Burkhardt.

Every October, approximately 200 youth from across the United States and Canada convene on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus for a four-day conference focused on the dairy industry. The National 4-H Dairy Conference has been providing a unique leadership opportunity to delegates for over 60 years and still going strong. This year, eleven Michigan 4-H youth and three adult volunteers traveled almost 800 miles round trip to participate in this once in a lifetime experience for youth.

The conference started in 1955 with 85 youth from nine states meeting in Chicago, Illinois, at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Education was the focus of the conference, with industry speakers addressing the youth delegates. The conference remained in Chicago for 15 years, but was moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1970, taking place concurrently with the World Dairy Expo.

Forty-five years after moving to Madison, education is still the main focus of this youth event. Numerous tours take place, allowing delegates to discover career options they may not have thought of before. Tours this year included ABS Global, the National Dairy Shrine, Nasco, W.D. Hoard And Sons Printing Company, Hoard’s Dairyman and Hoard’s Dairyman Farm. Guest speakers joined the delegates during meals to talk about sharing agricultural stories, industry communications and trends, and educational options after high school. There was a session on dairy food science with Bob Horton from The Ohio State University and a tour of the University of Wisconsin Department of Food Science facilities.

Farm tours were another stop during the conference. Youth had the opportunity to tour a small, father-son farm and a larger dairy and farmstead cheese operation owned and operated by the four Crave Brothers. The conference ended with an afternoon spent at the World Dairy Expo where youth watched the breed shows take place, “visited” a farm with a virtual dairy tour, explored the trade show and interacted with other dairy enthusiasts.

What makes this conference most unique is the youth largely lead the event. Every delegate is appointed to a team that either ensures travel for the day will run smoothly, meets and greets guests joining the conference for a meal, creates thank you baskets for sponsors or helps with recreation and encourages youth to mix with delegates from other states. Youth are actively engaged, learning about the dairy industry on a national and global scale, as well as further developing life skills.

Five of the 11 youth attending the conference had their trip sponsored by the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) after participating in the 4-H/MMPA Milk Marketing Tour. The tour occurs every June at MMPA headquarters in Novi, Michigan. The 2016 tour is set for June 15-16; check the Michigan State University Extension website for more information and registration opening in early spring. Michigan also had the distinct honor of having one of our 2015 delegates, Madeline Meyer, return as Planning Committee member for the 2016 conference.

Mackenzie Delong of Lapeer County was one of the MMPA sponsored youth. In thinking back on her experience at the National 4-H Dairy Conference, she shared, “It was an amazing trip that I will never forget. I learned a lot about the different fields in the dairy industry. During the seminars, I was able to put my hand in the rumen of a cow and feel the stomach contractions. I would highly recommend this conference to anyone that wants to learn more about the opportunities in the dairy industry.”

The 2016 National 4-H Dairy Conference will be at the end of September with registration opening in early July. For more information regarding the Michigan delegation attending the conference, please contact me, 4-H dairy educator, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 517-432-4306.

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