The National Dairy Foods Research Center program not only helps drive innovation in dairy products, but is also securing a future workforce. And one expert says those dairy science graduates have little trouble finding employment in one of three majors: dairy production, manufacturing, and food science.
“What’s unique is that we’re a farm-to-product program that offers students hands-on training,” said Dr. Vikram Mistry, who heads the Dairy and Food Science Department at South Dakota State University (SDSU). “For this reason, graduates have an incredible opportunity for placement – in fact, 100 percent placement. I’ve been here since 1986 and have seen that most students graduate with one to five job offers within the industry.
SDSU is part of the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center along with the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of Missouri, and University of Nebraska.
The other centers are:
- California: Cal Poly State University
- Northeast: Cornell University
- Southeast: North Carolina State University
- Western: Utah State University, Brigham Young University, Oregon State University, Texas A&M, University of Idaho, and Weber State University
- Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Since 1987, these centers have received financial support from national and local dairy checkoffs. They collaborate with farmer-founded organizations National Dairy Council, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and U.S. Dairy Export Council. Processors and manufacturers also provide financial resources to the centers.
Each center has its own proficiencies. Some have food safety expertise while another may be the go-to source for cheese production or ingredients. All have the facilities and technical experts needed to help the industry improve or introduce products into the marketplace. They accelerate innovation, helping the checkoff’s goal of providing consumers with the products they want and enjoy.
“What’s so important about this network are the research outcomes that are helping to drive innovation, plus the pipeline of dairy leaders and advocates that are developed by these centers,” said Bill Graves, Senior Vice President of Product Research for National Dairy Council. “That’s your future workforce. Ultimately, they are the people who are implementing the outcomes of the research who are driving innovation and leading companies in the marketplace.”
SDSU has built a reputation for its processing ingenuity, with students creating cheese that pushes the imagination. One student recently created Jack Daniels Cheese while another produced maple bacon cheese.
Mistry gives a nod to John Haberkorn for providing a life-like experience for students. Haberkorn is a 1985 SDSU graduate who spent 30 years in the field before returning to manage the Davis Dairy Plant at his alma mater.
“That in itself is a statement to the value of our program,” Mistry said. “When he came back, he brought extensive industry experience and that’s what he’s practicing here and teaching students.”
Products such as Jack Daniels Cheese and other student-created products are sold at the campus’ Dairy Bar. Some also are available at area grocery stores.
Similar experiences are happening at the university’s 130-cow dairy farm, managed by another SDSU graduate, Pete Linke. Mistry said the program specializes in nutrition research and was at the forefront of learning how to convert distillers grain and other byproducts into cattle feed.
Mistry said experiences such as these would not be possible without support from the checkoff and processors. He said many students also have benefited from scholarships awarded annually by the National Dairy Board.
“This is the type of partnership that we dream of,” Mistry said. “Farmers (and importers) are investing their hard-earned dollars in us, so we can generate new information and human resource capital for the future to keep our industry strong. We are very thankful and fortunate to have this type of relationship and I hope the farmers see value in it as well.”