The Dairy Challenge concept was born on a local Michigan level in 1999. The inspiration came from industry partners who wanted to support training of undergraduate students in evaluating dairy farms and eventually hire them. Their vision was a program in which teams of students performed on-farm troubleshooting and analysis with awards given to the most outstanding team effort.

The concept provided a timely opportunity to identify a benchmark for skills and knowledge that students needed before graduating from MSU’s dairy science program. Miriam Weber Nielsen led efforts to develop the program. Working with the industry partners, Miriam, Joe Domecq, and Dave Beede developed a plan to take farm evaluation activities in MSU’s dairy courses to a new level. Cargill Animal Nutrition supported the first local MSU Dairy Challenge in February 2000. The event was very well received by the host farm, students, sponsors and faculty, in spite of the farm visit taking place in the middle of a blizzard. We learned a lot that first year. In the subsequent years, MSU Dairy Challenge contests grew progressively larger as the word spread among students and the industry, yielding novice, advanced, Ag Tech and veterinary student divisions with presentations evaluated by industry partners. Generous sponsorship was provided by Michigan’s dairy industry.

The success of Michigan State’s contests in 2000-2002 stimulated development of a similar event at The Ohio State University. As interest grew in further expanding the successful event, Miriam, Joe, and Dave worked with industry partners in Michigan and across the country to host the first North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge in 2002 at MSU. Over time, the Dairy Challenge grew to include an annual national contest, 4 regionals, the Dairy Challenge Academy and a veterinary student contest. The ability of the program to benefit all involved and the outstanding teamwork among universities, agribusiness and dairy farms served as a strong foundation to grow the Dairy Challenge and strengthen the future of the dairy industry.

This simple idea was the genesis for what has become the annual North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge contest, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022.  It currently attracts up to 36 four person teams from dairy focused universities in the US and Canada to a common location to compete.

The driving force that turned this classroom exercise into a yearly event has been the support of the many company’s that are involved in the dairy industry.  Representatives from these companies were the source of judges to evaluate the team’s presentations from the beginning.  This allowed the instructors to receive a non-biased evaluation of the team's report.  It allowed the companies an opportunity to meet and watch the students present their evaluation.  This created a new channel for students to find jobs upon graduation.  And it continues.