MSU North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge team wins fourth consecutive national title

Ten MSU students refined analytical, communication and dairy science skills at the national event.

Ten MSU students and their two coaches posing for an awards photo.
Representing MSU at the 2022 North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge Contest were (back row standing, from left): Coach Dr. Joe Domecq, Drew Neyer, Derek Vanderhoff, Katie Wilson, Mikayla Bowen, Jessie Nash, Coach Dr. Roger Thomson, (front row sitting, from left): Chase Rievert, Emily Ockerman, Rachael Bosse, Brooke Voelker, and Samantha Whitehead. Photo courtesy of Molly Kelley.

For the fourth year in a row, a team of four Michigan State University (MSU) students earned first place in their division at the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge Contest (NAIDC). In the 20th year of the event, the NAIDC contest was held March 31 - April 2 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Twenty-four teams from 22 universities across the United States and Canada competed in four divisions. 

Members of the winning team were: Jessie Nash, a senior studying agricultural, food and resource economics from Elsie, Michigan; Mikayla Bowen, a junior in the animal science dairy concentration from Addison, Michigan; Katie Wilson, a junior in the animal science dairy concentration from Blanchard, Michigan; and Derek Vanderhoff, a senior studying agricultural, food and resource economics from Hillsdale, Michigan. Bowen, Nash and Wilson all started their academic careers at MSU in the Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) dairy program. The team was coached by Dr. Roger Thomson, an academic specialist in the Department of Animal Science. 

Dairy Challenge, which was started at MSU in 2001, is a competition where students work in teams to evaluate dairy operations. Over two days, students are given herd data, financial records, visit the dairy, and interview the dairy producer and staff. Students then prepare a comprehensive presentation of their findings and include solutions for areas of improvement on farm. Solutions and recommendations must be practical and financially sound. Presentations are evaluated by a panel of dairy industry experts and consultants.   

In addition to the national Dairy Challenge contest, the NAIDC concurrently hosts the Dairy Challenge Academy. The goal of the academy is to provide an extended learning environment for college sophomore, juniors and seniors in four-year dairy science programs, community colleges and technical schools. These students work in mixed teams across universities and are guided by mentors as they evaluate dairy operations and build a presentation.

This year, Dairy Challenge Academy participants from MSU included Drew Neyer, a sophomore in the animal science dairy concentration from Shepherd, Michigan; Samantha Whitehead, a sophomore in the animal science dairy concentration from Corunna, Michigan; Rachael Bosse, a sophomore in the animal science dairy concentration from Dorr, Michigan; Emily Ockerman, a junior in the animal science dairy concentration from Davison, Michigan; Brooke Voelker, a junior in the animal science dairy concentration from Paris, Michigan; and Chase Rievert, a junior in animal science from Sebewaing, Michigan. Academy students were guided by Dr. Joe Domecq, an academic specialist and the coordinator of dairy education programs in the Department of Animal Science.

Reflecting on a successful 2022 program, Dr. Thomson had much to say.

“Exiting from almost two years of virtual instruction, it has been great to return to face-to-face learning and participate in experiential activities like Dairy Challenge. The 2022 MSU National Dairy Challenge team had some catching up to do regarding their dairy farm walk through skills. They also carried the burden of wanting to continue the string of first place ratings. The members of the 2022 team worked extremely hard starting in the fall of 2021 and continued into the spring semester with weekend practices on top of their regular classroom work. Their success is the result of the teamwork and effort they put toward their goal of winning a first-place rating. I am so proud of their efforts and happy for the results they earned.”

Students agree participating in the NAIDC is a highly valuable experience, not only for improving practical skills related to dairy farm analysis, but also as a networking opportunity with industry professionals nationwide and engaging with like-minded peers.

“The Dairy Challenge Competition has been the most substantial educational dairy experience I have received here at MSU,” said Bowen. “Each educational aspect, from the public speaking to the teamwork, and even consulting with producers is something I will carry-on with me into my future career. Having this hands-on learning approach is incredible.”

“Dairy Challenge was one of the hardest things I've ever done but also the most rewarding” agreed Wilson. “The analytical and presentation skills and confidence that I have gained will be invaluable in my future.”

The MSU team would not have been successful without the support of many Michigan dairy partners. Dairy farms that opened their doors to provide a practice space for this year’s teams were: Green Meadow Dairy Farm in Elsie, Michigan; the MSU Dairy Teaching and Research Center; Hickory Gable Dairy in Hastings, Michigan; and Sunset Dairy in Allenton, Wisconsin.

In addition, this activity could not happen without financial support provided annually by the Michigan Dairy Memorial Endowment, the Roger and Marjorie Mellenberger Dairy Endowment, and the Hazel Dairy Memorial Endowment. Additional sponsorship is provided by the following corporate partners: ABS Global, ADM Alliance Nutrition, Agri-King Nutrition, Attalee Brix, Avon Hi-Life, Caledonia Elevator, Cargill, CentralStar Cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, Diamond V Mills, Greenstone Farm Credit, Hi-Tech Dairy Supply, Michigan Milk Producer Association, Nobis Agri-Science, Prince Agri-Products, Purina/Land O’Lakes, VitaPlus and Zinpro Corporation.

For more information on the regional and national NAIDC events, visit the Dairy Challenge website or their Facebook page. For more information about MSU participation in the MSU Dairy Challenge, the Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge or the National Dairy Challenge, contact Dr. Thomson at thomso75@msu.edu.

The 21st annual NAIDC and Dairy Challenge Academy will take place in Saratoga Springs, New York in April 2023.

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