Training U

Written by Kara Petrovic

Students pursuing degrees in agriculture are combining academic work with hands-on training on university dairies

After a full night of studying, Haley Hines wills her eyes open as her alarm sounds in the predawn hours. Fighting her body’s urge to throw the covers over her head, she turns to silence the ringing. Tossing blankets aside, she swings her legs over the edge of the bed.

It’s 4:30 a.m. and she’s up, donning her coveralls and boots. In less than 15 minutes, she’s ready and heads for the front door, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. It’s not only a ritual Hines says she’s become accustomed to every other morning, but a responsibility.

She reaches the College of the Ozarks’ (C of O) dairy barn, which sits just outside of Branson, Mo., with 10 minutes to spare before her herdsman shift begins. For the next 3½ hours before venturing to class at 9 a.m., Hines will work alongside other students to ensure the dairy’s herd of 60 Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey cows are milked, cared for and fed.

As a C of O student, Hines spends approximately 15 hours a week and one weekend a month at the dairy, and during student breaks, she’s also responsible for working two, 40-hour work weeks during the year. Not only does this hands-on farm experience provide valuable training, but it’s helping Hines defray the cost of an education through the college’s Work Education Program.

“It’s true, I’m not your typical college student, but I love what I’m doing,” says Hines, a junior at C of O. “Working here gives me a lot of responsibility because I have to balance class and work, but it’s definitely worth it. The practical experience I’ve gained has also strengthened both my management and leadership skills, which are important virtues I’ll need when I enter the industry full time.”

Hines is currently working toward degrees in agriculture business and dairy science, but says she’s still uncertain whether or not she’ll return to her family’s 90-cow dairy in Rogersville, Mo., or do something within the industry after graduation.

She is one of more than 146,000 college students currently pursuing a degree in agriculture — a spike of 21 percent since 2006. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that about 54,000 U.S. agriculture-related jobs will be created per year through 2015 in areas such as food, renewable energy and environmental specialties. Dairy specialists are part of this growing demand as well. According to USDA, dairy products top the commodities list in terms of farm value of production.

With the world population expected to grow from 7 billion to about 9 billion by 2050, Hines says she’s excited to know that she’ll one day play an important role in feeding the world.

“Even if I’m not really going back to the family farm to produce milk, it’s satisfying to me to know that I’ll be in the industry, helping the people who produce it,” she says. “We’ll always need dairy farmers, but we also need good people in the industry who understand how important dairy farmers are and how much they contribute.”

To assist in her future endeavors, Hines is pursuing the college’s new dairy science major that officially launched for students last fall.

According to Tammy Holder, assistant dairy manager and agronomist at C of O, college representatives discussed the major for nearly two years before making it available to students.