College students gain real-world sustainability experience and information through partnerships

Because sustainability and protecting the environment are extremely important to dairy farmers, Midwest Dairy works hard to continue building relationships with universities and educational programs, registered dietitians, and health professionals across the Midwest region to share dairy’s sustainability story. Opportunities to partner with college universities often present unique and creative ways to encourage students to learn about the dairy industry and immerse themselves in it.

A recent partnership includes Midwest Dairy’s continued relationship with the University of South Dakota’s (USD) Sustainability Program to build trust in dairy’s role as an environmental solution. Several faculty members from the department attended our Dairy Sustainability VIP Tour this past summer which included a tour of a farm with a new methane digester and featured a panel of experts speaking on soil health, water quality, and feed additives to reduce methane emissions.

After attending the event, Jenny Fierro, a professor who teaches a Sustainable Environment course to undergraduates at USD, added dairy sustainability to her topic list that students could select for their podcast project at the end of the semester. One group chose the topic and worked with Midwest Dairy to find relevant resources and connect to and interview a local dairy farmer. Dairy farmer Cole Hoyer participated in the interview by answering questions about his operation and what sustainability looks like on their farm. The goal of this project is for students to share this podcast online with other students and faculty at USD.

In the fall of 2022, Midwest Dairy also partnered with Wichita State University’s College of Innovation and Design on a project for the Applied Sustainability in Innovation course. The goal of the course project was to provide a real-world challenge for students to research and come up with possible solutions for stakeholders. The challenge presented revolving around the dairy industry was How might we reduce or reuse single-use plastic waste from dairy farm operations in order to reduce environmental pollution from the waste?

The semester-long project began with an introduction to the challenge and then a conversation through Zoom with a dairy farmer Dave Lane of Goddard, Kansas. As part of their research, students were invited to tour Lane’s farm to learn more about dairy farming and dairy sustainability efforts. The tour was a valuable learning opportunity to help students understand how plastic is used on the farm and much more. At the end of the project, when asked by the instructor about their favorite part of the course, the unanimous answer was the dairy farm tour.

Students successfully presented their proposals and recommendations in early December to stakeholders, which included dairy farmers Dave Lane and Steve Strickler of Kansas and Midwest Dairy staff Ron Grusenmeyer and Robyn Stuewe.