An apprenticeship program is helping aspiring young people interested in dairy industry careers.
Executive Director Joe Tomandle III says the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is the only formal farm apprenticeship program in the nation. “It’s got the formality of, let’s see, an electrician, or a bricklayer, or the plumbers where you’re working on a dairy farm going through an earn-while-you-learn experience, so you’re hired on as an employee, but not just an employee, you’re going through a guided work experience.”
Tomandl says the industry is losing 500 dairy farmers a year just in Wisconsin, and it’s similar nationwide. He says the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship started small and grew rapidly. “The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship has about 49 farms that are approved now in Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Maine.”
Now, Tomandl says the program is helping get even more young workers into agriculture throughout the country. “We’ve got 12 that have been through that are in a journey worker stage. We’ve got 85 farms that are approved and over 90 apprentice candidates interested in getting into the program.”
Tomandl says the dairy apprentices are coming from both solid farm backgrounds and cities, and range from 18-years-old into their 40’s. He works closely with high school ag instructors and colleges as part of this program to recruit people into these agricultural careers. Tomandl says there is a high demand for a skilled workforce in farming, even with larger and fewer farms.