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Dairy conference talks industry

Farmer economy and dairy production discussed

By Jessica Griffin
On March 6, 2014

On Monday March 10th, the Tolland Agricultural Center of Vernon, Conn. will be inundated with local farmers and dairy entrepreneurs, all in town for the New England Dairy Conference. Held annually, the goal of this conference is to provide current information pertinent to dairy producers in state to help them remain viable and sustainable. This year's conference will take place in four different locations: Waterville, Maine, Whitefield N.H., Concord, N.H. and locally in Vernon. Previously, the conference has been held at locations including a conference center in Vernon, and on campus at the Bishop Center and Rome Ballroom. The Tolland Agricultural Center is an ideal location because it is centrally located and it is connected to the university.
Our university's unique history as an agricultural school, originally founded in 1881 under the name Storrs Agricultural School, makes it an ideal host for this year's conference. This legacy is carried on today by UConn's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture, which constitute the modern day programs available to students interested in the agricultural sciences. This year's conference will be cohosted by UConn's Department of Animal Science and UConn Extension.
Giving the opening welcome will be Dr. Sheila Andrew, professor of animal science at UConn. Andrew has been organizing the conference locally for 17 years. Andrew was originally trained as a nutritionist but became interested in dairy and milk quality while pursuing her PhD. Her first job was with the Food and Drug Administration testing antibiotic residues, which piqued her interest in issues with mastitis, a disease related to issues with somatic cell count, which Herremans will be speaking on. Andrew says of the conference, "I've learned how passionate the farmers are in their businesses and how much they want to learn new information, new technology and how to keep their business economically viable and keep moving forward."
Featured speakers by tradition include dairy farmers who have recently made a difference in the industry, and this year includes Tom Herremans and Jim Davenport. Herremans, a Michigan State University graduate with a degree in dairy science, will be speaking about his longtime project of helping dairy sellers reduce somatic cell count in their products. These somatic cells, the majority of them white blood cells, are indicators of high levels of pathogenic bacteria in milk products. He will be speaking about improving product quality, myths and misconceptions about these cells, and reducing counts of these somatic cells. Davenport, a graduate of UConn's animal science program, is a dairy farmer with upwards of 20 years of experience. He will be speaking about the comfort of the cows, in terms of creating fitted stalls and allowing enough grazing time and the relationship of this factor to milk quality.
Furthermore, organizer Sheila Andrew hopes that students will attend and become interested in dairy and agricultural issues in general. She says, "there is a great partnership between the university and dairy producers, and we hope to keep that going. We are also working towards getting students involved as well." Those interested in dairy, and food quality issues will find a place to discuss agriculture at the New England Dairy Conference.

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