ROSEMONT, ILL. – A new dairy checkoff program is helping science teachers and curriculum directors get firsthand dairy farm experiences to help spark ideas for high school coursework.

Co-funded by the National Dairy Council and Midwest Dairy, and created in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, the On The Farm STEM program was developed to provide science-based insights on how dairy is responsibly produced by farmers, as well as its health and wellness attributes.

Per Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), several states plan to implement curriculum associated with the program as soon as 2024.

The Dairy Council of Florida recently hosted close to 30 STEM leaders and curriculum directors from its state, showing them the ins and outs of three dairy farms. This summer, similar tours are lined up courtesy of the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, Dairy Farmers of Washington and United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

“The connection back to ag and dairy is so important in today’s world where there is so much misinformation out there,” said Florida dairy farmer Greg Watts, of Full Circle Dairy, who hosted a visit recently. “It’s nice for us to offer our perspective to show what we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis to care for the environment and our cows. We’re sharing it with somebody who may teach this to students and that gives us hope and encouragement for the future generation. To me, this is mission critical.”

Such farm visits kicked off in 2022, when Midwest Dairy helped educators from 15 states and Puerto Rico visit dairy farms and other industry sites in Minnesota. The visitors got to see how dairy farmers use aspects of STEM in their work.

The concept of On The Farm STEM began with the beef checkoff. Daniel Meloy, executive director of American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, said that endeavor’s success led to the current collaboration with the dairy checkoff.

“It has been a terrific opportunity and already has had a significant impact,” Meloy said. “The best part is when I hear from teachers who say they have students who are suddenly seeing ag careers in a different light. They may have had an image of overalls and digging in the dirt, but the students are now applying to colleges to pursue an agricultural career. The kids are getting excited about agriculture because the program makes it relevant. Everyone eats, so it makes it very real for them.”

Lindsay Datlow, vice president of nutrition affairs, National Dairy Council, said the program will make it possible to educate the next generation about science-based evidence that supports dairy’s contributions to sustainable foods systems and health.

DMI shared that some dairy-centric classroom materials already have made their way to some school pilot programs, and the National Dairy Council and Midwest Dairy are putting together a handbook other state and regional checkoff organizations can utilize.