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Dairy ambassadors want people to truly understand their industry

By Michele F. Mihaljevich
Indiana Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The newest ambassadors for the American Dairy Association Indiana, Inc. (ADAI) seek to do more than promote the industry during their year of service. They hope to present facts on raising dairy cows and other aspects of daily life on the farm.
“I want to defend and promote the dairy industry,” said Jill Merritt, of Lebanon. “One of our jobs (as ambassadors) is to educate the community. I wish people had the chance to spend a day on a dairy farm. Farmers aren’t bad. They’re not doing their jobs every day to hurt the animals. They’re doing their jobs to make a good product. They want to be sure their animals are comfortable and healthy.”
Aubrey Dague, of Kewanna, grew up on her family’s fourth generation dairy farm. She said she would ask that the public “not judge my occupation before you get to know it. I want to be sure you have the right facts. I’ve watched family dairy operations go out of business because they didn’t have support from consumers. Parents and grandparents work to build something that doesn’t mean anything anymore. Once we’re gone, we’re gone. There’s a lot that happens on a farm that people don’t understand.”
Aaron Hurst, of Ferdinand, is majoring in animal sciences at Purdue University. He said while the promotion of the dairy industry is the number one goal for the ambassadors, he hopes an important second goal will be to explain day-to-day life on the farm.
“People think the job is easy or they have misconceptions I hope we can shed light on,” he said. “I want to show them farmers are people too. It’s a 24 hours a day job. When I’m home, I’m still looking for ways to do things better.”
The Dairy Ambassadors program replaced the Dairy Princess program a few years ago. This year’s group of five ambassadors is the program’s fourth class, said Allie Rieth, ADAI farmer relations manager. The change was made to allow for more students to participate and to get males involved, she noted. The program offers scholarships to the ambassadors. Their terms started June 1.
“This class really has a diversity of backgrounds,” Rieth stated. “Some of them grew up on a farm, some came to the farm to hang out with friends and others work on a farm. They have a diversity of experience. Their passion really comes through. They’re all really well-spoken.”
The two additional ambassadors are Caitlin Cox and Kassidy Oliger. All five will attend Purdue in the fall – Dague, Merritt and Oliger as freshmen and Cox and Hurst as sophomores.
Merritt doesn’t have a farm background. She graduated from Lebanon High School this year and plans to major in animal sciences with a bioscience concentration at Purdue. She has worked for Carterly Farms in Thorntown for a number of years.
“I always liked animals in agriculture,” she explained. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a veterinarian. In middle school, for an agriculture class, I had the opportunity to do interviews for a school project. I went to a local dairy farm. After I graduate from Purdue, I want to work with dairy cattle. I want to breed and raise my own cattle for show stock.”
Merritt said her back-up plan, if she needs one, is animal nutrition. She said the scholarship aspect of the program wasn’t the only thing that appealed to her. “We get the chance to go around and promote dairy. That’s right up my alley. This school year (due to the coronavirus), we’ll be doing a lot of work remotely. We’ve mainly been making videos of what we do on the farm.”
Dague graduated from Caston High School this spring and plans to major in horticulture production and marketing at Purdue. She said she applied for the program because she was looking for an opportunity involving agriculture and a chance to show how the dairy industry is making an impact.
“I’m the only one who lives on a dairy farm,” she pointed out. “I think I offer a different standpoint. I know what it takes to run a fully functional dairy farm. People want to know what it’s like to live on a dairy farm, what it’s like day to day. My friends will ask me to do things and I’ll tell them I can’t, that I have chores. I enjoy it. It’s different than what everybody else does.”
Hurst didn’t grow up on a farm but works for Francis Lindauer and Sons Dairy, a neighbor. Five winters ago, they needed extra help as they increased the size of their herd to 450 cows. “I live about three miles away; I’ve always known the family,” he explained. “Once I got in, I never got out.”
Hurst focuses on caring for the cows at the farm and after graduation, hopes to be a calf manager for the operation.
As for the promotional message he hopes to get out to the public, he said, “I hope people say, ‘wow, I could use a glass of milk now’. I hope they’re inspired to drink dairy and to support the dairy industry.”