Framing Dairy’s Future through the Young Cooperator Program

For new Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association (MDVA) member Donald Miller, he took the initiative to frame out his future, quite literally. Donald had dreams of owning his own dairy farm. To make that happen, he and his father worked tirelessly over the past year to build a new freestall barn, setting Donald’s dream into motion.  

In October 2021, the first cows were milked at the Miller’s farm in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. Donald and his wife, Gabby, are first generation dairy farmers and new members of Maryland & Virginia’s Young Cooperator program. Their farm has been in Donald’s family for multiple generations.  

“After my grandfather passed away years ago, I became determined to carry on the family farm in his memory,” Donald said. Donald and Gabby purchased the farm from family members and now milk about 70 cows.  

Donald worked for several dairy farms in the area and always enjoyed the hard work. And while Gabby didn’t come from a dairy farm, her family raised dairy goats. The Millers both milk the cows together and Donald handles all the fieldwork on their 100 tillable acres. Gabby likes the animal science aspect and handles all the herd health and record keeping. She also plans to become trained in A.I. to handle the breeding program for their farm.  

Being new to farming can be overwhelming. But Donald and Gabby took an immediate interest in their cooperative and signed up for Maryland & Virginia’s Young Cooperator (YC) Program. They participated in our 2022 Outstanding YC Contest and were named the Runner’s Up. In this role, they had the opportunity to represent MDVA at the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) YC Legislative Forum in Washington, DC earlier this month. The NMPF YC program brings in YCs from around the country to gain valuable leadership skills and learn the ins and outs of dairy regulations and legislation.  

“I want to do all I can to make sure my new farm will be viable in the future,” Donald said.  “And being involved in the YC program will help me gain leadership skills and learn from other dairy farmers which in turn will help my business.” 

Two fellow MDVA YCs, Ben Smith, our 2022 Outstanding YC from Remington, Virginia and Justin Watt, our 2021 Outstanding YC of Keymar, Maryland also attended the NMPF meeting with the Millers.  

“Cooperatives are instrumental to family farms. Being involved in Maryland & Virginia’s YC program will allow me to learn more about how our cooperative operates and how decisions are made,” Ben Smith said.  

These three YCs will have the chance to travel to Denver, Colorado in the fall to represent the cooperative at the NMPF Annual Meeting.  

Aside from leadership development, our YC program also offers ways for farmers to network and see other dairy farms. Our upcoming YC Summer Break is just around the corner on July 27-28 in Frederick, Maryland. YCs and their families will tour a variety of member farms from an Amish dairy farm to a 700-cow dairy. MDVA YCs interested in signing up for this free event can register here 

Photo Caption (Top L, Clockwise): 2021 Outstanding Young Cooperator Justin Watt meets with his congressional representative, Rep. Andy Harris (Maryland); YC Members Donald and Gabby Miller attend a session at the annual Young Cooperators meeting in Washington, D.C.; 2022 Outstanding YC Ben Smith introduces a panel at the annual Young Cooperators meeting in Washington, D.C.