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MSU dairy specialist strives toward stronger industry
By Jessica Smith
MSU Extension Service
Providing expertise and knowledge to Mississippi dairy producers was not always a career goal for dairy specialist Amanda Stone.
Stone has been an assistant professor since August 2016 with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, where she works directly with students, dairy producers and MSU Extension agents.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Stone rode horses and developed an interest in veterinary medicine. It was not until her junior year of college that she became curious about the dairy industry. During an internship at a small dairy farm in Ohio, she fell in love with the dairy farming life.
“When I was up at 4 a.m., headed to the barn to milk before the sun is up, that’s when I felt most at peace,” Stone said. “It took me back to a simpler way of life. Being in the field with the animals and watching calves being born really did me in.
“But then I got to know the people involved in the dairy industry,” she added, “That’s when I started thinking I could see myself working in this industry long-term.”
With the possibility of pursuing research in mind, Stone decided to obtain her master’s and doctoral degrees in dairy systems management at the University of Kentucky. Through research with the Southeast Quality Milk Initiative, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she was able to visit with producers in more of an Extension setting.
“We visited 96 dairy herds in Kentucky searching for areas of improvement with mastitis and milk quality,” Stone said. “I think that’s when I truly comprehended the importance of public outreach through Extension and saw a career opportunity.”
One of Stone’s current applied research projects studies the effect of heat stress on milk production and what can be done to alleviate it.
“Since most of Mississippi dairy farms are pasture based, we’re finding ways to relieve heat stress in a pasture setting using a center-pivot mister to cool the cattle off,” she explains. “Researching this processes’ effectiveness, economically viability, and management practices would greatly benefit our dairy producers.”
Whether it is in the classroom setting or on the farm, Stone said people are what drives her.
“I am always trying to think of ways to help Mississippi dairy producers thrive,” she explains. “Helping farmers learn something and watching them implement it to improve their own operations is when I feel most successful.”
Stone also feels that getting youth involved in agriculture and the dairy industry is of utmost importance.
In March, Stone helped host a children’s field day on the MSU Bearden Dairy Unit, where students were able to engage in hands-on activities, such as milking cows and analyzing real cattle organs. They learn about not only the daily life on a dairy farm but also the science behind the industry.
“Young people are the future of the dairy industry,” she said. “The average age of a dairy farmer in the U.S. is 55, and we will soon need young farmers to fill their shoes. My goal is share agriculture with students who have never been involved in the industry. They need to know there are jobs in the dairy industry, and they have a strong future in agriculture.”
Lincoln County Extension agent Rebecca Bates said Stone has been proactive since she arrived at MSU Extension, making personal phone calls and visiting dairy producers in Lincoln County.
“She has earned our dairy producers’ trust and respect with her easy-going personality and practical approach that small changes can have large impacts,” Bates said. “This philosophy fits perfectly with Mississippi dairy farmers’ current situation. Our future looks brighter than ever and large impacts will surely follow as a result of having Amanda Stone in our corner.”