After being vacant more than two years, the position of dairy educator in the Indiana County Penn State Cooperative Extension office is occupied again.
Oregon native Andrew Sandeen moved into that post a couple weeks ago and has started visiting county dairy farms with his predecessor, Gene Schurman, traveling along to make introductions. Schurman was Extension’s dairy specialist in Indiana County nearly three decades before he retired in December 2011.
Sandeen, 37, said he was not directly involved in agriculture while growing up in northwestern Oregon, but in his late teens developed an interest in becoming a veterinarian. His career path shifted a little and he earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science at Oregon State University and a master’s degree in dairy reproduction at Ohio State University.
“Working with animals was something I was interested in for the long term,” Sandeen said. While earning his bachelor’s degree he worked with Oregon State’s large herd of milk cows, was active in the university’s dairy club and did an internship at a large dairy.
After graduate school he worked a short time for a Nebraska company that performed embryo transfers in beef cattle, then for three years was the Northwest representative for the Jersey Cattle Association.
“The work was great,” he said of his time with the association, but he was responsible for a six-state area and was often on the road.
He also previously worked for the Washington State Dairy Federation representing that state’s milk producers. His duties there included assisting with lobbying efforts for dairy issues before the Legislature in Olympia.
According to Sandeen, there are a dozen Penn State Extension dairy educators in Pennsylvania, but only two in the western half of the state.
“There hasn’t been a strong presence here,” especially since Schurman retired, Sandeen said. He’s anxious to convince the 12-member dairy team that “we need to get some programming out here” in western Pennsylvania and to respond to the needs of dairy farmers as best he can.
The Penn State Extension dairy educators work with milk producers to improve nutrition for their cows, enhance the reproduction rates of their herds and boost the quantity and quality of the milk sold by their farms.
Sandeen said his ultimate goal is to educate and help milk producers be efficient and profitable in what they’re doing. Although he’s assigned to the Extension office in Indiana, Sandeen will assist milk producers across the state.
Some private companies offer milk producers a variety of services and products dealing with dairy technology, reproductive services for their herds and rations for the cows. But Extension, Sandeen said, is unbiased.
“We want to help them find solutions that will work best for them,” he said.
Extension dairy educators once primarily interacted with milk producers by visiting farms and by organizing and hosting small-group seminars and meetings. To an extent, technology has changed how Sandeen will interact with local milk producers. Webinars and even apps for smartphones can now relay information to farmers and allow them to quickly evaluate the economics of nearly any issue on their farms. But face-to-face contact is still important to many farmers, Sandeen said.
The information Extension provides farmers is research-based and much of it comes from the nation’s land-grant universities. Sandeen said he enjoys that academic environment and being one of the key people in getting new information out to farmers.
“That’s an exciting role to play,” he said.
On some of his first visits to Indiana County dairy farms he’s discussed manure storage issues, construction of a new cow barn and ventilation measures to keep cows comfortable and producing more milk in hot weather.
Sandeen also said he’s excited to be getting back into the dairy industry — and back into America — after a four-year hiatus. In late February he returned to the U.S. after living in Tanzania, Africa, where he had been working with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He learned to speak Swahili to interact with the people there, many of whom are farmers or fishermen, he said.
Sandeen lives in Indiana with his wife, Misha, and their 17-month-old daughter, Zarya.
The dairy educator position at the Extension office in Indiana was filled with the help of the Indiana County commissioners.
Schurman’s job was eliminated through a combination of retirement incentives and programwide layoffs forced by a 19 percent cut in the Extension service budget. But the commissioners last spring helped restore the position by agreeing to contribute $30,000 each in 2013 and 2014 toward the salary and benefits for a dairy education specialist.
Commission chairman Rodney Ruddock said this week that since the position was not filled until this spring, the $30,000 earmarked for a dairy educator in 2013 will likely be carried over to 2015.
“We recognize how important agriculture is to the economy of Indiana County,” Ruddock said. “We want to be assured the county dairy farmers are being supported.”