So You Want To Learn More About Organic Dairy? Preparing for an Organic Dairy Career

eOrganic author:

Karen Hills, Washington State University


There is a wealth of information in the field of organic dairy that can be accessed on the web, or by connecting with seasoned organic dairy farmers. However, for those in search of more formal educational opportunities, there are several options to choose from including university programs, workshops, and internships. Before considering your options, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What do you want out of this experience? A college degree? Practical knowledge that will allow you to better manage your existing organic herd? A career as an agricultural service provider? The knowledge to go into business for yourself?
  • How much time and money do you plan to spend?
  • Are you willing to relocate?

The following are results from a search for educational opportunities in the field of organic dairy in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. The summary includes universities with organic dairy farms on campus and/or organic dairy components of their curriculum. Some universities have a conventional dairy herd but have academic programs in organic agriculture and/or extension programs related to organic dairy. Since the field of organic dairy is not well established as a topic of study at universities, resourceful students can round out their education by pulling together relevant coursework, become involved with organic dairy extension or certification programs, and find practical hands-on experiences. Remember to be a discerning customer. Do your research on a program before you sign up.

Degree Programs

Alfred State SUNY College of Technology (Alfred, NY)

All agriculture students participate in the Professional Practice Program at Alfred State, which includes hands-on experience working with the crops, plants, animals, facilities, and equipment. Alfred State has recently established a Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture and a new facility that will house New York's first on-campus organic dairy herd. Associate's degree programs in agricultural business, agricultural technology, agricultural science, animal science, and veterinary technology are offered. Contact, 1-800-425-3733.

California State University—Chico (Chico, CA)

CSU--Chico offers Bachelor's degree programs in agricultural business, agriscience and education, animal science, environmental studies, as well as crops, horticulture and land resource management. The campus has an organic dairy farm. Contact, 530-898-6343.

Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)

Colorado State offers an Interdisciplinary Studies Program in Organic Agriculture and includes coursework in ecology, soils, crop production, entomology, business management, and an internship. Participating students receive their Bachelor's degree from their home department (Agricultural and Resource Economics; Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management; Horticulture and Landscape Architecture; or Soil and Crop Sciences), with completion of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program recorded on their transcripts. Contact, 970-491-6501.

Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)

Cornell's College of Agriculture offers 24 major fields of study, including Animal Science, Plant Sciences, and Natural and Environmental Systems, among others. Cornell has a large conventional dairy research farm as well as a 30-acre farm dedicated to organic crop production. They offer a Summer Sustainable Agriculture Scholar program where students study the biology of organic cropping systems. Cornell Extension organizes the New York Organic Dairy Initiative. Contact, 607-255-2036.

Aberystwyth University (Aberystwyth, England)

The Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University offers undergraduate programs in Organic Agriculture and Animal Science. Opportunities are available for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in research on agriculture and the environment. Contact

Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)

MSU offers a one-year Organic Farming Certificate Program. While it does have a horticulture focus, the program's goal is to prepare students to operate their own farms and helps participants connect with the greater sustainable and organic communities. Contact, 517-230-7987.

Nova Scotia Agricultural College (Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada)

This college offers a Certificate of Specialization in Organic Agriculture to participants who successfully complete four distance education courses. The courses include: Transition to Organic Agriculture, Composting and Compost Use, Principles of Organic Horticulture, Organic Field Crop Management, and Organic Livestock Production. Contact, 902-893-6666.

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

The Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida (UF) offers a Bachelor's degree in Organic Crop Production. They also offer an Organic and Sustainable Crop Production minor open to all UF students. Contact, 352-392-4711 ext. 224 (Dr. Rebecca Darnett).

University of Guelph (Guelph, Ontario, Canada)

University of Guelph offers Bachelor's and Master's degree programs in organic agriculture. French speaking students may specialize in organic agriculture through a two-year diploma program at the Alfred campus. Other undergraduate students at Guelph's main campus can major in Organic Agriculture. Students--both undergraduates and graduate students--may participate in interdisciplinary research programs addressing a range of issues including composting, nutrient management, crop breeding, weed control, and marketing. Contact, 519-824-4120 ext. 52508 (Dr. Ann Clark).

University of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)

This university offers undergraduate programs in Animal Science at the St. Paul campus. Recently, UMN has committed to converting both the 70-cow dairy herd and 110 acres of land at the Morris site to organic. Currently, research focuses on intensive rotational grazing, crossbreeding, and out-wintering. In addition, the UMN Organic Ecology program offers educational opportunities for college students interested in learning about agroecology and organic farming systems, and partners with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. UMN's Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton leads an extensive program dedicated to exploring agriculture alternatives and the science of organic systems. Contact, 612-624-6768.

University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)

UNH offers a Bachelor's degree program in dairy management. This is the first land grant university to start an organic dairy farm with plans to include teaching and research on profitability, health-promoting properties of milk, evaluation of alternative health therapies, innovative husbandry practices, alternate cropping systems, grazing, soil health, and weed management. Contact, 603-862-1450.

University of Vermont (Burlington, VT)

UVM offers a Bachelor's degree program in Ecological Agriculture through the Department of Plant and Soil Science. A Bachelor's degree program is offered in the Department of Animal Science although no courses in organic animal management are currently offered. The UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture houses the Vermont Pasture Network which works with grass-based farms, including certified organic producers. In addition, UVM Extension works with organic producers throughout the state. Contact, 802-656-2980.

University of Wisconsin—Madison (Madison, WI)

This university offers a Bachelor's degree program in dairy science. University of Wisconsin is home to the Babcock Institute, which conducts international dairy research and development, and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, a sustainable agriculture research center. Contact, 608-263-3495, (Dr. Pamela Ruegg).

Washington State University (Puyallup, WA)

WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources offers an Organic Agriculture Systems major (Bachelor's degree within Agricultural and Food Systems) as well as an academic certificate program in organic agriculture for undergraduates and non-degree students. On-line courses as well as on-site internships are offered. Contact, 253-445-4626.

Non-Degree Programs

University of Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers

The school offers a short course focused on pasture-based dairy and livestock farming through traditional classroom activities, hands-on internships, and farm tours of pasture-based farms managed by successful graduates and mentors. Classroom instruction at the school runs from the middle of November through the end of March and students typically participate in internships from April through July. Contact, 608-265-6437.


ATTRA Internships

The National Sustainable Ag Information Service (also known as ATTRA) provides a directory of on-the-job learning opportunities in sustainable and organic agriculture throughout the U.S. and Canada. Terms of internships vary. Contact provides resources on small-scale dairy on-farm and artisan processing and includes a listing of internships, apprenticeships and jobs. Contact

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

WWOOF is a global network that connects those interested in volunteering on organic farms to those farms looking for help—both within the US and international. More than 35 countries have WOOF programs. Typically, individual WOOF programs charge a small fee to match volunteers with farmers. Room and board may be provided by the farm but these are volunteer opportunities and therefore no compensation is provided for labor provided. Contact

Regional Organic Certification Agencies

Many certification agencies and/or organic farming associations (like Oregon Tilth, NOFA, Soil Association (UK), etc.) offer intern or apprenticeship programs or keep lists of farms who would accept interns.

References and Citations

Published January 22, 2009

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.