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Collegiate Dairy Judging Contest Needs More Industry Support
The 92nd Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest took place earlier this month in Chicago, and the winner was: the dairy industry. That’s 92 straight wins for the dairy industry in this competition.
Actually, as we reported back in our Nov. 8th issue, South Dakota State University captured first place in the recent Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest, with Clemson University finishing second and the University of Missouri taking third.
But it’s really the dairy industry itself that “wins” in this contest, at least in the long term. In order to understand why that’s the case, it’s worth reviewing what this contest really is, and how it has evolved.
The very first “Student’s Butter Judging Contest” took place in 1916, and as the name implies, only butter was judged, due to its commercial importance at that time. Today, in addition to butter, students also evaluate Cheddar cheese, fluid milk, cottage cheese, ice cream and yogurt.
The Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest, according to contest information released over the years by sponsors, represents the culmination of an intense training of students by college professors who are experts in dairy product evaluation. The contest, and the college curricula that support it, creates a pool of highly trained candidates for key positions in the dairy and food industry, covering quality, processing and product development.
The contest encourages food and dairy science students to engage their skills toward the improvement of dairy products. How important is this? Last time we checked, and for that matter every time we checked, taste was the number one factor cited by consumers when they purchased food products.
Contest participants gain much from their experience, including appreciation for the variety of sensory attributes that characterize dairy products, the ability to identify specific defects and to relate them to causative factors, knowledge of the sensory properties that can be modified within dairy products, improved ability to make decisions quickly, insights into who and what constitute the dairy and food industry, and recognition of the dairy industry as a career opportunity.
Over the years, the number of schools participating in the contest has varied greatly, from a low of nine to a maximum of 33, in 1956. Although most participating schools are located in the US and Canada, teams from as far away as France, South Africa and China have also competed.
Participation is a big problem with the current Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest. This year’s contest featured 11 schools from the US, Canada and Ireland.
Back in 1916, the very first Students’ Butter Judging Contest drew students from nine agriculture colleges. Contest sponsors reported back in the late 1990s that the number of schools participating in the contest had “stabilized to an average of 18 per year.”
To put current contest participation in some historical context, back when the contest started in 1916, US milk production stood at under 100 billion pounds; today it exceeds 200 billion pounds.
Butter production back in 1916 was around 940 million pounds (interestingly, USDA started tracking butter production in 1919 but didn’t start tracking national milk production for another five years). Last year, US butter output was roughly twice that level.
Cheese production back in 1916 was under 500 million pounds. This year, cheese output is on pace to top 11 billion pounds. And yogurt production back in 1916? Who knows? USDA didn’t start tracking yogurt production until 1989. Since then, it has grown from 912 million pounds to 4.4 billion pounds.
What’s the point of this historical production information? Simply put, over the past 98 years, US milk production has more than doubled, production of cheese and yogurt has exploded, butter output has more than doubled, but there were exactly two more schools participating in the 92nd Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest than there were participating in the Students’ Butter Judging Contest in 1916.
One other thing about the US dairy industry back in 1916 compared to today is that, while statistics aren’t available, we’re guessing that the dairy industry back then was pretty much exclusively focused on the domestic market. This year, the US dairy industry will export around $6.5 billion worth of dairy products to more than 150 countries around the globe.
Thus, it could actually be concluded that the entire world benefits from the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest.
So why don’t more schools participate? A glance at this year’s contest reveals that three of the top five states in milk production (California, Idaho and New York) don’t have a school participating in the contest.
There are a couple of reasons for lack of participation. One is the fact that it takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to field a judging team, and schools that might have participated previously simply no longer have someone on their faculty to coach a team.
The second is money. It’s not cheap to field a team and send it to Chicago (site of this year’s contest) or wherever the contest is taking place (over the years, the contest has been held in cities ranging from Atlantic City and Las Vegas to Montreal and Dallas).
The contest currently has an impressive array of sponsors, but more funding is needed if this contest is to reflect the growth and diversity of today’s dairy industry.
To learn about sponsoring this important contest, visit www.dairyproductscontest.org. DG
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