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Robert Gallagher of South Dakota shares his perspective during Phase I of the Young Dairy Leaders Institute.

Dairy farmers and professionals recently gathered for an inspiring week during Phase I of the Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI). Designed for young adults ages 22 to 45 working in any facet of the dairy industry, YDLI is the premier leadership program for the dairy community. Class 13 of YDLI is made up 76 passionate dairy leaders from across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

“YDLI was well worth my time. I learned a lot that I will bring home to my job and farm, and I met many dairy folks from across the U.S. and beyond, which was my ultimate goal,” one YDLI Class 13 member wrote on their feedback survey. “Not only did I meet new people, but I also pushed myself out of my comfort zone to really engage with others.”

Phase I kicked off on Monday, January 29 in Tampa, Florida. Dairy professionals gathered for a fun evening of networking and connecting. Tuesday started bright and early with introductions and words of advice from the YDLI Advisory Committee. The day was spent on an engaging session focused on behavioral styles from Kelli Vrla, CSP, CVP, CCSP, Road Warrior for Workplace Engagement.

Class 13 spent Tuesday evening enjoying an improv performance from Spitfire Comedy Club and learning how improv skills can be applied to everyday life and careers.

“I watched people change with ah-ha moments just like the members of Class 1 did 30 years ago when YDLI started,” noted Diedra Harkenrider, a member of the first YDLI advisory committee and now director of development with the Holstein Foundation. “Something connects with them. You see it in their face and their posture…they stand taller, talk louder, and step out of their comfort zone.”

Class 13 members Shawna Vander Wey of New York and Shelby Biasini of Vermont discuss their ideas during Phase I of the Holstein Foundation’s YDLI program.

Wednesday brought more time for self-reflection and growth. In the morning participants honed their communication and professional delivery skills during an interactive workshop from John Sanna, Senior Trainer and Executive Coach, and Veronica Ocasio, an Associate Trainer and Executive Coach. Then, Class 13 enjoyed an inspirational message from Laura Daniels, focused on resilience during change and building small habits that last. Karen Bohnert, a Class 4 YDLI graduate, was recognized as the 2024 YDLI Distinguished Alumni Leader Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, Michele Ruby, communication consultant and current chair of the Holstein Foundation Board of Trustees, led a session on effective communication. Class 13 participants practiced telling their dairy story in a more compelling way. Phase I of YDLI wrapped up with time spent preparing for Phase II of the program, when participants will dive deep into using what they learned in their local communities.

“Building a community in dairy is more important now than ever before. I feel like I have found my purpose again and looked hard internally to reignite my tie to the dairy industry,” another YDLI participant wrote. “I’m excited to be a resource and also leverage my relationships as resources to help me become a better version of myself.”

About YDLI

Holstein Foundation’s Young Dairy Leaders Institute is a nationally recognized three-phase leadership and communication skills development program for young adults working in the dairy industry. YDLI is truly the Holstein Foundation’s motto in action: developing future leaders for a vibrant dairy community.

The Young Dairy Leaders Institute would not be possible without the financial support from several generous sponsors. A sincere thank you goes to the following organizations for supporting YDLI Class 13:

Platinum Sponsors: CHS Foundation, Holstein Association USA, Merck Animal Health and Allflex Livestock Intelligence, and Zoetis

Gold Sponsors: Cargill, Dairy Management Inc., Farm Credit, Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement, John Deere, and Northeast Agricultural Education Foundation, Inc.

Bronze Sponsors: GEA Farm Technologies, Inc., and Land O’Lakes Foundation

Applications for YDLI Class 14 will be available in the Summer of 2025. Young adults interested in attending can sign up to be notified when applications are available at

For more information about YDLI or other Holstein Foundation programs, visit or contact Diedra Harkenrider at

The Holstein Foundation's education, leadership development and outreach programs serve both youth and young adults across the country who are involved with all breeds of dairy cattle.

The Holstein Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization founded in 1989. It is headquartered in Brattleboro, Vermont, and shares office space with its parent organization, Holstein Association USA, Inc.