Dairy Innovation Hub launches, convenes advisory council to guide efforts

On Thursday, November 7, the deans of the colleges of agriculture at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls formally launched the newly funded Dairy Innovation Hub with a conference call that included members of the initiative’s advisory council. The Dairy Innovation Hub, which received funding in the state budget, harnesses research and development at the three UW campuses to keep Wisconsin’s $45.6 billion dairy industry at the global forefront in producing nutritious dairy products in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner.

The initiative’s advisory council is composed of 11 members, including five dairy industry leaders (appointed by key industry groups), five faculty from participating universities and one representative from DATCP. Members will help to ensure that Dairy Innovation Hub investments in university personnel, facilities, research and training will move the industry forward in four focus areas: stewarding land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare, and growing farm business and communities.

Heather White, an associate professor in the UW–Madison Department of Dairy Science, was named the first faculty director of the Dairy Innovation Hub. White, who joined the dairy science department in 2013, leads a research program that strives to improve feed efficiency and metabolic health in dairy cattle, specifically during the transition to lactation. Metabolic disorders such as sub-clinical ketosis and fatty liver have negative impacts on animal health and productivity which are costly to dairy producers. She is a nationally and internationally recognized leader in dairy science, receiving the American Dairy Science Association Foundation Scholar Award in 2019 in honor of her leadership in education and research and her ability to identify critical issues affecting the future of the dairy industry.

As the faculty director, White will work closely with industry partners, deans, faculty and other researchers at the three campuses to coordinate research, teaching and outreach efforts. White said, “When I came to Wisconsin, I was impressed by the spirit of collaboration at all levels of the dairy industry. I am honored to be part of this effort to drive innovation in America’s Dairyland.”

During the call, deans provided updates on specific projects at each campus. All three deans emphasized the importance of establishing priorities based on input from all sectors of the dairy industry, as well as researchers and students studying dairy.

“UW­­–Platteville is interested in making early investments in technology applications, faculty hires and research fellowships,” said Wayne Weber, the dean of the College of Business, Industry, Life Sciences and Agriculture at UW–Platteville. “We want to be able to fill gaps in research and information that is currently lacking, especially for dairy in our region of the state.”

Dale Gallenberg, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at UW–River Falls, noted his campus wants to identify opportunities to improve facilities and equipment so students are learning in real-world settings and so that research findings can be easily translated to practices on Wisconsin farms.

UW–Madison plans to hire postdoctoral researchers in the coming months who can launch into research projects exploring solutions to current challenges facing the industry. “With Dairy Innovation Hub funding, we are looking to invest in projects with short-term impacts while also planning for longer-term investments that will offer results that help keep the industry vibrant for the next quarter of a century, and enhance the training environment for the next generation of dairy professionals,” said Kate VandenBosch, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison.

The group is planning an in-person strategic planning session in early 2020 to gather feedback and finalize priorities for the first year of activities, while looking ahead to identify challenges to be addressed in coming years. The Hub will receive $1 million in funding the first year and $7.8 million per year in subsequent years.

Shelly Mayer of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin said, “It was great to see everyone from industry and in the UW System come together to help make this happen. I look forward to continuing to work with many of the same people as members of the advisory council. Together, we will ensure that the university invests in great minds that have the capacity to make the dairy industry sustainable in Wisconsin and the world.”

Dairy Innovation Hub advisory council members are:

  • Mitch Breunig, Mystic Valley Dairy, representing the Dairy Business Association
  • Dave Daniels, Mighty Grand Dairy, representing the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation
  • Aric Dieter, Landmark Services Cooperative, representing the Dairy Business Association
  • Angela James, Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, representing DATCP
  • Steve Kelm, Professor of Animal and Food Science, representing UW­–River Falls
  • Shelly Mayer, Executive Director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, representing the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin
  • Tera Montgomery, Associate Professor of Dairy and Animal Science, representing UW–Platteville
  • Scott Rankin, Professor and Chair of Department of Food Science, representing UW–Madison
  • Rami Reddy, Professor of Agribusiness and Director of the School of Agriculture, representing UW–Platteville
  • John Umhoefer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, representing the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association
  • Kent Weigel, Professor and Chair of Dairy Science, representing UW–Madison