Dairy Innovation Hub holds first Dairy Symposium to share knowledge, build connections

The UW Dairy Innovation Hub held its first annual Dairy Symposium on Thursday, Nov. 18 at Union South on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. The event, which drew over 100 in-person attendees, provided scientists a chance to share and discuss the initial results of their Hub-funded research projects with researchers, university students and dairy professionals. Another 100 people attended the event virtually, and videos of symposium sessions are available online.

Shelly Mayer, executive director of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, asks a question after a plenary talk at the Dairy Symposium. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

The Dairy Innovation Hub, funded through a $7.8 million per year investment by the state of Wisconsin, harnesses research and development at UW–MadisonUW–Platteville and UW–River Falls campuses to keep Wisconsin’s $45.6 billion dairy community at the global forefront in producing nutritious dairy foods in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner. Since its launch in 2019, the Hub has funded more than 100 projects across the three campuses.

“This was the first face-to-face event we’ve had [due to the pandemic]. It was nice to finally get to meet in-person some of my colleagues that are part of this huge Dairy Innovation Hub,” said Veronica Justen, professor of crop science from UW­–River Falls, who has a Hub-funded faculty fellowship. “It’s exciting to get to watch presentations on such a wide variety of projects and see the data.”

The symposium started with opening remarks and a plenary talk by Randy Jackson, UW–Madison professor of agronomy, about the $23.2 million NetZero Initiative to help cut greenhouse gas emissions in the dairy industry. This six-year project is funded by a $10 million dollar grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and contributions from partners such as Nestlé, and the dairy industry, including Newtrient.

From there, attendees spent the bulk of the day in research sessions. The symposium offered four research session options, one for each of the Hub’s main topic areas: stewarding land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare, and growing farm businesses and communities. Each session featured three to four researchers, selected to highlight the broad array of work being done through the Hub.

Hal Evensen, professor of engineering physics at UW-Platteville, describes his Hub-funded research project at the Dairy Symposium. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

Attendees of the stewarding land and water resources session heard from Hal Evensen, professor of engineering physics from UW–Platteville, about his efforts to develop an automated tumble wheel fencing system for a rotational grazing operation in southwest Wisconsin.

“It may be a busy day at [our partner’s] farm and they don’t have time to [move the fencing],” Evensen explained in his talk. “The idea is that we want to automatically advance the barrier… [so] if it’s a busy day [that task] would still happen.”

Jennifer Van Os, assistant professor in the UW–Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, shares her research at the Dairy Symposium. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

In the ensuring animal health and welfare session, Joao Dorea and Jennifer Van Os, both faculty in the UW–Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, described their separate research projects that utilize new Hub-funded video cameras installed at UW–Madison’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station and Marshfield Agricultural Research Station.

“Having this permanent whole barn video recording system saves time and labor and allows us to get high resolution footage,” said Van Os. “This provides an opportunity to do what I call ‘giving the animal a voice.’ So, if we are clever, we can phrase [a research] question in a way that allows the animal to tell us what she’s experiencing and what she needs.”

In the farm business and communities session, attendees saw data showing how county-level policy changes can positively impact water quality, specifically when nutrient management plans are required for all farms, regardless of size, across a county. The human health and nutrition session covered research topics from yum to yuck—from the mouth feel sensations of ice cream to gut colonization by Listeria.

Attendees came away from these sessions energized by the research findings, scientific discussions—and ideas for future collaborations.

“I spoke with a researcher from River Falls who studies horn removal from calves, and we discussed writing a collaborative research proposal between our two institutions,” said Mark Levenstein, assistant professor of biology a UW–Platteville, who envisions a project utilizing cell culture to identify molecules that inhibit horn growth.

Levenstein’s student advisee Jacob Plumley, a senior studying biology at Platteville, also attended the symposium and participated in the poster session—his first opportunity to participate in a scientific conference and interact with members of the dairy research community in this type of setting.

“Our research is basically to create an on-farm test for mastitis, using shape-based nano filters, that can more accurately identify what [bacteria] are causing disease,” Plumley explained to a symposium attendee. “The goal is to help farmers identify a more targeted treatment instead of just using a broad-spectrum antibiotic.”

The event concluded with a plenary talk by Denise Ney, UW–Madison professor of nutritional sciences, on the health benefits of dairy-derived supplements she helped research and develop, followed by brief final remarks from Heather White, faculty director of the Dairy Innovation Hub.

“It has been exciting and inspiring to see the depth and breadth of funded research from all three campuses,” said White, an associate professor in the UW–Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. “The Hub started as a big idea and thanks to committed partners at each campus and from the dairy community, it became a reality.”

Video recordings of Dairy Symposium sessions can be watched on the Hub’s YouTube channel. The day before the Dairy Symposium, the Hub held its second annual Dairy Summit, an all-virtual event that focused on introducing new Hub-funded faculty members and their projects, followed by an in-person reception and tours of two UW–Madison dairy research facilities for a select group of participants. Videos of the Dairy Summit are also available on the Hub’s YouTube channel.


Contact: Maria Woldt, Dairy Innovation Hub program manager, (608) 265-4009,

Dairy Symposium event photos:
Post-Dairy Summit reception photos:
Post-Dairy Summit CDR tour photos:
NOTE: Dane County and UW–Madison currently require masks to be worn indoors, except when eating and drinking, as reflected in these photos.

Dairy Innovation Hub logos: