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Dairy Innovation Hub funds ten short term, high impact projects at UW–Madison

The UWMadison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) recently selected ten projects for funding through the Dairy Innovation Hub initiative. These one-year grants fund promising work in the Hub’s four priority areas: stewarding land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare, and growing farm business and communities.

Short term, high impact research and outreach projects are intended to leverage existing UW–Madison expertise to provide timely results while supporting the goals of the Dairy Innovation Hub. Projects place additional emphasis on addressing recommendations generated by the state’s Dairy Task Force 2.0, which completed its work in 2019.

Funded through a $7.8 million per year investment by the state of Wisconsin, the Hub positions Wisconsin’s dairy community for economic, environmental, and social success by advancing science, developing talent, and leveraging collaboration at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville, and UW–River Falls. Since its launch in 2019, more than 130 projects have been funded across the three campuses.

The following UW–Madison projects were recently selected for short-term, high-impact grants. (Note: Photos of the project PIs are available here.)

The EZ dairy enviro-money: A high level environmental and economic assessment tool for dairy farmers

Victor Cabrera, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences

Cabrera is a professor and extension specialist in the animal and dairy sciences department. He focuses on developing practical, user-friendly, and scholarly decision support tools for dairy management.

Project Summary: This project will develop a high-level, user-friendly, scientifically sound, yet powerful whole-farm decision support tool, EZ Dairy Enviro-Money, to assess economic and environmental tradeoffs of dairy farming for strategic nutrient management decisions. Researchers will work to address the growing need for Wisconsin dairy farmers to remain sustainable. Researchers aim to provide an online tool that can be effectively used with minimal data entry. This can be accomplished by carefully selecting key performance indicators that are not only critical farm drivers, but also readily available without the need for complex data retrieving efforts. The goal is to have a general representation of farming systems to pinpoint the magnitude of expected outcomes. This tool will not provide deep or fully detailed outcomes, but it will emphasize ease of use for “what-if” scenarios, which could be accomplished intuitively by any user. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #34 (Create an app for dairy producers and associates on major topics) and #47 (Need for regulatory certainty and consistency). 

Predicting meat cuts and carcass traits of beef on dairy calves through 3D images of live animals

Joao Dorea, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences

Dorea is an assistant professor in the animal and dairy sciences department. He focuses on precision agriculture and data analytics, and he has been working extensively on the development of applications of artificial intelligence to optimize farm management decisions and improve animal nutrition and health.

Project Summary: Crossbred (beef x dairy) animals have become an important source of income for dairy farmers due to the higher market price of crossbred calves. However, carcass traits and meat cuts from beef x dairy carcasses are frequently reported as lacking quality and shape uniformity. One strategy to overcome such limitations would be to develop technologies that quickly predict carcass and meat cut traits prior to harvest. The objective of this project is to develop a computer vision system capable of predicting carcass and meat cut traits based on 3D images of live animals. This will create new means for meat quality evaluation in live animals and will generate a powerful management tool for dairy and beef farmers in Wisconsin and the United States. A high priority research need will be addressed by creating farm management solutions based on artificial intelligence to increase market value of beef-on-dairy animals. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #19 (Capital for new and emerging technology),

Estimating energy value and milk yield potential of whole-plant corn forage

Luiz Ferraretto, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences

Ferraretto is an assistant professor and extension specialist in the animal and dairy sciences department. His research and extension interests focus on applied ruminant nutrition and management.

Project Summary: Dairy cattle diets rely primarily on forages. Adequate forage management targeting maximum quality is essential for farm sustainability and profitability. Among these forages, the use of fermented crops, particularly corn silage, is common in Wisconsin and the United States. Producing greater amounts of better-quality forages is crucial, especially in an era of high feed and fertilizer prices. Tools for estimating energy value and milk yield potential of corn silage have been widely used by the industry and scientific community for multiple purposes – but some of the existing tools require an update. Therefore, the objective of this project is to update the MILK2006 spreadsheet, which is widely used by the industry and academia to rank corn hybrids. A new tool will be developed to estimate the benefits and downfalls of increasing chop height of forage crops. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #26 (Increased collaboration in the UW System and with private industry).

Improving the properties of cheese snacks by applying acoustic and textural mapping

Selvarani Govindasamy-Lucey, Center for Dairy Research

Govindasamy-Lucey is a scientist with the Center for Dairy Research. She coordinates CDR research projects including company research and graduate student work.

Project Summary: Sound is an important consumer expectation in snacks (e.g., cookies, chips, etc.) with various attributes like crispiness and crunchiness. Chewing sounds, such as crispiness, are primarily an acoustic sensation detected by the ear during the fracture of a crispy food. Snack foods also must meet various textural expectations. In developing new snacks, researchers should monitor both textural and acoustic parameters. This can be achieved by recording and analyzing sounds during texture tests. For example, compression in a texture analyzer device equipped with a microphone. Acoustic parameters, such as loudness and intensity, are found to be related to sensory crispiness and crunchiness of various snacks. However, there have been no studies on the squeakiness of fresh cheese curds or methods to extend the squeak of cheese curds beyond a few days. This project aims to explore methods for monitoring sounds during actual human chewing of cheese curds in the mouth by using ear microphones. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #45 (Emphasis on value-added and specialty cheese in Wisconsin).

Development of antibiotic-free or antibiotic-reduced therapy to control bovine mastitis

Hilario Mantovani, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences

Mantovani is an assistant professor in the animal and dairy sciences department. His position is funded by the Dairy Innovation Hub. He specializes in rumen microbial physiology.

Project Summary: Bovine mastitis, an inflammatory disease caused by microbial infections, impacts milk production, milk quality, and the overall health of the herd. Mastitis is a main challenge for the dairy sector due to its high prevalence and incidence, and difficulties in the diagnosis and treatment. It is also the most expensive disease in dairy cattle production in the US and worldwide. Current antibiotic therapies can be inefficient due to infections caused by environmental pathogens, antibiotic resistance, and the capacity of some mastitis pathogens to form biofilms. The goal of this project is to develop antibiotic-free or antibiotic-reduced formulations to prevent and treat udder infections in Wisconsin dairy cattle caused by common environmental pathogens associated with clinical mastitis. Drug screening using dose-response matrices will be applied to identify combinations that display stronger effects against mastitis pathogens. This study aims to provide alternative solutions to reduce antibiotic use in dairy farms while improving the effectiveness of udder inflammation treatment in dairy cows. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #9 (Support the National Dairy FARM Program or equivalent).

Assessing and addressing barriers to dairy product exports by small and medium sized Wisconsin manufacturers

Charles Nicholson, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Nicholson is an associate professor in the agricultural and applied economics department. His position is funded by the Dairy Innovation Hub. His research focuses on dairy markets and policy, food systems modeling, controlled-environment agriculture, and linkages between agriculture and food security.

Project Summary: This project aims to investigate constraints of the export market for small- and medium-sized dairy product manufacturers in Wisconsin and strategies to overcome them. This project has four main objectives; 1) identify Wisconsin dairy manufacturers that currently sell to export markets and others that have an interest in selling, 2) document potential barriers to export market participation with an emphasis on supply chain logistics and costs, 3) identify, evaluate, and recommend strategies that could address barriers to export market participation, and 4) provide an opportunity for up to five undergraduate students in the UW system to participate in this research and enhance their knowledge of dairy product exports. This research will use a combination of survey methods and focus groups to collect data from a relevant subset of dairy product manufacturers, conduct interviews and site visits to key export logistics service providers, and assess constraints and identify potential solutions. Additionally, a special workshop event will be organized to allow the students to present their findings. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #25 (Recognize the importance of exports to Wisconsin dairy) and #26 (Increased collaboration in the UW System and with private industry).

Genomic solutions to improve dairy bull fertility

Francisco Peñagaricano, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences

Peñagaricano is an assistant professor in the animal and dairy sciences department. His research primarily focuses on development and application of methods to analyze the genetic architecture of economically-relevant traits in livestock.

Project Summary: Fertility is an economically important trait in dairy cattle. Despite recent advances, there is room for improvement in reproductive performance for most herds, resulting in significant economic losses for dairy farmers. This project will investigate male fertility in the Jersey breed, the second most important in the country. This research team has already identified genomic regions that can impact Jersey bull fertility. The objective of this project is to identify the cause of differing conception rates using targeted DNA-sequencing. This project will deliver new genomic tools to assist dairy farmers, breeders, and artificial insemination companies responsible for accurate management and selection decisions on bull fertility. Improving reproductive performance through advancements in service sire fertility has a direct impact on farm profitability and animal health and welfare while also ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Wisconsin dairy industry. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #26 (Increased collaboration in the UW System and with private industry).

Pilot scale process to convert an acid whey waste stream to high-value food products

Scott Rankin, Department of Food Science

Rankin is a professor in the food science department. His research focuses on the characterization of primarily dairy food flavor with sensory and instrumental techniques.

Project Summary: The United States generates 3 million tons of acid whey (AW) each year, much of it a by-product of Greek yogurt production. Current strategies for processing AW are inadequate due to its high acidity and low protein content. Thus, the vast majority of AW is disposed of using costly and environmentally unsustainable methods such as land applications on farm fields. This project has developed a bench-scale, patent pending process to convert AW into three major, high-value products: glucose-galactose sweetener syrup (GGS), milk minerals, and whey protein. The objective of the project is to demonstrate this technology at the pilot scale using facilities at Babcock Hall. Researchers will produce pilot batches of GGS and milk minerals and evaluate them for food safety. Potential customers will use samples of the GGS in a range of their products such as baked goods, ice cream, and flavored milks. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #45 (Emphasis on value-added and specialty cheese in Wisconsin).

Evaluating Salmonella Cerro as a preventative for salmonellosis

Garret Suen, Department of Bacteriology

Suen is an associate professor in the bacteriology department. His research interests include microbial ecology, rumen microbiology, metagenomics, and biofuels.

Project Summary: Non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) cause salmonellosis in dairy cows, resulting in diarrhea, abortion, endotoxemia, and decreased milk production. The emergence of multi-drug resistant Salmonella has contributed to morbidity and mortality in humans and cattle. Innovative strategies to combat NTS on dairy farms, while preserving the efficacy of medically important antibiotics, is a high research priority. Salmonella enterica Serotype Cerro (S. Cerro) is an emerging serotype on dairy farms in Wisconsin and nationwide and is thought to be less severe. This team hypothesizes that initial S. Cerro colonization can prevent disease from virulent NTS in a process called competitive exclusion. To test this, calves colonized by S. Cerro will be infected with virulent NTS to determine if S. Cerro is capable of competitive exclusion. The goal of this project is to evaluate S. Cerro as a potential therapeutic by determining its impact on the host immune response and on microbiota development. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #9 (Support the National Dairy FARM Program or equivalent).

Whey to 1,2-propanediol: Unraveling the metabolic limitations of enhanced biosynthesis

Victor Ujor, Department of Food Science

Ujor is an assistant professor in the food science department. His research interests include renewable fuels and chemicals, metabolic engineering/synthetic biology, bio-based waste-to-energy technologies, and bioprocess design.

Project Summary: To address the increasing glut of cheese whey and whey permeate and their economic and environmental impact on the Wisconsin dairy industry, this research team proposes bioconversion of cheese whey and whey permeate to a 1,2 propanediol (1,2PDO). The compound 1,2PDO is an increasingly important bulk chemical that serves as a precursor to industrially relevant polymers like plastics, adhesives, and coatings. It’s also an ingredient in antifreeze and in food processing. The 1,2PDO market is expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2026. This team of researchers has engineered a synthetic bacterium strain that produces 1,2PDO from this renewable resource. To increase the 1,2PDO concentration of this strain, researchers are working to identify and untangle metabolic roadblocks to efficient 1,2PDO biosynthesis. 

This project aligns to Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #45 (Emphasis on value-added and specialty cheese in Wisconsin).