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MADISON - When Scott Rankin, UW-Madison food science chair and professor, moved to a new office recently, he found a flier for the newly renovated Babcock Hall — in 1951.  That building, which now houses the Department of Food Science, the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, and the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) hasn't seen a major upgrade since then. 

After six years of planning, that is changing through a $47 million project to renovate Babcock Hall Dairy Plant and build a three-story addition for the CDR.

With nine construction projects underway at UW-Madison, the Babcock Hall construction project is unique.

"It's the result of one of the largest partnerships we've ever created for putting a building together," UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said at a groundbreaking celebration on Sept. 7. 

Nearly 200 individuals and organizations donated $18 million in eight months "to make this dream a reality," Blank said. 

Patience paying off

Even though the project took years of planning, "our patience paid off," said Blank.

"The facility is going to be one of the premiere dairy education and research centers in the nation," Blank said. "And most importantly, it's going to be a hub for discovery and innovation for Wisconsin's dairy industry, working closely with our faculty and our students." 

With a $43 billion dairy industry in Wisconsin, the CDR "is critically important to ensuring that Wisconsin's vital dairy industry remains world class and strong," Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Assistant Deputy Secretary, Keith Ripp said. 

When the Governor's Dairy Task Force met last month, innovation and research were a priority, according to Ripp. 

"So this facility will help ensure that going forward, Wisconsin and UW-Madison, will stay at the forefront of dairy worldwide," Ripp said.

When the CDR began in 1986, the vision was to have a world class dairy research and education facility, explained John Lucey, CDR director and UW-Madison food science professor.

"We can start to see that coming to fruition today," Lucey said. "We are proud to have the Dairy in our building and new equipment necessary for us to reach the goal of world class."

With limited pilot plant areas to make cheeses, do research and training, Lucey said, "We are really squeezed, squashed," with not enough space for equipment or training. 

"For us, this is a dream come true," Lucey explained. "We'll have lots of new pilot spaces, state of the art equipment, dedicated areas for cheese and specialty cheese and yogurts and powders. We're in heaven."

CDR addition

With cheese being "a big thing here in the state of Wisconsin," the three-story CDR addition will include nine individual ripening rooms "to ripen every kind of specialty cheese under the sun," Lucey said. 

"We never had any ripening rooms for mold cheese or smear cheese - we will have nine of them. That is very big for us," said Lucey. "We did a lot of helping people, but we would do something here [at the CDR] and then take it out to plants. Now we can do it [all] here."

A broader array of dairy food processing equipment will enable the CDR to expand the product research and development services it offers to the state's cheese industry, according to a fact sheet for the project. The new facility will enhance the CDR's ability to work with companies developing new foods that utilize alternative dairy products, such as whey. It will also have new and improved equipment to work with fermented dairy products, such as specialty yogurts, which is a growing sector with consumers. 

For the dairy industry, Lucey sees the CDR addition as "a game changer."

"We've worked very hard with them for helping grow the specialty cheese and grow our industry, but with these new spaces, programs and equipment, we see the industry going from strength to strength, and the industry realizes that too," Lucey said. " They put in over $18 million into this project mainly because they see it as something they can use and need within their industry."

Dairy industry support

Cheesemaker enthusiasm with the project was evident in the $18 million donated to make the project a reality. In 2012, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association Executive Director John Umhoefer said they decided to "start the money rolling," and in two months two-thirds of the money was raised. 

"The money flowed quickly because the industry saw a 70-year-old building and said, yes, it's time," Umhoefer explained. "That building is vital and it's crumbling."

For those in the dairy industry, the CDR is "indispensable."

"They are everybody's R and D department and they will have a gleaming facility," Umhoefer said. "We need to find every way we can to find more money in value added cheeses, and other products. We’ve already moved beyond cheddar, but we need to keep climbing that ladder, and making more and more for the farmer."

In a state that's "really good at making milk, "any time we create new opportunities for our dairy products ... it's always good for Wisconsin dairy farmers," said George Crave, manager of the cheese factory at Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics.

The Crave brothers used the CDR when they started their cheese business almost 20 years ago, Crave said. 

"CDR was number one where we went with some of our milk to make some of our mozzarella and they're always there to answer the phone," Crave explained. "It's a great relationship to have that world class research right in our backyard."

The number of dairy businesses willing to financially support the project points to the importance of the CDR and how many "use this resource in our state for little questions to really big questions, on how to add more value to our milk and make a better product," Crave added.

Gary Gosda, plant manager at Lake Country Dairy, said the construction project is great. "We've been waiting for it.

"This is what makes Wisconsin, is cheese, dairy, and to keep that going, we need that research; we need this location to train all our new employees," Gosda said. "It's just tremendous for the industry."

Lake Country Dairy has worked with the CDR "quite a bit on a couple of our cheeses, either troubleshooting problems or extending shelf life, making changes to the product for what the consumer wants," Gosda explained. "They have been a huge asset."

However, the CDR has also been beneficial for Lake Country Dairy when training new employees from non-dairy, non-cheese backgrounds. 

"We bring them into our plant, teach them food and now they can come down to Madison to CDR and learn hands-on the real nuts and bolts of making cheese, GMPs (good manufacturing practices), all the rules and regulations and have a better understanding so they can come back and help us make better cheese," Gosda said. "More or less instill the passion of the cheese industry that we have. It’s a huge benefit."

Babcock Hall Dairy Plant

While the construction project has been six years in the making, the impetus behind it really began in a department committee meeting nearly a decade ago, Rankin said. They were working to maintain the aging Babcock dairy plant and frustrated with the scope of the effort, a colleague of Rankin stated something that was on on everyone's mind, "We need a new facility."

From that point a campaign was crafted and designed until it "finally, finally" came to the groundbreaking event, said Rankin. 

The Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, built in 1951, produces milk, cheese and ice cream for on-campus and some off-campus retail sites, according to the fact sheet. However, it also serves as a laboratory and learning facility for student, university researchers and industry personnel.

Dairy Plant renovation is anticipated to start in early 2020. The renovation will modernize the Dairy Plant, provide more freezer and cooler space, an improved raw milk receiving bay, new piping, pumps and valves to move milk and milk products more efficient around the plant, according to the fact sheet. 

When renovation begins, the Dairy Plant will be shut down for 13 to 14 months, but Babcock ice cream will continue to be made at an off-site frozen dessert manufacturing facility. 

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The last few weeks were illustrative of the work done at Babcock Hall, Rankin said. They taught a course on milk pasteurization for 50 professionals, primarily comprised of employees of project donors. Several trials on frozen desserts were conducted. The newest freshman class was welcomed with Babcock dairy products and the new cohort of graduate students, many who are working on dairy related projects.

"Investments of time, finances and thoughtful deliberations for this project hold significant implications for our future" said Rankin. "While I’m grateful that Babcock ice cream, milk, cheese and, thanks to [donor] Lennie [Ivarson], butter again, will remain as important parts of our campus community, the most impactful returns come in the form of us teaching and conducting research activities that help us shape the future capacity of our students and industry professionals to thrive through this great university, this great dairy state of Wisconsin, and this great dairy industry."

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