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Hub of innovation for dairy proposed by legislators

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
The Dairy Innovation Hub bill was introduced in a press conference on May 1, 2019. Pictured: Rep. Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer), Amy Penterman, Dutch Dairy, Thorp, Dr. Dale Gallenberg, Dean of the UW River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City), Dr. Wayne Webber, Dean of the UW Platteville College of Business, Life Science and Agriculture, Sen. Marklein,Dr. Kate VandenBosch, Dean and Director of the UW Madison College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) and Rep. Loren Oldenburg (R-Viroqua).

Based off the top recommendation of the Dairy Task Force 2.0, Sen. Howard Marklein, (R-Spring Green), and Rep.Travis Tranel, (R-Cuba City), introduced legislation on May 1, to provide funding for dairy research at UW System colleges of agriculture.

The legislation, introduced as Senate Bill 186, would create a Dairy Innovation Hub in the University of Wisconsin System. It would provide $7.9 million in funding for three University of Wisconsin Colleges — UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls.

"This investment represents less than .02% of Wisconsin's dairy industry," Marklein explained at a news conference, referring to the $43 billion the dairy community generates each year for the state's economy.

UW-Madison would receive 52% of the funds, while UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls would each receive 24%.

"The goal of this investment is to attract and support world class researchers to lead focused research in four sectors," said Marklein. 

The four sectors are steward land and water resources; enrich human health and nutrition; ensure animal health and welfare; and grow farm businesses and communities. 

"It is important to point out that the Dairy Innovation Hub is not about increasing production," Marklein added. "We already do a good job of that. Instead we will be dedicating the same caliber of effort, research and innovation as we have given to production, to new priorities."

Issues that could be addressed with the hub include exploring water quality issues, developing new and unique dairy products, examining new non-food uses for dairy products, applying dairy research to real-life issues, opening new markets for Wisconsin dairy products and to "actively deploy research discoveries to the dairy industry," Marklein explained.  

Each campus would have flexibility to use the funding in their own way to achieve the goals of the Dairy Innovation Hub, including hiring faculty and staff researchers, empowering students to conduct research, as well as providing support for research facilities and infrastructures. 

Sen. Howard Marklein (center) announces Senate Bill 186 on May 1, to establish a Dairy Innovation Hub at UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls.

"Overall, I am confident that these recommendations from the Dairy Task Force 2.0 is a strong, powerful step toward real results that will help the dairy industry and agriculture overall."

With farmers used to ebbs and flows, but not used to losing money or barely breaking even for five consecutive years, said Tranel who is a farmer, "it's hard for most people to wrap their head around that." 

"I challenge you to envision any other industry where they go through five consecutive years of being able to break even at best and in a lot of cases losing money," he said. 

Listening to constituents and "being honest," Tranel said the proposal, "would not fix the dairy industry overnight."

"Milk producers are not going to see an increase in the value of their milk checks overnight. I want to be very upfront about that and saying we completely recognize that and appreciate that," said Tranel. ""But overall, the state needs to make this long-term investment. ... We need to figure out how to add value to something that we are already very, very good at doing."

With only 2% of the population producing food for the other 98%, Tranel said it will be "a challenging lift" that needs the support of legislators and the governor. 

Amy Pentermann, a Clark County dairy farmer, member of the Dairy Task Force 2.0 and Dairy Business Association board member said the proposal is "our state investing in our businesses."

Representative Travis Tranel spoke about the benefits the Dairy Innovation Hub could provide for the state's dairy industry during a press conference in Madison on May 1.

"Any business that is out there, you want to do better. You don't want to stay the same. You want to grow, you want to innovate," said Penterman. "In order for us to remain the leaders [in the dairy industry] we have to invest in our future."

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) Dean Kate VandenBosch said they would like to see the dairy trends reversed and for the UW System to help contribute to that effort.

VandenBosch said UW research focuses more than the efficient production of milk but on "every aspect of farm management and consumer product development as well," VandenBosch said. "Research can identify new ways to protect our watersheds, develop new decision-making tools for producers to make farm management decisions easily and quickly and confidently, and also to generate food products that appeal to future generations of dairy consumers."

The proposal would allow UW schools to train industry leaders to "continue to develop new solutions and to transfer new knowledge to farms, processing plants, fields and beyond," added VandenBosch.  

Dr. Wayne Weber, UW-Platteville Dean of College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture, said UW-Platteville is "strategically positioned for this initiative with almost 700 agriculture students, a successful animal science and dairy science program branch campuses that increases our footprint across the state, strong relationships with producers and industry and a significant resource in Pioneer Farm, that is a living and learning laboratory,"

"What this initiative does is bring us to a whole new level in providing faculty staff and resources so that we can provide the state cutting edge research and significantly create learning opportunities for students," Weber said. "The Dairy Innovation Hub is a cost effective proposal that will have a massive impact on the state and the dairy industry."

Dr. Dale Gallenberg, Dean of UW-River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES), said the Hub idea "represents collaboration across the university system, across the industry, across producer groups. Folks want this to happen."

Gallenberg pointed to the four areas of emphasis as being key to the industry and adding "value to what we have and taking care of our environment in ways that we know we can and should."

While the impact and size of the dairy industry in Wisconsin is significant, what Gallenberg sees as more significant "is the spread of that industry across the state."

"It's a state-wide industry with state-wide challenges and we believe state-wide opportunities," said Gallenberg. "The challenges will be addressed, the opportunities will be seized because of the collaborative nature of this program."

John Holevoet, director of government affairs for the Dairy Business Association, testifies about the benefits of the proposed Dairy Innovation Hub on May 1 during a hearing by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions at the state Capitol in Madison.

Five Wisconsin farm groups applauded legislators for championing such an important initiative and urged state lawmakers to increase the investment in scientists and supporting facilities at the state’s agricultural colleges.

The Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin said the proposal is vital to ensuring a robust future for the state’s dairy community while maintaining UW’s prominence in dairy research around the world.

“The hub strategy will build a world-class team of creative problem-solvers who can provide interdisciplinary solutions to the complex challenges before us,” the groups said in a joint statement after a press conference at the Capitol.

“As a global leader in dairy research, the University of Wisconsin System has long pointed the way toward innovative solutions that kept America’s Dairyland thriving," said Tom Crave, president of the Dairy Business Association. "Today, the challenges facing our farmers, processors and others are increasingly complex and the stakes could not be higher. It’s critical that we remain at the forefront through next-generation research that would come from the Dairy Innovation Hub.”

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Vice President and dairy farmer Kevin Krentz testified in support of the Dairy Innovation Hub bill on May 1. "Wisconsin is a global leader in dairy. To continue being that leader we need innovative research that provides the solutions that address today’s concerns and will meet tomorrow's market place demands," said Krentz

John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association said, “Increased investments in the University of Wisconsin System’s dairy initiatives will provide a much-needed boost to an industry challenged by international trade conflicts and a severe workforce shortage. As faculty researches new value-added products and trains the next generation of farmers and cheesemakers via the Dairy Innovation Hub, they will truly be working to ensure Wisconsin retains its title as America’s Dairyland for decades to come.”

Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte, said in order for Wisconsin "to continue to be a world leader" in the dairy industry, "we must enhance our research capabilities. The UW Dairy Innovation Hub would build upon our existing dairy data but specialize on the issues that farmers face today. This would help our dairy farmers stay competitive in the future.”

It was forward-thinking research and outreach from the UW System in the 19th century that helped the state's dairy industry blossom, explained  Darin Von Ruden, president of Wisconsin Farmers Union. 

"Now in the 21st century, dairy farmers face new challenges and will benefit from focused investments by University of Wisconsin to help farmers steward land and water resources, enrich human health and nutrition, ensure animal health and welfare, and build farm businesses and rural communities,” Von Ruden added.

With the entire world looking to Wisconsin as the dairy industry's leader and America's Dairyland at the brink of crisis, help is needed if the state is going to continue to lead the world in important research and relevant discoveries, explained Shelly Mayer, executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

“The dairy and food world is moving so fast — we’re in dire need of researchers at the UW level to answer not only the questions of today but also to solve tomorrow’s issues," said Mayer. "The time is now to invest in the Dairy Innovation Hub.”

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.