Dairy Innovation Hub holds first Dairy Summit

The Dairy Innovation Hub held its first annual Dairy Summit on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The event, held in a virtual format, included welcome remarks, progress reports on Hub-funded research projects, as well as panel sessions featuring dairy farmers, food industry representatives and state legislators. As the host institution of the summit, UW–Platteville also gave participants a virtual tour of Pioneer Farm.

The Dairy Innovation Hub, which launched in 2019, harnesses research and development at UW–MadisonUW–Platteville and UW–River Falls campuses to keep Wisconsin’s dairy community at the global forefront in producing nutritious dairy products in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner. It is supported by a $7.8 million annual investment by the state of Wisconsin.

To date, 50 funding awards have been made to researchers on the three campuses. The summit was an opportunity for the Hub researchers to share results from the first year, and also a chance to listen and collect ideas for potential future research topics.

After welcome remarks from leaders of the Hub’s three home institutions, researchers shared brief updates on their work in the Hub’s four focus areas: stewarding land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare, and growing farm business and communities. Recordings of all summit sessions are posted online on the Hub’s Dairy Summit webpage at: https://dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu/dairy-summit/.

The afternoon featured three panel sessions, including one with three farmers who shared their ideas for challenges they’d like to see studied or worked on by Hub researchers. Katie Roth of Banner Ridge Farms near Platteville brought up manure odor as a challenge that could benefit from research, among a number of issues. “I test all of our cows for ketosis at home using a BHBA meter,” Roth shared. “And I was thinking [it would be nice to have] something available like that for milk fever.”

Amy Penterman of Dutch Dairy, located near Thorpe, brought up manure and water recycling. She would also like to see biodegradable plastics—preferably derived from milk—for covering stored materials on her farm.

Mitch Breunig of Mystic Valley Dairy, located near Sauk City, brought up the need for better manure options for smaller-size farms, increased water efficiency, and more diverse crop and cover crop options for dairy farms. Breunig explained it’s about making a long-term investment in the future.

“We are not going to notice the lack of research and science and progress today, but if we’re not doing [the research] today, 20 years from now we’re still going to be asking the same questions, we’re still going to be having the same problems,” said Breunig. “The questions we ask today are going to provide the solutions for 20 years from now.”

State legislators also shared their thoughts for future research aims during a panel session that included Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Representative Dave Considine (D-Baraboo) and Representative Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc). The far-reaching discussion touched on a number of topics, including sustainability, animal welfare, growing the state’s export market, and the need for more research on health-promoting components in dairy foods. All three officials mentioned water quality.

“We all want clean water. That shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said Kurtz. “I think this is going to be a great step forward in that, especially having [the three Hub] campuses and [their] different unique terrain features and soil types to help study this.”

The third panel explored the need for Hub researchers to continue doing dairy foods research to expand demand for dairy-based ingredients, including for infant formula, medical nutrition products and sports nutrition products.

One fun aspect of the summit was the opportunity to vote for a winner in the Dairy Innovation Challenge student competition, which was open to students from the three UW campuses involved in the Hub. Participants engaged in a semester-long program to develop new products to grow the Wisconsin dairy community. Each team benefited from consultation with an assigned industry mentor. The three top awards went to projects involving bio-actives to extend the shelf-life of yogurt; an online game to encourage dairy consumption; and a non-invasive septum ring to monitor cow temperature. A video highlighting challenge winners is posted online at: go.wisc.edu/votedairychallenge.

The Summit concluded with a virtual tour of Pioneer Farm, UW–Platteville’s 430-acre teaching, research and outreach farm, followed by brief final remarks from Heather White, faculty director of the Dairy Innovation Hub.

“Our goals are to create synergistic collaborations that are additive in impact; not to replicate or duplicate, but to do it better by collaboration,” said White, an associate professor in the UW–Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. “We already have examples of researchers working together across campuses on projects that would have been prohibitive without collaboration. [And] despite campus closures due to COVID-19, we have met all of our benchmarks and goals for the first year.”