Dairy Summit Successful

The Dairy Innovation Hub held its third annual Dairy Summit on Wednesday, November 16, at the University Center on the University of Wisconsin–River Falls campus. Over 150 researchers, campus affiliates, students, dairy professionals, and community members attended the event in-person. Another 120 people attended the event virtually, and videos of summit sessions are available online.

Through poster sessions, research presentations and panel discussions, the Dairy Summit highlighted examples of the Hub’s newest research and facilitated discussions about how this work can help meet the challenges facing today’s dairy community.

“The Dairy Summit is a really good way to paint the picture about how important the Dairy Innovation Hub is for the state,” says Randy Romanski, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “There’s a reason Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland — we’ve got activities and events and investments like this that keep showing the way forward.”

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 130 projects and 15 faculty positions across the three campuses.

The summit kicked off with posters featuring more advanced stage Hub-funded research. More than 20 posters were available throughout the day and online. Chancellor Maria Gallo, and Dean Olson, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) at UW–River Falls, gave welcome comments and attendees were introduced to members of the first panel.

Maria Woldt, program manager for the Hub, moderated a discussion focused on the connections between farmer-led conservation and Hub research. Members of the Western Wisconsin Conservation Council (WWCC) served as panelists including dairy farmer Greg Friendshuh and crop consultant Dave Tollberg. UW–River Falls associate professor Jill Coleman Wasik also joined the discussion. The WWCC has partnered with River Falls and Coleman Wasik, and through Hub-funding, have been collecting water quality data from WWCC member farms. The goal of this partnership is to quantify the connection between land use practices and groundwater quality and to use this information to educate farmers.

“When farmers see the data, they make good decisions,” said panelist Dave Tollberg. “They want to know the facts. This partnership is pretty amazing — we can actually get local, good data.”

Next on the agenda were research introductions, organized by the Hub’s four priority areas: growing farm business and communities, stewarding land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, and ensuring animal health and welfare.

“It has been really exciting to get to present some of the new research that we’re doing to dairy stakeholders in the state and the people who are also working in agriculture,” says Kate Creutzinger, who presented on her work on cow and calf welfare. “Typically, when I go to a conference, I would ever see presentations that are outside of animal-based things. It is so cool to see presentations on actual milk products or soil and water health and things like that.”

In addition to Creutzinger, seven other researchers took the stage to discuss the cost of production for Wisconsin dairy farms, manure application using vertical tillage systems, using high-pressure homogenization to transform casein proteins and the effect of stressors on heifers and calves and more.

John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, moderated the closing panel on university innovation, partnerships, and regional economic development. Panelists included Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery CEO Paul Bauer, Nasonville Dairy president Ken Heiman and Senator Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond). The panel touched on the lack of agricultural representation in Wisconsin legislature, the demand for new products and innovation in international markets, and labor shortages. Universities with agriculture programs like UW–River Falls are essential to closing these gaps.

Secretary Romanski, who is also a member of the Hub’s advisory council, is familiar with the Hub’s importance. “The thing that’s fantastic about the Dairy Innovation Hub, in addition to the great research and outreach its doing, is that it’s got this really great grassroots support, started with the Dairy Taskforce 2.0 — it’s got support in the legislature and Governor Evers supports it. And now, the industry was talking here about how clearly important it is.”

The Dairy Summit concluded with three optional tours showcasing Hub investments at UW–River Falls, including the dairy pilot plant, multiple lab spaces, and the Dairy Learning Center at Mann Valley Farm.

Video recordings of the Dairy Summit sessions can be watched on the Hub’s YouTube channel.