Rebuilding The UW-River Falls Dairy Pilot Plant

A high temperature, short-time pasteurizer will serve as the heartbeat of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ much anticipated dairy pilot plant. This renovation project is 10 years in the making. Dairy industry leaders are viewing it as an education model for current and future employees in that sector. The plant was renamed the Wuethrich Family/Grassland Dairy Center of Excellence in November in honor of the Wuethrich Family Foundation and Grassland Dairy Products, Inc. having donated $1 million toward the plant.

This equipment is key to the dairy pilot plant’s modernized operations. It has been in the works for the past five years, and Michelle Farner – director of dairy production at UWRF – as well as others have eagerly anticipated its appearance. 

“This is huge, not only for our university but for the dairy industry and for Wisconsin,” Farner said. “This is what really will make our whole plant go.” 

For a variety of reasons, obtaining the pasteurizer has taken much longer than originally anticipated, Farner said. As it was moved to its location in the dairy pilot plant, she said she felt a sense of gratification.

To serve as a location where students take part in cutting-edge, hands-on learning and training in dairy production, the dairy pilot plant required significant modernization. Thus including needing a new pasteurizer.

The old pasteurizer could process about 1,100 pounds of milk an hour. Meanwhile the new one will do 5,000 pounds in the same amount of time. That increased processing speed will allow the dairy pilot plant to double the number of students working there. 

“That old equipment simply wasn’t functioning the way we needed it to,” Farner said. “We needed to remake that entire plant. It has taken time, but that is what we have done.”

Brianna Crotteau, dairy pilot plant project coordinator said the new pasteurizer and revamped dairy plant will enhance student learning. Because of the ongoing dairy plant renovation during her time at UWRF, Crotteau was not able to work with a modern pasteurizer when she was a student. But she is grateful others will have that opportunity.

UW-River Falls Chancellor Maria Gallo said the new dairy pilot plant will provide hands-on learning opportunities for students that will allow them to gain skills necessary to work in the dairy industry of today and tomorrow. Training those students receive will in turn bolster Wisconsin’s dairy sector.

The pasteurizer is the most recent piece of equipment that is part of the overhauled plant. A decade ago, Wisconsin dairy industry partners and state and UWRF officials decided to remake the plant. Since then, nearly two dozen organizations have donated $5.2 million of the dairy plant’s nearly $9 million cost.

That high degree of private funding is unusual for a UW System project, Farner said. It shows that dairy businesses are invested in making the plant a success. Companies hope to connect with well-trained prospective employees through the university’s dairy science and food science programs. 

Final work is being done on the 6,000 square-foot dairy plant. Farner says she hopes it is up and running this fall.