PLATTEVILLE — Out of 51 recommendations brought forward by Dairy Task Force 2.0 earlier this year, one in particular has received a significant amount of attention from both members of the task force and allies in Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
A recommendation from the task force to establish a UW Dairy Innovation Hub has even made it onto the agenda of area lawmakers, including Sen. Howard Marklein and Reps. Travis Tranel, Tony Kurtz and Todd Novak, who together have introduced Senate Bill 186 to establish the innovation hub, a proposed partnership among UW-Platteville, UW-Madison and UW-River Falls that calls for an investment in resources, facilities, faculty and staff to ensure Wisconsin continues to be a dairy innovation leader.
The bill allocates $7.9 million to create the hub at the state’s three main agricultural universities, with UW-Madison receiving 52 percent of the funding, while UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls would each receive 24 percent of the funding.
As dean of the College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture at UW-Platteville, Wayne Weber also stands behind the UW Dairy Innovation Hub proposal; the students the university draws from the agriculturally strong tri-state area in southwest Wisconsin have an immense interest in dairy innovation, with the hub poised to have far-reaching impacts not only in this area, but throughout the nation.
“This is a hub of collaboration between industry, producers, leading researchers and educators so that we can come together to solve these issues the dairy industry is facing right now,” Weber said.
“The struggles of the dairy industry aren’t new,” he said. “(But) we need to act and we need to act now to start to deal with these issues. We need experts to dig into this so that we can have solutions that are built over time and are sustainable solutions to benefit the industry, and not a Band-Aid.”
Weber understands $7.9 million is a lot of money, but it represents only .02 percent of what the dairy industry contributes economically annually, making it an affordable investment in his eyes.
“This is a cost-effective proposal that could have a huge impact on the state,” he said. “And when you have a huge impact on the dairy industry in the state, then you’re also having an impact nationally and globally.”
The successful passage of the dairy hub proposal would provide faculty, staff and resources to increase the university’s flexibility and capacity to pursue different research areas and different educational opportunities, while impacting the industry, producers and the students aiming to graduate and become leaders in Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
Weber provided several examples of how research could be expanded at UW-Platteville if the UW Dairy Innovation Hub was established; many examples originate at Pioneer Farm, a 430-acre facility that serves as a living and learning laboratory for cutting-edge research and student learning opportunities.
Students and faculty are interested in expanding small ruminant research, with opportunities on the production and processing side. Already known for their edge-of-field and groundwater monitoring at the farm, capacity could be increased in that area of research — an area the university is already considered an expert and leader in, Weber said. Research could also be expanded on grazing versus conventional dairy herd management, with further data collected on the farm’s herd.
Furthermore, milking robotics technology that has been out of service at Pioneer Farm could be updated and research could continue again on side-by-side comparisons of robotics versus conventional.
“That’s a huge positive because that data and those results, our producers and processors can look at that and figure out the ins and outs and whether or not it’s a good fit for them — what are the positives, what are the negatives — and Pioneer Farm can be a platform for industry and producers to look at what are some optimal directions to go,” Weber said.
Weber also sees opportunities for students in other areas of study, such as engineering and industrial studies, using research at Pioneer Farm through the “smart farm concept,” integrating technology and tying more opportunities together at the farm. And for the 700 undergraduate students in the College of Agriculture, the proposal “dramatically increases their learning opportunities,” exposing them to further expertise from leaders in the industry, not just at UW-Platteville, but among all three campuses and their branch campuses too.
To Weber, rural communities in southwest Wisconsin and beyond could also see positive impacts from the establishment of the UW Dairy Innovation Hub as these communities were built on agriculture and often have a desire to move agriculture forward into the future, even with the struggles currently facing the industry.
“Faculty and staff are excited about this proposal,” Weber said. “Just the impact it could have on UW-Platteville, the UW system, but then the state. It’s really phenomenal and a lot of excitement has been generated.”
Legislative deliberation continues on the proposed UW Dairy Innovation Hub, with Weber encouraging those wanting to voice their support to contact their local legislators. Further information about the proposal can be found at https://datcp.wi.gov/Documents/DairyInnovationHubProposal.pdf.