Last year, Wisconsin lost 691 dairy farms — the most since 2011. Wisconsin also leads neighboring states in farm bankruptcies. Consecutive years of low milk prices, increasing operational costs and changes in trade policy are exerting pressure on dairy farmers and, by extension, the entire dairy industry. We are alarmed by these trends and want to see them reversed to the benefit of the entire state.

Faculty, staff and students at the UW System’s three colleges of agriculture are working every day to support farmers and the industry as a whole. UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls teach the next generation of farmers the newest management strategies and provide international opportunities for students so they get early exposure to the global marketplace.

UW System agricultural research, which Wisconsin farmers of the past relied on to help build America’s Dairyland, still focuses on nutrition, production efficiency, welfare and disease prevention in dairy cows. In addition, UW researchers are also developing new stress-reduction programs for farmers, formulating new dairy-based food products and creating sustainable practices that benefit water, land, rural communities and farm workers.

When our dairies thrive, the state benefits from the industry’s $43 billion annual revenues. Dairy fuels Wisconsin’s economy, and research is the engine that fuels a strong dairy industry.

With this in mind, DATCP’s Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 recently endorsed a plan to increase funding for dairy research at our UW agricultural schools in four key areas that are vital to the future of dairy farming in Wisconsin: stewarding our land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare, and growing our farm businesses and communities.

Following the UW System-sponsored Dairy Summit in 2017, a group of industry partners and leaders from UW campuses crafted a plan for a “Dairy Innovation Hub” calling for a new state investment of $7.6 million per year across our three agriculture campuses. The funding, which is less than 0.02 percent of the dairy economy, should be included in the final 2019-21 state budget currently being considered by the state Legislature.

This reinvestment will generate vital new discoveries by attracting the world’s best talent to Wisconsin and providing the tools and resources for making important new discoveries. It will train current and future industry leaders, who will help transfer that new knowledge to farms, processing plants, watersheds and beyond. And it will build a world-class team of creative problem-solvers who can provide interdisciplinary solutions to the complex challenges before us.

The state’s dairy industry needs every advantage to thrive in the global market, and Wisconsin farmers partner with UW System schools to lead the world. The UW Dairy Innovation Hub is vital to the future of America’s Dairyland, and it will position Wisconsin as a leader in food production and innovation for decades to come.

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