Editor’s note: Due to space limitations, this article will be divided up and run over the next several weeks, or it can be viewed in its entirety at www.thecountry today.com.

SHEBOYGAN — Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 members passed 49 of the 51 recommendations on which they voted during the group’s full meeting on March 15 in Sheboygan County.

The recommendations were developed by task force members with the intent of maintaining a viable, profitable dairy industry in the state.

Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0, with nine sub-committees, was created in June 2018 as a joint effort between the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the University of Wisconsin System.

“I do believe the decisions that have been made here over the last few months of this task force … it will set the course for the next 20 to 30 years,” said DATCP Secretary Brad Pfaff, who participated in the March 15 meeting.

In advance of the meeting, Gov. Tony Evers commended the task force members for their leadership and dedication.

“I appreciate their valuable contributions as we consider today’s significant challenges and tomorrow’s great opportunities for Wisconsin’s dairy industry,” Evers said. “Their input will certainly help my administration better connect the dots and make an impact on state and federal agricultural policy discussions going forward.”

Task force members ended the meeting without finalizing their next steps. For more about the task force, visit https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Growing_WI/DairyTaskForce.aspx.

Here are summaries of some of the approved recommendations (more to be published in coming weeks), including the sub-committees that presented them, the vote totals, and the problem statements and recommendations as presented by members (some summaries are condensed due to space):

RESEARCH, INNOVATION SUB-COMMITTEE

Topic: Recognize the importance of exports to Wisconsin dairy.

Problem statement: The United States exports only about 5 percent of its cheese. Exports are a huge, virtually untapped growth opportunity for the cheese industry.

Recommendation: Wisconsin needs to develop a plan and strategies that help cheese makers to produce new products successfully targeted for export markets, to provide smaller plants with logistical support needed for transporting products to distant markets, and to obtain greater consumer insights on the types of products required in key overseas markets. Wisconsin should consider developing a Wisconsin Cheese Brand and a Dairy Export Board that help grow and support the dairy export business. Vote: 25-1.

Topic: Increased collaboration in the UW System and with private industry.

Problem statement: There are world-class scientists within the UW system, including experts on cheese science, cattle genetics, microbial fermentation and consumer science. But some funding programs like the dairy checkoff make it difficult to do some types of collaboration between these experts. And those within the dairy industry aren’t always aware of UW System research that could benefit them.

Recommendation: Funding opportunities need to be explored/developed that allow for new, unique, impactful ideas to be explored that could provide significant benefits to the dairy industry by leveraging the cross-disciplinary expertise within the UW System. The task force encourages greater engagement between researchers within the UW System and the dairy industry so their research quickly benefits farmers and processors. Vote: 25-1.

Topic: Regulatory changes needed to FDA product standards of identity.

Problem statement: The dairy industry has many standards of identity that tightly regulate ingredients and how products like cheese, milk and yogurt are made. Most of these standards have not been substantially changed in several decades, and do not take into account new processing technologies and innovations. This puts U.S. dairy manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage, since European dairy companies can use these technologies to make products more efficiently than those in the United States, as well as produce some new types of value-added products.

Recommendation: Encourage the FDA to update and modernize standards of identity for dairy products that hinder product innovation, such as recent technologies for milk concentration and membrane filtration. Vote: 26-0.

Topic: Increase in dairy processor grant funding.

Problem statement: DATCP awards dairy processor grants annually on a competitive basis. Applicants are licensed Wisconsin dairy processors who are seeking opportunities to innovate and develop new dairy products, increase efficiencies in their plants, expand or modernize existing facilities, or plan for new plant or processes. Requests to the grant program are nearly two to three times the amount of available funds.

Recommendation: Have the state increase funding of the dairy processor grant program from $200,000 to $400,000 annually. Increased funding will promote and encourage growth and innovation in Wisconsin dairy plants. Vote: 26-0.

Topic: Need to engage with state and federal government leaders.

Problem statement: Challenges facing the dairy industry are complicated and constantly evolving. To ensure continued support and secure necessary policy changes, the industry must enhance efforts to communicate challenges effectively to all stakeholders, including government leaders.

Recommendation: The task force recommends dairy farmers, processors, dairy-related trade groups and businesses work together to increase and enhance communication and education efforts with state and federal government leaders. In addition, dairy industry leaders should develop a comprehensive federal and state legislative strategy. This will include assisting stakeholders in identifying and contacting local legislators and key legislators who serve on committees that directly engage with the dairy industry. The industry will provide guidance on how best to engage with legislators in person, by phone and digitally. Vote: 26-0.

Topic: Staffing analysis at Center for Dairy Research and additional state funds for full-time positions.

Problem statement: The CDR has been a crucial partner in the growth of the Wisconsin dairy industry. In 2012, dairy processors and the state partnered to raise funds to construct a state-of-the-art research and training facility for the CDR. The facility is under construction, but no new state funding has been proposed to expand the number of CDR researchers, food technologists, trainers and outreach personnel. Currently, about 4 percent of the CDR operating budget comes from state funding. A facility is only as useful as the minds that inhabit the building.

Recommendation: Devote significant additional state funding to the CDR for additional faculty and staff at UW to accelerate value-added cheese and dairy product research and development. The task force recommends CDR leadership prepare an analysis of staffing needs to optimize the capability of the new facility and share the report with industry and legislators to guide the implementation of additional funds. The task force also recommends additional funds be allocated in Wisconsin’s state budget to support new full-time staff positions at CDR. Vote: 27-0.

Topic: Emphasis on value-added and specialty cheese in Wisconsin.

Problem statement: Growth in cheese, particularly specialty cheese, and incubation of new styles and new processors, is paramount to continued demand for quality Wisconsin milk. High volume cheese such as cheddar and mozzarella are crucial commodities for Wisconsin’s processing companies and cooperatives. However, there is increasing pressure on this portion of the dairy market with a number of large-scale processing plants being built across the nation. With Wisconsin’s strength in innovation, and an existing specialty cheese infrastructure, the task force believes research and innovation in specialty and value-added cheese is vital to the stability and growth of the state’s dairy industry.

Recommendation: Conduct an in-depth consumer study to uncover new products, uses and preparations for cheese, with results shared with all processors in the state. Also, conduct an economic and engineering study to evaluate methods for shared cheese production spaces for startup operations, enabling new ideas and new cheesemakers to enter the dairy market. In addition, put together a distribution analysis to conceive and construct an infrastructure to consolidate multiple companies’ products for joint freight, cold storage and distribution in key markets within U.S. population centers. Vote: 27-0.