Fall 2019

In Vivo

Years of low milk prices, rising costs, and trade policy turmoil have taken their toll on our state’s dairy farmers and the dairy industry as a whole. Wisconsin lost 691 dairy farms in 2018, and it leads neighboring states in farm bankruptcies. These are trends we desperately want to reverse because when our $45.6 billion dairy industry thrives, so does our state and its citizens.

Dean Kate VandenBosch

Historically, Wisconsin farmers relied on agricultural research from UW–Madison and other UW System institutions to help build America’s Dairyland. We’re still here for them today. We’re still focusing on core areas of nutrition, production efficiency, animal welfare, and disease prevention in dairy cows. And our researchers have branched into new territories as they develop stress-reduction programs for farmers, formulate novel dairy-based food products, and establish more sustainable farming practices. Just as in the past, the dairy industry will rely on this research to move into the future.

Recognizing this, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 endorsed a plan to increase funding for dairy research at our UW agricultural schools. The task force stipulated that the research should focus on four key areas vital to the future of dairy farming in Wisconsin: stewarding land and water resources; enriching human health and nutrition; ensuring animal health and welfare; and growing farm businesses and communities. In June, the Wisconsin State Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers endorsed this plan with a state budget that includes $8.8 million for a UW Dairy Innovation Hub at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville, and UW–River Falls.

This reinvestment will generate vital new discoveries by providing improved research farms, labs, and equipment as well as new personnel. Specifically, in CALS, the proposal calls for 14–16 new faculty members, additional staff for operating enhanced facilities, and dozens of new graduate student research trainees and postdoctoral research fellows in the coming years. With the help of these added resources, we will train current and future industry leaders who will help transfer the new knowledge we generate to farms, processing plants, watersheds, and beyond.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted to formally release the funds for this initiative in early October. Now it’s time to get to work. Through the UW Dairy Innovation Hub’s research, and through its partnerships with dairy farmers and the dairy industry, we will position Wisconsin as a global leader in food production and innovation for decades to come.

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