Pamela Ruegg, DVM, is a CALS/UW–Extension dairy science professor and milk quality specialist whose expertise has taken her around the world. She has done international consulting work on milk quality and safety as well as enhancing on-farm implementation of best management practices to improve herd health. Her latest work has taken her to the northeast province of Heilongjiang, China, where the Nestle company is establishing a dairy training facility. The Dairy Farming Institute is a key element of Nestle’s effort to establish a larger, more reliable source of high-quality milk to supply its processing facilities in China. The institute will include a training center and three demonstration farms to teach farmers and dairy industry professionals the skills needed to manage larger, more sophisticated dairy operations. We sat down with Ruegg to discuss the university’s role in it.
Tell us what you are doing in China.
I’m leading an interdisciplinary team from UW– Madison in working with the Nestle company to help develop a $400 million Dairy Farming Institute (DFI) in northeastern China. Our role in this, through a three-year, $1.7 million agreement, is to develop a teaching curriculum for farmers, consultants, veterinarians and others throughout China.
Can you describe what the Chinese are trying to address with these dairy initiatives?
There is an enormous demand for animal proteins, specifically milk protein, in China. People want to feed their children high-quality proteins, just like we want to feed our children high-quality proteins. And one of the best ways to do that is with our very nutritious product, milk. This growing demand in China is so large that they’re estimating that, by 2020, meeting that need would require an additional volume of milk equal to the entire output of the dairy industries in Australia and New Zealand combined. And that need can’t bemet entirely by imports. So there’s a need to develop the Chinese dairy industry. The U.S. dairy industry and Wisconsin dairy suppliers are engaged in that work, and we are as well.
What can we here at CALS and in Wisconsin offer this new initiative?
Our role is a unique example of how the status of the Wisconsin dairy industry is recognized globally. We’re recognized here in Wisconsin as being leaders in the dairy industry, and they came to us because of that. The Chinese industry is seeking that knowledge base that we have here, they’re seeking the technology, and, specifically, the education we have here. They came to us and asked, “Could you help us develop a curriculum to help raise the overall level of our science knowledge base in a way that will result in safer and higher-quality food products?”
Please describe the project—how long is it going to last, how many people does it involve?
It will ultimately involve most people in the Department of Dairy Science and many people outside of it—for example, from the School of Veterinary Medicine and the CALS departments of biological systems engineering and agricultural economics. We’ve also got some curriculum designers from other colleges involved. As noted, our initial contract is for three years. The first courses took place this past fall—a threeday, introductory-level feeding course and a more advanced course about reproductive management of dairy cows. It is very likely that the project will go well beyond the three-year initial course development period. The institute itself is meant to be permanent.
How did the first courses go? Who taught them and what did they report back?
Both initial courses were fully subscribed, and all indications are that they were very well received. The learners especially liked the practical, on-farm training and case studies that reinforced the scientific principles that made up the lecture portions. For the first offering of these courses, several ofour faculty and staff from dairy science—professors Dave Combs and Milo Wiltbank, along with outreach program manager Karen Nielsen—flew to China to participate in the opening ceremony for the DFI and to work alongside industry partners and Chinese DFI trainers in delivering the classes. Ultimately, after the trainers are fully competent with the course material, level 1 and 2 courses will be offered without direct teaching by UW faculty. We will continue to develop and revise curriculum for these levels and provide oversight and quality control. Higher-level courses for veterinarians and top managers will continue to be taught by UW faculty.
Describe the partnership with Nestle.
Nestle is the leader and the primary initial investor in the Dairy Farming Institute, but there are partners from all around the world, including our own dairy farmers here in Wisconsin. Land O’Lakes, which is, of course, a cooperative, is the feed partner at the Dairy Farming Institute. And there are other companies in Wisconsin as well who have invested in the Dairy Farming Institute. Our participation is also meant to support their success.
How may this benefit the state of Wisconsin?
It will certainly lead to additional opportunities for our students here. We’re hoping that as this institute gets off the ground, we’ll be able to offer internships and have student exchanges. We also, through our participation, are supporting the Wisconsin businesses.
“We’re hoping our participation will enhance the markets for Wisconsin agribusinesses.”
Can you please look into your crystal ball for a moment and imagine what the Chinese dairy business might look like five years, 10 years, 20 years from now?
The first time I went to China was 10 years ago, and in that 10 years it’s just been remarkable, the transformation of that industry. The industry is rapidly growing. There’s a lot of investment in it. This particular project is meant to stimulate the development of Wisconsin-style farms—midsize dairies, for the most part, that are owned by private entrepreneurs, private farmers just like here. The goal of Nestle is to kind of replicate what we’ve got here that’s so beneficial for our state and our industry, where we have a lot of independent producers producing milk in a very sustainable fashion.