RIVER FALLS, Wis. — The Wisconsin Farmers Union and the University of Wisconsin-Extension sponsored a recent day-long seminar in River Falls — “Adding Value to Your Milk: Exploring On-Farm Dairy Processing.”

Mike Travis is an agricultural educator in Pierce and Pepin counties for UW-Extension. He encouraged attendees to wipe the slate clean, to approach the possibility of on-farm processing with open minds. Although the task of on-farm dairy processing might seem daunting, he said there are statistical trends in food consumption that are opening the door to possibilities for small dairy producers.

There has been a 500 percent increase in the presence of Wisconsin farmers markets in the past 20 years. Mirroring that trend is an increase in micro-breweries across the state. That points to a consumer who is interested in small-scale food production — one who wants to know the source and process behind what he or she is eating. Travis said that makes small-scale on-farm processing a viable alternative to commodity marketing of dairy products.

Joe Folsom is the executive director of Pierce County Economic Development Corporation. He’s also a small-business mentor with SCORE, a source of free business mentoring and education that offers workshops and educational resources. Folsom encouraged the audience to use a business-model template to analyze start-up plans. One of the most important aspects to consider is what will set the business apart to make it unique and desirable to a group of consumers. Visit www.score.org for more information.

Michelle Farner, manager at the UW-Dairy Pilot Plant in River Falls, spoke about the significance of dairy production to Wisconsin’s economy. She said dairy is more important to Wisconsin than citrus is to Florida in terms of economic impact. She illustrated how dairy-consumption trends are changing, with less fluid product being consumed. But butter, cheese and yogurt are on the increase — pointing to a potential for small-scale processing. Farner echoed Folsom’s statement about considering what a niche could be for a producer of specialty dairy products. She said many successful small-scale dairy processors include agritourism as part of their business models.

Because cheesemaking is a popular choice for small-scale processors, Farner addressed requirements for obtaining a mydatcp.wi.gov/Home/ServiceDetails/4a8ef01f-2b76-e711-80fe-0050568c4f26?Key=Services_Group" target="_blank">cheesemakers license in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is set apart from other states in that an apprenticeship is required to obtain a cheesemaker license. Apprenticeship hours can only be fulfilled by working with a licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker. Coursework is also required to receive a license; it can vary according to the previous education level of an applicant. Visit mydatcp.wi.gov and search for “cheesemaker“ for more information.

One of the obstacles that potential producers need to consider is the limited number of apprenticeships available within the state. One of the problems in finding a willing mentor cheesemaker is that providing an apprenticeship opens the door for possible competition when the apprentice becomes licensed.

The UW-www.uwrf.edu/CAFES/DairyPilotPlantRenovation.cfm" target="_blank">Dairy Pilot Plant is a licensed facility available on a rental basis for producers to create test batches of products for analysis. The facility is currently under remodeling in order to expand capabilities and better accommodate the needs of small-scale producers. Visit www.uwrf.edu and search for “Dairy Pilot Plant“ for more information.

The day ended with a farmer panel consisting of Theresa Depies of Springbrook Organic Dairy near Springbrook, Wisconsin; Josh Bryceson and Ram Hoffpauir of Turnip Rock CSA and Cosmic Wheel Creamery near Clear Lake, Wisconsin; and Meg Wittenmyer of Bifrost Farms near Boyceville, Wisconsin. The producers shared their challenges and successes with on-farm processing. Visit for more information:

The event represented the Wisconsin Farmers Union’s continuing effort to promote value-added dairy as potential business models to increase profits in a struggling dairy economy.

Visit www.uwex.edu and www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com for more information.

Greg Galbraith’s life has unfolded like a country song. He and his wife, Wendy, came from the city to buy themselves a farm. They did right by it, keeping it in grass from one end to the other and grazing colorful cattle on it for 30 years. They raised three kids, turning them into responsible adults anyone could be proud of. After transitioning to organic production they sold the farm to a local dairy couple. They left the land better than they found it. Greg Galbraith kept a favorite tractor and other loves of rural life, including 20 acres of his grandfather’s original farm with a sugar bush and cabin. From there he will continue to write about the evolving rural landscape. Visit www.poeticfarmer.com for more information.