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Hub remains center of dairy activity

Despite COVID-pandemic shutdowns the University of Wisconsin-Dairy Innovation Hub has remained a center of activity. Since January 2020 the hub has awarded more than 100 grants and appointed 11 new faculty members. It also has resulted in three patents, 26 journal publications and 51 research presentations.

Heather White recently provided a progress update on the UW-Dairy Innovation Hub at the Dairy Business Association’s annual Dairy Day at the Capitol. White is the hub’s faculty director as well as an associate professor of dairy science at UW-Madison.

The pandemic had shut down the UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls campuses beginning in March 2020. But the Dairy Innovation Hub’s advisory council and steering committees from the three campuses continued to meet virtually for brainstorming sessions, updates and reviews.

The council is comprised of representatives nominated by the stakeholder groups that helped champion the hub, as well as campus liaisons. Decisions are made after peer review so that the hub always funds the best science, White said.

By August 2020 the first group of hub-funded faculty were already starting work. The hub had a role in the hiring processes.

“It was phenomenal to see the candidate pool,” White said. “People from all over the world in established faculty positions were looking at Wisconsin.”

The hub showed those candidates how much the state of Wisconsin values the dairy industry and how its investment in infrastructure could help further their career work, she said. She added that across campus UW-Madison has about a 35 percent to 50 percent success rate at obtaining the best candidates wanted in faculty searches.

“With the hub-faculty searches we were 100 percent successful,” she said. “The top candidates we offered positions to accepted with enthusiasm in each of the cases.”

UW-Madison has hired five new faculty in the first round of funding.

• Margaret Kalcic and Xia Zhu-Barker are focused on the hub’s land- and water-stewardship priority area. Both are involved in nutrient management.

• Charles Nicholson has been hired to focus on dairy economics.

• Hilario Mantovani is a rumen microbial physiologist. Before joining UW-Madison he was a professor at Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Viçosa.

• Joseph Pierre is the fifth new faculty member. His research is in human health and nutrition. He’s focused on irritable bowel syndrome and the role of dairy products in meeting consistent dietary needs. He’s also studying the role of dairy protein in avoiding weight gain after bariatric surgery. He’s collaborating with surgical specialists.

UW-Platteville has hired three new faculty members.

• Ryan Pralle is involved in ruminant nutrition.

• Joseph Sanford is in agricultural and biological systems engineering.

• Zifan Wan is involved in dairy-food science and management.

UW-River Falls also has hired three new faculty members.

• Kate Creutzinger is in animal welfare.

• Grace Lewis is in dairy processing.

• Luis Peṅa-Lẻvano is in community economic development.

Postdoctoral research funded

UW-Madison has funded two rounds of postdoctoral-research fellowships. The postdocs work with established researchers on campus.

“When you’re a postdoc you can work in someone else’s lab and you can ask a daring, bold question,” White said. “You don’t yet have your whole career on the line and you’re not taking classes anymore … you know the basics of research so you have all that time to dedicate to something.”

The postdocs can follow through on short-term impactful research. The one-year projects can produce tangible results that a dairy farmer or a cheesemaker could immediately put to use, for example. That way there can be some early accomplishments to balance the time required to hire research faculty across the campuses, White said.

Equipment investments needed

The hub has funded equipment purchases at all three campuses. Lack of necessary equipment is one of the biggest limitations to research, White said.

At UW-River Falls funding has enabled researchers to purchase a “Cal-Meter” for cow-side determination of subclinical hypocalcemia in cattle. The research is headed by Steve Kelm in the Department of Animal and Food Science at UW-River Falls.

UW-Madison has purchased the C-Lock Inc. GreenFeed unit to measure methane and carbon-dioxide emissions from cattle in freestall barns or on pasture. It's currently being used to study animals at the UW-Marshfield Agricultural Research Station. And because it’s portable it can also be used at other research stations across the state.

UW-Platteville purchased two robotic-milking systems, which are housed at UW-Pioneer Farm. It’s one of the only educational institutions in the country that has two milking robots as well as a milking parlor on site, White said.

The robots are being used in various research projects. One project involves evaluating saturated-fatty-acid supplements in early-lactation cow rations. The robots also can provide data on milking time per cow, and milk output by teat or udder quadrant. Their infrared technology can be used for predicting milk-component levels. With predictive models, farmers could obtain early information about cow-health conditions.

The hub is benefiting people across Wisconsin. Farmers, dairy processors, citizens and students can all be positively affected by the research being conducted, White said.

“We’re really proud of the impact we’re having,” she said.

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This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit for more information.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.

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