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Innovation alliance provides industry boost
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Innovation alliance provides industry boost

Dairy Business Innovation Alliance logo

MADISON, Wis. – The Dairy Business Innovation Alliance could be considered a one-stop shop for dairy farmers interested in diversifying, and for entrepreneurs interested in creating new value-added products. Through direct grants and educational outreach, the alliance offers both technical assistance and resources for how to start a business.

The Dairy Business Innovation Act was included in the 2018 farm bill, with bipartisan leadership from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin-2-Madison. The farm bill created the Dairy Business Innovation Initiative to help dairy farmers and processors create new income streams through diversification and value-added products containing dairy. The initiative provides direct technical assistance and grants to dairy businesses.

The UW-Center for Dairy Research – in conjunction with the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and support from more than 40 dairy-trade associations in the upper Midwest – applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s competitive grant program. With that support the “Dairy Business Innovation Alliance” was formed to serve farmers and entrepreneurs in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.

The USDA in 2019 selected the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance at UW-Madison to be one of three regional centers to implement the initiative. The other two centers are hosted by the University of Tennessee, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

Also in 2019 the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance was awarded $454,000 to start providing technical assistance and grant-funding. One half of that total was to be allocated in direct grants to farms and businesses. The other half is allocated for technical assistance. There is no requirement for matching the grants, according to Tom Guerin, research program manager at the UW-Center for Dairy Research.

Using a scoring system the alliance reviewed applications and in September 2020 awarded 13 grants totaling $230,000. Eight of the grants were awarded to recipients in Wisconsin. But dairy farms and entrepreneurs in all five states were awarded grants, Guerin said.

  • Bennett Valley Cheese of Gilmanton, Wisconsin
  • Carr Valley Cheese Company of La Valle, Wisconsin
  • Country View Dairy LLC of Hawkeye, Iowa
  • Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese of Waterloo, Wisconsin
  • Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery of Ellsworth, Wisconsin
  • Farm Life Creamery LLC of Ethan, South Dakota
  • Marcoot Jersey Creamery of Greenville, Illinois
  • McCluskey Brothers of Hillpoint, Wisconsin
  • Metz's Hart-Land Creamery LLC of Rushford, Minnesota
  • Redhead Creamery LLC of Brooten, Minnesota
  • Royal Guernsey Creamery LLC of Columbus, Wisconsin
  • Taste and See Creamery of Boyceville, Wisconsin
  • Yodelay Yogurt, LLC of Madison, Wisconsin

In August 2020 the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance was awarded more than $6.1 million to support grants and educational programs for the next three years. In October 2020 the alliance launched a series of “Let’s Get Started” webinars coving different aspects of launching a dairy business.

  • introduction to the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance
  • how to create a business
  • developing a marketing plan
  • concept to prototype to ready-for-sale
  • regulatory concerns
  • food safety and quality
  • economic-development financing
  • exporting dairy products

Within those webinars are breakout sessions for each of the five states involved. Those sessions address business resources available to participants in their respective states, said John Lucey, director of the UW-Center for Dairy Research. The webinars help people who are thinking about diversifying or starting a small value-added business. They are recorded and can be accessed online.

Baldwin helped approve in January 2021 a spending package in Congress to allocate $22 million in funding for Dairy Business Innovation initiatives in 2021. The Dairy Business Innovation Alliance will be submitting a proposal in 2021 to secure additional funding as a result of the latest budget allocation.

“In these challenging times we must continue to focus on innovation and assist the growth of artisan dairy products, as they will add value that can be returned back to our dairy farmers,” Lucey said.

Guerin said, “The initiative provides a much-needed boost for dairy businesses and farmers seeking to add value to their milk. Working with our collaborators across the five states as well as the other centers in Tennessee and Vermont, we are able to share experiences, ideas and learnings for everyone’s benefit.”

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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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