BRYAN, Tex. — Innovation at the farm and on the store shelves is critical for the dairy industry. That’s one of the reasons Dairy Farmers of America has partnered with the Sprint Accelerator program.

The program objective is to mentor entrepreneurs who have new ideas for improving dairy-producers profitability as well as consumer demand for dairy products, said Monica Massey, Dairy Farmers of America executive vice-president and chief of staff. Called the DFA Accelerator, the program is now in its third year.

Dairy Farmers of America recently selected for its 2019 cohort seven young companies – four agricultural-technology businesses and three dairy-food-product companies.

“Hopefully some company will be the next Chobani,” said Tom Oelrichs, a fourth-generation dairy farmer and a member of the Dairy Farmers of America board of directors.

He was referring to how the Greek-yogurt manufacturer injected excitement into the industry and created new demand for dairy products.

Oelrichs and his family milk 100 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops at O-Rich Dairy near Mora, Missouri.

“The accelerator program is exciting,” he said. “I think the entrepreneurs’ ideas are wonderful. They have innovations; all they need is an opportunity to pitch them.”

The companies participating in the three-month-long accelerator program are provided opportunities to meet with company teams to discuss business development and potential sponsorships. Staff members from Dairy Farmers of America provide mentoring to the entrepreneurs. Also helping are leaders from CoBank and other investment and business-development companies. The Sprint Accelerator provides workplace facilities in Kansas City, Missouri.

Bezoar Laboratories of Bryan, one of the 2019 companies chosen, was co-founded in 2017 by Elizabeth Latham and Ryan Springer. Latham has a doctorate in animal science from Texas A&M University. While at the university she studied ruminant nutrition and microbial activity. Springer earned an engineering degree from Texas A&M University. At Bezoar Laboratories he oversees business development, operations and finance.

Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Latham and other researchers from Texas A&M have isolated a bacterium from the bovine rumen. The bacterium is able to reduce nitrite, which can result in nitrite poisoning in cattle fed nitrate for the purpose of reducing methane production. The researchers said Paenibacillus 79R4 is an easily cultured bacterium that provides antimicrobial activity against gram-negative pathogens in vitro. That may enhance the bacterium’s value as a potential probiotic for ruminants, the researchers wrote in the June 2019 edition of “Science of the Total Environment.”

Latham has continued her research. She has a patent pending on Paenibacillus fortis, a probiotic that when combined with nitrate can be used to reduce methane emissions. She said it reduces methane emissions from cattle by 50 percent.

“We’ve also seen a reduction in Escherichia coli, campylobacter and salmonella,” she said.

The probiotic is associated with an increase in feed efficiency in both dairy and beef animals, she said. It’s currently being tested at Texas A&M University, the USDA’s Southern Plains Research Center and the University of New Hampshire. Latham said her goal in 2020 is to conduct pilot studies at dairy facilities as well as at feedlots.

“The DFA Accelerator is an amazing program,” she said. “And it’s powerful to have an organization the size of Dairy Farmers of America say ‘Yes, we believe in you.’”

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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.