Fresno State students and faculty will soon benefit from $19 million in regional funding by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives that will support dairy processing capacity expansion and technical assistance in six Western states.
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$19M grant extends dairy business innovation program led by Fresno State

Fresno State’s dairy processing program will directly benefit in many ways from the follow-up, four-year grant overseen by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to dairy processors in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

Dr. Carmen Licon Cano, Fresno State assistant professor in food science and nutrition, serves as the project director. An expert in dairy product development and sensory evaluation, she is excited to help producers become more profitable and economically resilient while providing new career opportunities for students.

“This program is an important way to better connect the industry with higher education institution resources,” Licon Cano said. “The Pacific Coast Coalition offers many venues to help producers enhance their product lines, packaging, marketing, branding, supply chain methods and workforce training programs. The combined expertise also develops multiple pathways to enhance training for students and the existing dairy industry workforce.”

Dr. Susan Pheasant, director of the Institute for Food and Agriculture at Fresno State, serves as coordinator of the project, while Daniel Avila, manager of the campus creamery, will add assistance.

Students from Fresno State and other universities will benefit through an internship program and research positions as they work directly with participating companies.

A renovated, pilot plant creamery featuring modern technology will better position Fresno State at the heart of the program. New campus equipment will create products in smaller volumes while encouraging hands-on learning, research and product development. The upgrades include:

  • A cheese processing line, including a cheese vat donated by the Leprino Foods Company Foundation. Leprino Foods is a global leader of the dairy industry and has two manufacturing facilities in the Central Valley.
  • A cheese-ripening chamber.
  • A mozzarella cheese stretcher, cooker and molder.
  •  A membrane separation system to filter various components from milk to make different types of products.
  • A new semi-automated yogurt processing line.

Fresno State is located in the heart of California, the nation’s leading dairy processing state with over 40 million pounds of milk produced annually. Nearby Tulare County often ranks as the national production leader, and several other Central Valley counties routinely rank top 10 nationally. The six-state Pacific Coast Coalition region accounts for nearly 30% of all milk produced within the United States.

Additional faculty from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Cal Poly, Humboldt; Chico State; Chapman University; UC Davis; Oregon State University; and Washington State University will share their dairy processing expertise and pilot processing plants to offer technical assistance and work with industry members through outreach activities and events.

Veronique Lagrange from the California Dairy Innovation Center, participating universities and professional partners will provide technical assistance through workshops, short courses and webinars to foster innovation and best practices. Bilingual forms of training will improve the implementation for Spanish-speaking workers.

The program’s Pacific Coast Coalition was created in October 2021 thanks to an initial $1.8 million, three-year grant to support dairy product development, production, marketing and distribution in California, Oregon and Washington.

This past August, the initiative accepted its first round of applications for its innovation awards for dairy processors and producers throughout the coalition’s three initial states. A combined $300,000 per year will be awarded for the next three years in increments of $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000. This new round of funding will provide an additional $9.5 million over four years to dairy processors throughout six states.

Applications will be tied to products and methods connected to value-added product development, product line expansion, alternative processing technologies or sustainability enhancement methods that increase profitability.

The second round of funding is part of the American Rescue Plan. An initial announcement came on a campus visit in July 2022 by USDA Under Secretary Jennifer Lester Moffitt that included U.S. Representatives Connie Conway and Jim Costa and Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval.

The government officials met Fresno State Food Science and Nutrition Department graduate students Daniel Olmos and Joanie Snow and learned about their innovative dairy product research projects at the Jordan Agricultural Research Center and the facility’s Olam Sensory Laboratory.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that dairy producers and regional dairy processors, particularly those engaged in value-added production, faced systemic shocks over the past several years,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “We have heard directly from producers and processors on how we can work with the industry to build long-term resilience of regional dairy supply chains. The Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives have supported regional-focused efforts tailored to the needs of dairy farmers and businesses locally.”

Bega’s Better Farms Program supports eligible dairy farmers’ by offering up to $1.1 million worth of financial grants each year.

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