What started as a group of dairy farmers concerned about the future of dairy research has turned into multiple university research projects.
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Dairy farmer Mitch Breunig of Sauk City, Wisconsin chairs the Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub Advisory Council, and he says the Dairy Innovation Hub concept started when a group of farmers met at his farm around five years ago. “We really were talking about faculty cuts and retirements at the University of Wisconsin Madison Dairy Science Department and what we were going to do as an industry to, you know, sort of stem that tide and figure out how to fill those really valuable seats in the research department.”

Mitch Breunig

Breunig says the dairy industry needs research to help farmers improve everything from animal nutrition to water quality and management, to developing new products consumers want. “It wasn’t about how we can produce more milk. You know, we’ve sort of really covered that. Farmers are really good at producing more milk, but how can we be more sustainable.”

The Wisconsin Legislature has committed 7.8 million dollars annually to the Dairy Innovation Hub, which supports more than 130 short-and-long-term research projects on University of Wisconsin campuses in Madison, River Falls, and Platteville.  Breunig chairs the advisory council for the Dairy Innovation Hub.  He tells Brownfield part of the hub’s success has been attracting 15 top dairy researchers to Wisconsin so far, with more hiring planned.

Breunig says the three-year-old program is bringing University of Wisconsin researchers from multiple disciplines together.  “There’s someone in nutritional science, or there’s someone in food science, or there might be someone in biological systems engineering that would be working on something. Well now, they’re working on dairy.”

Breuing says with the Dairy Innovation Hub, the research is taking place beyond the Center for Dairy Research to involve researchers that normally wouldn’t be applying their expertise to a dairy-related study. “And even the collaborations across multiple departments where maybe it’s a bigger project where we need some data crunching and we need some engineering help, set up the trials or whatever we’re going to be running, and we’re going across multiple disciplines.”

Breunig says before the Dairy Innovation Hub, the Platteville and River Falls campuses were not doing research, but now they communicate regularly with the University of Wisconsin Madison to share and compare research results.

Globally, consumers can’t get enough of the quality and taste of American dairy products. Foreign exports of American dairy are twice the volume of the nation’s domestic dairy consumption. Last year, about 18% of U.S. dairy production was exported, and economists forecast that percentage to grow more than 25% in 2023.

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