The Dairy Innovation Hub is now well into its second year and is already having impacts across the three participating campuses. Of the $7.8 million in annual funding, 52 percent goes to UW-Madison and 24 percent each to UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls to build research capacity, recruit top talent, support innovative research and engage in outreach and instruction.
The Hub encompasses all aspects of dairy, from the farm to the consumer, as represented by the four priority areas: enhancing human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare, stewarding land and water resources and growing farm businesses and communities.
In addition to supporting established dairy researchers, the Hub has generated interest from faculty and staff at each campus who are new to dairy, which represents new collaborators, fresh perspectives and new innovation. With continued interest and enthusiasm toward dairy, our ability to do innovative research continues to grow.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau, along with several other key champions, helped make the Hub a reality. The concept endorsement in December of 2018 was followed by an introduction of the legislation by Senator Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Representative Tranel (R-Cuba City) in May 2019. The following months included approval of a spending plan set to guide the Hub’s efforts and funding became available to campuses in late 2019. Groundwork was also laid during these months that aligned the spending plans with mechanisms to solicit and review proposals which meant the first funding decisions were made a few short months later. Despite campus closures due to COVID-19, we have met all of our benchmarks and goals for the first fiscal year, as reported in the first annual report.
A few notable highlights from the 2019-2020 annual report include:
- More than 50 funded proposals across three universities and four priority areas
- Nearly $500,000 in documented spending for first six months toward dairy-related talent, capacity-building equipment and research
- $5.1 million allocated for new dairy faculty, staff, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers for the 2019-2021 biennial state budget cycle
- Collaborative and synergistic initiatives across three campuses
- Engaged advisory council and three active steering committees
This winter and spring, we will focus on recruiting and hiring at least eight Hub-funded faculty members, across all three campuses and in each priority area. These are new positions and represent exciting areas of research and teaching that complement current expertise. In a time when many campuses are unable to hire faculty due to budget cuts or hiring freezes, the Hub is enabling the three campuses to recruit the best and brightest in dairy to build research and teaching programs.
An aspect of the Hub that we can’t over-emphasize is the collaboration between each campus. We have encouraged and fostered collaboration not only across the leadership teams, but across faculty and facilities and we already have examples of researchers working together across campuses on projects that would be prohibitive without collaboration.
The deans at each campus have worked together to support this collaborative approach. WFBF Vice President Dave Daniels, along with other external stakeholders, sits on the Hub advisory council and works tirelessly to ensure we are true to the original vision and focus in each priority area. Dave and others have also donated their time to help review funding proposals to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the dairy community.
As we reflect on the Hub’s first year, and execute our second-year plans, it is encouraging to see the progress that can be achieved when enthusiastic participants come together. Gathering input from external stakeholders, working across the three campuses and building new collaborative relationships have all contributed to making the vision for the Hub a reality.
It’s important for farmers, processors, allied industries and consumers to engage with the Hub and we strive to maintain open and transparent communication about our efforts, funded by the State of Wisconsin. To learn more about the Hub and to join our mailing list, visit dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu.
Heather White is an associate professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. Her research focuses on the health and nutrition of dairy cows during the transition period. In 2019, White was named faculty director of the Dairy Innovation Hub. This column ran in the Febraury|March 2021 Rural Route.