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Partnerships between producers, processors, universities

John Lucey Published on 11 June 2014

Strong partnerships that grow demand for dairy have always been a driving force behind the success of the industry. While producer and manufacturer efforts move the industry forward, support groups such as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Dairy Management Inc. and various dairy research centers are also crucial to industry success.

Over the years, these relationships have provided a strong base for the growth of the multi-billion dollar dairy industry we have today. While the relationship between producers and manufacturers/processors is often the focus of discussion, it’s important to understand the role researchers and educators also play in supporting the dairy industry.

Manufacturers and producers benefit from the applied research that takes place at dairy centers around the U.S. These centers also provide the industry with advice/troubleshooting, pilot plant trials, training/education and much more, but they would not exist without the generous support from producers and manufacturers.

Thanks to this partnership, there are currently six dairy foods research institutions around the U.S. These centers, such as the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), are partially funded by dairy farmers through the dairy checkoff program (via partners such as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and the Dairy Research Institute).

At the CDR, about 60 percent of our operating budget comes from the dairy checkoff program support, but we actively leverage those checkoff dollars with industry and state support.

At CDR, these dollars are used to fund dairy innovation, technical advice/troubleshooting, industry training and new product development efforts. In particular, CDR has developed programs that support cheese, cultured products, beverages, dairy ingredients, processing and safety/quality efforts within the industry.

Overall, CDR and similar dairy centers are there as a resource (on-call) for the dairy industry. The nearly 40 staff at CDR are focused on building demand for milk and dairy products through research, industry support and education. This focus has led to a number of new products and manufacturing innovations.

Some of the many CDR contributions to industry innovations include helping develop the make procedures/processes for new cheese varieties, whey and cultured products such as Roelli’s Little Mountain, Smari’s organic Icelandic yogurt, Country Oven’s Red Whey, BadgerMax and Uplands Cheese Company’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve (which is the only cheese to win the American Cheese Society’s Best of Show three times).

Additionally, CDR staff have discovered uses for dairy byproducts like whey and permeate (which have boosted milk prices), helped to tailor cheese performance on pizza and have played a major part in the growth of specialty cheese via training courses and product development.

Behind each of these initiatives is the drive to grow the dairy industry. Most of the CDR staff have deep connections to the dairy industry, either through producer or processing sectors.

Additionally, these efforts include research to assist the growing global demand for dairy. Dairy exports have certainly grown over the last few years; in fact, according to the United States Dairy Export Council (USDEC), U.S. exports exceeded $6 billion last year and have averaged a 21 percent growth each year for the past 10 years.

The export market can be difficult to enter, however, as other countries require specific and unique products and specifications to meet their consumer requirements. That’s why it has become an important focus of CDR and dairy research centers to look at current international opportunities and technical challenges, and assist dairy companies in creating products that will meet the needs of foreign consumers.

This includes the creation of new cheese types that brown and stretch exactly the way various Asian markets want. All of these innovations allow companies to successfully join the export market and continue to grow the demand for U.S. dairy internationally.

It’s also important to note that in addition to the application programs (product/process support) and applied research work at CDR, there is also a significant amount of time invested into educating the industry. Dairy research centers offer continuing education to everyone from R&D professionals, chefs and retailers to dairy plant workers.

CDR alone hosts more than 22 courses a year that focus on everything from quality/safety and cheese grading to the manufacturing of novel dairy ingredients and basic cheese-making technology. These courses are taught by CDR staff, scientists with many combined years of academic and industry experience.

CDR has also recently partnered with the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection to create a new nine-week (primarily online) training program for dairy plant workers designed to help all staff to learn more about making wholesome and safe dairy products, which is the cornerstone of the industry.

Education is yet another way that the dairy checkoff dollars are working to grow the industry and strengthen the relationship between producers, manufacturers and researchers.

Without the strong partnerships outlined above, we simply would not have the strong and growing U.S. dairy industry that exists today, which is at least a $125 billion sector. There continues to be much that needs to be done to continue the journey that the U.S. is currently on in terms of becoming a global powerhouse for new dairy products and exports.

It is because of this positive relationship between producers (who provide checkoff support), manufacturers and researchers that our industry is able to continue to grow and succeed. PD

John Lucey is the director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research.

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