America's Dairyland is in crisis. More and more Wisconsin dairy farmers are going out of business. Part of the solution might actually involve milk — but not in the way one might think.
About 700 Wisconsin Dairy farms went out of business last year — more than two each day.
"The dairy industry has been struggling for a while, but now the problem has become acute and we must act and we must act now," said Wayne Weber, Dean of the College of Business, Industry, Life Science, and Agriculture at University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
That action starts at a farm tucked away in the rolling hills of Southwest Wisconsin. Professor Tera Montgomery helps run the Pioneer Farm at UW-Platteville. The cows and calves are part of her classroom.
"It's a living and learning laboratory so there is something going on all the time," Montgomery said. "It's a working farm."
Platteville is one of three UW schools hoping to get a share of $8 million in research dollars from the state to start the first ever Dairy Innovation Hub — a center dedicated to tasks like finding new dairy products, but also looking for unconventional ways to use milk.
One of those techniques involves combining manure and cheese byproducts in a digester, creating energy. Montgomery says that this energy could potentially run communities local to dairy farms.
Students at the Pioneer Farm are also hoping to develop new products to help people with allergies or an intolerance to milk enjoy it.
"It's making sure we are making unique products that are going to be what the consumer wants and what the consumer needs," Montgomery said.
It's not just about finding ways to produce more milk. Weber believes the research dollars will produce results for an industry that already contributes $43 billion to Wisconsin's economy.
"It's going to provide an infrastructure by which we can work with, together, industry partners - researchers, to start to deal with those questions on how do we move the dairy industry into a positive and viable industry in the future," he said.
Not only for America's Dairyland, but for America.
The research money for the Dairy Innovation Hub made it out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions with a unanimous vote. It still needs to clear the Senate and Assembly before getting to the desk of Wisconsin Governor Tony Ever.