Dairy Innovation Hub contributes to research, talent in Animal & Dairy Sciences

By Dr. Heather White, faculty director, and Maria Woldt, program manager, Dairy Innovation Hub

Heather White, faculty director of the Dairy Innovation Hub

The first Dairy Innovation Hub funding decisions were made three years ago – almost to the date – and we are already seeing impacts across UW-Madison, UW-Platteville, and UW-River Falls. Of the $7.8M in annual funding, 52 percent comes to UW-Madison 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. This initiative is a college-wide effort and has garnered interest and collaborators from almost every CALS department and center on campus.

This investment has created significant opportunities for faculty and staff in animal and dairy sciences by funding faculty positions, trainee and graduate students, equipment, and research projects.

The Hub has added eight new faculty members in CALS (17 overall), including three in Animal & Dairy Sciences (ADS). Hilario Mantovani’s research program is focused on understanding the functions and ecological interactions between anaerobic microbes that colonize the gastrointestinal tract of ruminants. Lautaro Rostoll Cangiano, who will join the department this spring, brings expertise in cattle immunology and intestinal microbiology and the connection between nutrition, productivity, and immune function. Finally, Chuck Nicholson has a joint appointment with the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and specializes in dairy markets and policy, food systems modeling, controlled-environment agriculture, and linkages between agriculture and food security.

Numerous equipment purchases have been made possible through the Hub’s capital equipment RFP process. These awards have infused equipment that has added novel capacity, or increased capacity in key areas. Equipment is used in campus labs and on the farms at Arlington, MARS, and the DCC. In total, 15 equipment awards have been made to ADS faculty.

Funding for trainees has added bandwidth and talent to the department. Four postdoctoral researchers and one graduate student have joined the department since 2020, with more planned for the future.

Hub funds continue to have an impact on ADS with funding for short-term, high-impact projects. These 1-year grants are designed to address challenges faced by the dairy community on a condensed timeline so farmers, veterinarians and service providers can see results sooner. Funds from these projects can support salary for graduate and undergraduate students, post docs, technicians or the PI, supplies, and travel. To date, 10 short-term, high-impact grants have been awarded to ADS faculty.

Equally as important as the grants themselves is the increased critical mass and interest in dairy-related questions in other CALS departments that provide key collaborations in multidisciplinary approaches. Rejuvenated interest in dairy-related challenges and opportunities has kindled discussions across departments and disciplines leading to numerous new collaborations and novel approaches.

As we reflect on the Hub’s first three years, 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. To learn more about the Hub and to join our mailing list, visit dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu.

Maria Woldt, program manager

Heather White is a professor in the Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences. Her research focuses on the nutrition, efficiency, and health of dairy cows during the transition period and throughout lactation. In 2019, White was named faculty director of the Dairy Innovation Hub. Maria Woldt serves as the program manager for the Dairy Innovation Hub. In this role, she manages Hub programs and relationships, develops, and disseminates communications, and organizes events. Maria also coordinates activities between Hub collaborators at UW–Madison, UW-Platteville, and UW-River Falls.