Dairy Task Force 2.0 Trying to Match Impact of Late ’80s Effort

Supporters say the proposed Dairy Innovation Hub under consideration by the Wisconsin Legislature, one of 49 recommendations approved by Dairy Task Force 2.0, could match or go beyond the significance of the signature recommendation made by the first dairy task force in the late 1980s.

That task force told cheese producers to focus more on making specialty cheeses. At that time, the dairy industry was in the throes of an economic downturn as challenging as the current one.

As it turned out, the combined efforts of the Center for Dairy Research and the state’s cheese producers beginning in the early 1990s helped make specialty cheese a staple of the state dairy industry and strengthened its economic position, here and around the world.

While California overtook Wisconsin as the nation’s top milk producer that decade, America’s Dairyland stayed firmly on its perch as the country’s top cheese producer.

The funding concept for the research hub follows a similar plan the state of New York uses to help fund Cornell University’s Pro-Dairy program that links farmers and businesses in that state to research and key resources.

“The funds there don’t just go into what the state might look at as the big, black hole of the university,” said Mark Stephenson, chairman of Dairy Task Force 2.0. “It goes for a very specific program.”

That excites Shelly Mayer, a dairy farmer in Washington County and the executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

As an example, she cited research by UW-Madison dairy science professor Laura Hernandez that includes a new diet to lower instances of dangerous milk fever — caused by low blood calcium levels — in cows after they give birth. That has led researchers studying postpartum depression in women to look at Hernandez’s work.

“There’s a lot of linkages and synergies between animal health and human health that we haven’t even scratched the surface on,” Mayer said.