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Perspective:
Dairy Research

Dairy Business Innovation Alliance helping to boost Midwest dairy sector

John Lucey

John Lucey, director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, contributes this column for Cheese Market News®.

Now more than ever, dairy businesses must work quickly to adapt to changes in consumer demands and market opportunities. In support of this crucial effort, the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) and Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) launched a new program earlier this year to support Midwest dairy farmers and businesses in diversifying or developing a new product.

The Dairy Business Innovation Alliance (DBIA) provides technical support and grants to dairy farmers, artisanal cheesemakers and other dairy businesses in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin that are interested in launching new products, such as specialty cheeses, or diversifying their business.

The 2018 Farm Bill created a new program called the Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives, administered by USDA. This new federal program sought to create several regional dairy business support initiatives across the U.S. USDA accepted applications for this program, and in 2019, CDR and WCMA were informed that their proposal had been accepted — thus, the DBIA was born. The DBIA proposal had overwhelming support from the dairy industry throughout the region with over 40 letters of support from dairy groups and organizations.
Although DBIA is just getting started, there have already been several success stories.

This summer the DBIA accepted grant applications from Midwest dairy farms and businesses that are interested in diversifying their operations or developing new dairy products. The response was very positive; the DBIA received 77 applications. In September, DBIA selected the winners and awarded $230,000 in grants to 13 dairy farms and businesses in all five states: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

We received many excellent applications, and although there isn’t room in this column to list each of the individual grant recipients, I want to share some highlights on a couple of the winners.

Country View Dairy LLC, a small farmstead, family operated dairy plant located in Hawkeye, Iowa, received a $20,000 grant from DBIA. Country View Dairy has developed single-serve frozen yogurt treats that are sold at retail stores and from food trucks. The grant will help the company expand production, sales and distribution of its frozen yogurt treats through new cooperative agreements with partners, and Country View Dairy will purchase a delivery cooler, as well as design and purchase new brand packaging.

Taste and See Creamery, located in Boyceville, Wisconsin, was also awarded a $20,000 grant. Taste and See Creamery will use grant monies to purchase a vat pasteurizer for the new on-farm creamery it is building on its grass-fed grazing dairy farm.

These are just two examples of grant recipients. You can view the complete list on the DBIA website at https://turbo.cdr.wisc.edu/dairy-business-innovation-alliance/. (For additional information on grant recipients, also see “DBIA awards 13 grants totaling $230,000” in the Sept. 18, 2020, issue of Cheese Market News.)

Unfortunately, not all applicants received grants; however, DBIA will be putting out another call for applications in spring 2021 and encourages those applicants not awarded grants in 2020 to apply again next year.

This fall, DBIA is focusing on technical education and business support by hosting a series of eight webinars to help dairy farms and businesses get started in their new ventures.

The “Let’s Get Started” webinars will introduce the DBIA program and provide advice and support on how to set up a business, create a business plan, develop a product, address regulatory issues, market a product, and address food safety and quality. Overall, the webinars will help connect dairy farmers and businesses to local resources available in the five-state region as well as expertise and technical assistance to support them as they work to diversify their enterprise or develop a new product.

The DBIA webinars will be a combination of general information, presentations, breakout sessions and interviews with farmers and processors sharing their experiences and lessons learned. Registration is free; visit the DBIA website for more information.

Meanwhile, we had some exciting news this summer. In August, DBIA staff were notified by USDA that the DBIA would be receiving $6.13 million in a second round of funding from USDA to continue its work for the next three years. In this next funding period, running through 2023, the DBIA will provide funding to help with market research, product development, training workshops and consultative services to the dairy industry. In addition, the DBIA will also distribute over $3.4 million in grants to Midwest dairy farm and processing businesses.

We are pleased to be able to put USDA funds to work, building upon the tremendous interest shown in the first funding phase, to help dairy farmers and processors survive and thrive amid challenging conditions.

I want to thank the CDR and WCMA staff for their work in guiding the development of the DBIA and helping support Midwest farms and businesses. Karen Nielsen, DBIA program coordinator, has been instrumental in leading and coordinating the various DBIA initiatives and projects. Her vast experience in the dairy industry has been very valuable in launching DBIA and getting stakeholders together in support of this new initiative.

If you are interested in learning more about DBIA or registering for an upcoming webinar, visit the DBIA website at https://turbo.cdr.wisc.edu/dairy-business-innovation-alliance/. You can also contact Karen Nielsen at knielsen@cdr.wisc.edu or 608-265-1491. With the creation of this successful partnership between our Midwest states, we look forward to promoting dairy innovation, such as specialty cheese and other value-added dairy products, for many years to come.

CMN

The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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