$1 million pledged to UW-River Falls dairy plant renovation project

2014-03-02T08:57:00Z $1 million pledged to UW-River Falls dairy plant renovation project Agri-View
March 02, 2014 8:57 am

Dairy industry leaders and leadership at the UW-River Falls have kicked off fundraising efforts to make needed updates to the university’s Dairy Pilot Plant.

UW-River Falls is one of the few campuses in the nation that delivers a 360-degree experiential-learning opportunity for undergraduate students to work in a dairy plant production environment and participate in new product development.

Students follow a dairy product from testing to marketing, from production to final retail, and also are able to access the key academic components in the classroom.

“Wisconsin’s dairy industry is in the need of cheesemakers, butter-makers, process operators, quality assurance and food microbiologists,” says Tayt Wuethrich, vice president-owner of Grassland Dairy Products, Inc., expressing his support for the renovation of UW-River Falls Dairy Pilot Plant. “UW-River Falls competes with other schools of higher learning from across the U.S. so upgrading the pilot plant sends a statement that we are here to retain and train our next generation of dairy leaders in Wisconsin.”

Launched in June 2013, the fundraising effort has reached $1 million in gifts and commitments, one-third of its goal to raise $3 million in private contributions to update and upgrade equipment in the Dairy Pilot Plant.

The university also will seek to secure an additional $500,000 in institutional and state funding for facility renovation and modernization.

“This transformational renovation of the Dairy Pilot Plant is a high priority project for the university,” says UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen. “The renovation will modernize our facilities, expand our capacity to support business and industry and enable us to provide high quality hands-on experiences to a new generation of leaders in Wisconsin’s signature industry.”

The Dairy Pilot Plant first opened in 1982 and has been producing popular retail products such as cheese and ice cream for students, staff and the local community ever since.

Today, more than 20 flavored cheeses and 30 different flavors of ice cream are made by students with milk from the dairy herd on the UW-River Falls Mann Valley Farm.

Major donations have been received from the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Grassland Dairy, Inc., of Greenwood, Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Welcome Dairy of Colby, Loos Machine of Colby, Mullins Cheese of Mosinee and Foremost Farms USA of Baraboo.

These organizations are the first seven of 20 possible members on the Dairy Plant Advisory Committee, which will have priority access to UW-River Falls graduates; the opportunity to advise on plant renovation designs and program development and access to the facility for research, short courses and workshops.

According to Dave Fuhrmann, president of Foremost Farms USA, Wisconsin’s largest dairy cooperative, “The demand for trained dairy processing and product development personnel will continue to grow in the future. Foremost Farms will look to UW-River Falls for qualified candidates for the positions we’ll have open in the future.”

The plant is an integral component of academic programming in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES), and the college is reinforcing its emphasis on teaching in-demand disciplines, which include food technology, processing and plant management skills.

A new faculty member will soon be hired in Food and Process Engineering and a new minor created in Food Processing Technology.

The dairy pilot plant also serves a role in outreach and applied research, says Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association Executive Director John Umhoefer.

“Four of the five basic courses required for the Wisconsin Cheesemaker’s license are taught at UW-River Falls, along with opportunities for cheesemaker apprenticeships and short courses for industry personnel and students to earn their pasteurizer license,” Umhoefer says.

The renovation is scheduled to start in summer 2015 with much of the work completed in time for the start of fall semester. Full occupancy of the new space is anticipated by January 2016.

The UW-River Falls’s larger $20 million Rising to Distinction comprehensive campaign, which has raised more than $14 million to date.

Specific outcomes of the renovation project will include an overall modernization of the equipment and processes and an increase in space dedicated to the Dairy Pilot Plant, bringing the facility from 1,600 square feet to 6,000 square feet.

This will allow for the separation of raw product handling and whey processing and the creation of independently functioning spaces for cheese and ice cream production.

Space will be added for raw milk processing and separation, along with increased high temperature-short time capacity, additional cheese vats, and a cheese aging room.

An improved ice cream manufacturing space will feature temperature control, updated processing equipment and separate raw and pasteurized processing areas.

A classroom and training area overlooking the cheese processing space also will be added.

For more information, visit go.uwrf.edu/dairyplant or contact Dean Gallenberg at 715-425-3784.

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