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Dairy research takes giant leap

Central Wisconsin will have a new agricultural-research hub after years of planning and petitioning for federal funds. Stakeholders broke ground June 10 for a new U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center near Prairie du Sac.

The facility is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Wisconsin. The new $55 million project will span 18 buildings on 42 acres south of Prairie Du Sac. When it’s finished in 2027 the facility is planned to include robotic milking systems, chambers for measuring greenhouse-gas emissions, advanced animal-nutrition units, and laboratories for agronomy and dairy science. Offices and a visitor center are also planned.

Scientists and staff will work in a dairy-forage-research unit, a cell-wall biology-utilization unit and an environmentally integrated dairy-management research unit. Research in those units will work to develop sustainable-cropping systems and livestock-management techniques to improve soil health and dairy nutrition, leading to more-sustainable farming practices.

“The construction of this new facility represents a continuum of cooperative research between (the Agricultural Research Service) and (the UW-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences) that builds on achievements of the past to meet the evolving needs of our dairy producers now and in the future,” said Simon Liu, Agricultural Research Service administrator. “This facility also is a testament to the unwavering support and advocacy of our stakeholders at all levels of the process.”

Glenda Gillaspy, dean of the UW-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said, “Wisconsin is ‘America’s Dairyland,’ and we take very seriously our responsibility to conduct relevant research that can be put to use by our dairy farmers. The partnership between UW and the USDA has allowed us to amplify our collaborations with the state’s dairy industry, and we look forward to that continuing with this new facility.”

Nora Lapitan is the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service acting associate administrator. She said the new facility will enable research that better replicates conditions of modern dairy farms, from studies with freestall pens to the use of automated milking systems – that reflects the 35,000-plus robotic units operated worldwide on dairies. The facility will foster holistic studies of dairy-forage agroecosystems, including the improvement of manure management and the application of nutrients back to the field. Research will work to prevent potential environmental impacts from manure use, including preventing the occurrence of manure-borne pathogens.

Dennis Hancock is the director of the Dairy Forage Research Center. The project is a necessary update that brings research into the modern era, he said. The facility currently in use was built in the 1970s; its tiestall barns were designed for smaller dairy cows. T

“All the university farms, and ours, have a long list of folks wanting to do research,” he said. “There’s a lot more questions that need to be answered, and there’s a lot of folks working on this with limited resources in terms of space.”

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