The University of Wisconsin-River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences recently awarded six faculty research fellowships to help increase dairy-related research capacity through the Dairy Innovation Hub initiative. The selected faculty members will tackle research projects in the hub’s four priority areas:
- stewarding land and water resources
- enriching human health and nutrition
- ensuring animal health and welfare
- growing farm business and communities
The Dairy Innovation Hub, which the state of Wisconsin is supporting to the tune of $1 million this year and $7.8 million per year in subsequent years, harnesses research and development at UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls campuses to keep Wisconsin’s $45.6 billion dairy community at the global forefront in producing nutritious dairy products in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner.
A faculty research fellowship is a temporary position for permanent faculty members. The goal is to provide support for a specific research project and any ancillary costs — including ensuring that the faculty member will have time to conduct the research and support for existing teaching responsibilities.
“Supporting increased research capacity for our current faculty members is a critical role for the Dairy Innovation Hub,” says Steven Kelm, a professor of animal and food science who leads the hub’s UWRF campus steering committee. “These six faculty fellows are representative of the innovative members of the CAFES community. Their applied research projects come at a time when farmers need solutions to challenges now and in the long term.”
As farmers, processors and citizens move forward to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, there has never been a greater need for evidence-based, highly implementable dairy research.
With Dairy Innovation Hub support, CAFES has also selected recipients for capacity-building supplies and equipment. In addition, planning is underway for the first faculty and staff hires at UWRF funded by the hub. More information is at dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu.
The following UW-River Falls faculty fellows were selected for Dairy Innovation Hub funding:
Larry Baumann, Department of Animal and Food Science. Baumann, a professor of animal and food science, is also a veterinarian. He teaches a variety of courses in CAFES, including a course in dairy production.
Project name. Analysis and Publication of Research Data on Johne’s Disease in Dairy Cattle
Project summary. Johne’s disease is a chronic wasting disease in cattle and other ruminants caused by a bacterium. Due to the long incubation period of the disease, it can take several years for a farmer to realize dairy animals are infected. General clinical signs include weight loss, low milk production, decreased fertility, diarrhea and even death. Excessive culling and financial loss often occur in herds infected with Johne’s disease.
Several years ago, data was collected from a grant-funded research project on the impact of Johne’s disease and dairy cattle. The first goal of this project is to analyze existing data, complete a statistical analysis and summarize findings. The final goal is to submit findings for publication. This research will be conducted in collaboration with Steven Kelm, professor of animal and food science.
Albert Boaitey, Department of Agricultural Economics. Boaitey is an assistant professor of agricultural economics who teaches agricultural price and marketing courses. His research is focused on the economics of livestock production and consumption.
Project name. Calf Management Practices, Animal Welfare and the Social Sustainability of the Dairy Industry
Project summary. Changes in consumer preferences, the emergence of substitute products, and the increased role of health, environmental and farm animal welfare considerations in food choice pose significant challenges to the U.S. dairy community. One of the most important yet controversial farm animal welfare issues facing the industry are concerns about current calf management practices — specifically, the separation of calves from cows and how calves are housed post separation.
While producers and other industry experts favor cow-calf separation, data from many consumer surveys suggest the opposite. Previous work also suggests that consumers prefer group housing to individual housing methods. However, the extent to which housing choice addresses consumer concerns about calf separation is unknown. Most importantly, the role of concerns about calf management in consumer dairy product choice decision has not been previously addressed. There may be creative ways through which farmers can address these concerns to ensure the long-term financial and social sustainability of the dairy industry.
Using data from consumer and farmer surveys, we will analyze perceptions relating to calf management under different information treatments. The intended outcomes include an increased understanding of perception and knowledge gaps between consumers and farmers, increased understanding of consumer perspectives, and increased adoption of incremental animal welfare improvements by dairy farmers. This research will be conducted in collaboration with Sylvia Kehoe, professor of animal and food science.
Jill Coleman Wasik, Department of Plant and Earth Science. Coleman Wasik is an associate professor of plant and earth science. Her research interests include how human activity impacts the transport of nutrients and other contaminants through natural systems. The ultimate goal of her work is to understand how human activities benefit from natural processes while also lessening their impacts on natural systems.
Project name. Seeking Solutions to Groundwater Contamination in Agricultural Communities: Strategic Study of Factors Influencing Contaminant Transport From the Land Surface Into Aquifers
Project summary. Groundwater contamination is a threat to dairy farms in Wisconsin for a variety of reasons. This project will study contaminant leaching and transport under different cropping and nutrient management practices. The goal is to develop precise land management recommendations for dairy farmers in western Wisconsin based on soil conditions and aquifer susceptibility.
The work will leverage the close collaboration that has developed over the past two years between the Plant and Earth Science Department and the Western Wisconsin Conservation Council. The council provides cost-share funding for alternative cropping and nutrient management practices, thus providing this project with a group of landholders interested in studying the benefits and consequences of different field management strategies. The research conducted will also provide preliminary data about regional aquifers that will be used to develop proposals for other funding sources.
Veronica Justen, Department of Plant and Earth Science. Justen is an associate professor of crop science in the Plant and Earth Science Department. She teaches courses on grain crop production, sustainable agriculture, plant breeding and genetics. Her research interests are in enhancing diversified crop rotations, including cover crops and winter-hardy small grains. She has been at UW-River Falls since 2010.
Project name. Novel Dairy Cropping Systems to Enhance Economic and Environmental Resilience of Wisconsin Dairy Farms
Project summary. Cover crops are a best management practice shown to have positive impacts on land and water resources by minimizing soil and nutrient loss from agricultural lands. Cover crop options for dairies in Wisconsin have mostly been limited to cereal rye established after corn harvest due to seasonal, machinery and crop production restraints. Interseeding cover crops into standing corn silage would provide additional opportunities for growers to establish cover crops and increase the diversity of cover crop species utilized. Identifying new cover crop varieties, including oilseed or tilling radishes, would expand opportunities to improve dairy farm resiliency.
This project aims to enhance cropping system options for dairy farms by:
- conducting interseeding cover crop trials in wide and traditional row silage corn
- evaluating oilseed radish germ plasm to identify superior varieties for Wisconsin dairy farms
- creating “virtual field day” videos that demonstrate these cover crop systems to farmers and other agricultural professionals
This research will be conducted with collaboration from Jason Cavadini and Matt Akins from the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station and Matthew Oehmichen, a crop adviser with Short Lane Ag Supply.
Sylvia Kehoe, Department of Animal and Food Science. Kehoe is a professor of animal and food science who teaches a variety of courses related to dairy and nutrition.
Project name. Improving the Health and Welfare of Dairy Calves
Project summary. This project takes a three-pronged approach to addressing research questions related to calf welfare and health. The first project is to refine a disbudding paste applicator prototype. Although paste is an easier method of disbudding, it can be done wrong, with serious ramifications to the calf, such as face burns. The prototype is a safe applicator that has the potential for patenting and wide distribution.
The second aspect of the project is to survey mineral and vitamin concentrations in calves fed pasteurized waste milk. In general, these calves do not eat as much grain starter due to their high intake of milk. With a lack of vitamin and mineral intake, calves can become deficient over time, which will impair immune function and growth.
The final project is an evaluation of a salt supplement during weaning and postweaning as a tool to provide nutritional benefits, reduce stress and provide distraction. Research has shown that if calves receive enrichment, it can help them deal with stressful situations. Enrichment can consist of something extra that calves can lick or suck on. Adding a hanging salt block to calf pens should provide nutritive enrichment without overdosing the calf on any minerals since they cannot intake enough to make a difference. It will provide distraction and reduce stress. These three projects are aimed at helping farmers raise their calves with less labor, better health and less stress.
Patrick Woolcock, Department of Agricultural Engineering Technology. Woolcock, an assistant professor of agricultural engineering technology, is a chemical engineer by training, with research and development experience in energy, environmental remediation and other clean energy technologies.
Project name. UWRF Mann Valley Farm Bovine Compost Research Expansion
Project summary. This project seeks to improve Wisconsin farm profitability and longevity by developing and demonstrating initial research on compost and biochar in a dairy farming system. Outcomes of this study could lead to product diversification and improved output, as well as reduced environmental impacts compared to conventional manure and waste handling techniques.
This two-year study will include equipment redesign and implementation to support sustainable production of high-quality compost, lab-scale data collection and evaluation, field application trials, and finally, an economic assessment and feasibility study as part of a shift toward regenerative agriculture for Wisconsin farmers. This research will be conducted in collaboration with several UWRF faculty members across multiple departments and will also include research farm and industry expertise.