The University of Wisconsin-Madison is moving ahead with a $75-million initiative to upgrade research and teaching facilities to support the industries that make some of the state's most iconic agricultural products.
Last week, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a plan to provide half of the funds for a new livestock and poultry products laboratory and remodeling and expansion of pilot plants in Babcock Hall used for dairy product research and instruction and manufacture of products like cheese and ice cream.
The balance of funding is slated to come from firms and organizations involved in the processing of milk, meat and poultry products.
"This is an investment in economic development for signature Wisconsin industries," says Kate VandenBosch, dean of the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. "Our scientists will use these labs to make discoveries that help agricultural processors innovate. Wisconsin agriculture is very much about adding value — turning basic commodities like milk and meat into artisan cheese and sausage and other signature products that stand apart for quality and craftsmanship. Our research and training support those innovations.
"In addition, processors and consumers need to be confident about the safety of our food," VandenBosch adds. "Our new labs and classrooms will allow us to continue as leaders in food safety research and education."
The Babcock Hall project entails renovating existing space used by the university's Center for Dairy Research and the UW dairy plant and building an addition that will provide about 27,000 square feet of new research space.
Among new features will be a pilot plant for protein fractionation and powder drying, specialty cheese ripening rooms, expanded facilities for training industry professionals, and a cultured products area that will focus on emerging markets such as Greek yogurt.
The new livestock and poultry products lab will provide new research and training facilities geared to helping processors craft new, artisan meat products. It will also support a pioneering research program aimed at developing new, high-value products for human and animal health and other applications from portions of the animal that aren't used for food. The facility will also include an "isolatable" pilot processing plant where food researchers can test ideas for preventing contamination by disease-causing organisms in a setting like that found in a commercial meat plant.
Before the project gets underway, it must first be approved by the state building commission and included in the 2013-15 state budget. Funding for the work would be split between the next two state biennial budgets.