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The new U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center facility shown in this rendering will be one of 18 buildings that will house robotic milking systems, chambers for measuring greenhouse gas emissions, an advanced animal nutrition unit and state-of-the-art laboratories for agronomy and dairy science, as well as offices and a visitor center. (Rendering courtesy of HDR, Inc.)

New research farm will help make Wisconsin’s dairy farms more resilient

The new facility being built in Prairie du Sac will be used by researchers at UW-Madison and the USDA.

June 24, 2024

By Olivia Herken

Originally published by the Wisconsin Independent

The new U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center facility shown in this rendering will be one of 18 buildings that will house robotic milking systems, chambers for measuring greenhouse gas emissions, an advanced animal nutrition unit and state-of-the-art laboratories for agronomy and dairy science, as well as offices and a visitor center. (Rendering courtesy of HDR, Inc.)

A sprawling new research farm being built in Prairie du Sac will be used by the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study ways to make the dairy farming industry more sustainable and efficient.

The two organizations broke ground on June 10 on the $55 million project, which is expected to be completed in 2027. The new U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center will expand on a longtime partnership between UW–Madison and the USDA. The current research farm the two entities operate in Prairie du Sac was built in 1980, and the USDFRC first started discussing building an upgraded facility in 2016, wanting to study farming through a lens of both agriculture and conservation.

“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,” Dr. Glenda Gillaspy, dean of the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said in a statement. “The partnership between UW–Madison and 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.”

The research farm will be built on a 42-acre site just south of Prairie du Sac, a town about 30 miles north of Madison, and will include 18 buildings. In addition to offices and a visitor center, the farm will include robotic milking systems, chambers in which researchers will be able to measure greenhouse gas emissions, an advanced animal nutrition unit, and state-of-the-art agronomy and dairy science laboratories.

Some of the research that will be done at the facility will involve the study of sustainability practices in dairy farming, for the purpose of finding ways to mitigate the environmental impacts of manure, protect the health of the soil used by crops and livestock, improve the nutritional values of dairy products, and produce sustainable crop systems.

The upgraded facility will also help improve the overall resiliency of dairy farms as the industry evolves.

Wisconsin’s dairy farms have faced a number of challenges in recent years. Since 2017, Wisconsin has lost 10% of its farms and 30% of its dairy farms, largely a result of large industrial operations taking over, smaller farms consolidating, and family farms being forced to close. Farmers are also grappling with a mental health crisis and trying to adapt to a changing climate.

Researchers will be able to replicate conditions and operations at modern dairy farms at this new facility, from free-stall pens to automated milking systems that are becoming more widely used around the world.

“Wisconsin thrives when our dairy and rural economies thrive,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who helped secure $10 million in federal funding for the project, said in a statement. “This new research center will help our dairy farmers weather today’s challenges and confront tomorrow’s, adopt more sustainable practices, incorporate more cost-effective and efficient farming practices, and ensure Wisconsin’s dairy legacy continues for generations to come.”

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