Kathie Canning
Kathie Canning is editor-in-chief of Dairy Foods. Contact her at 847-405-4009 or canningk@bnpmedia.com

On March 2, USDA announced an additional investment of $80 million in the Dairy Business Innovation (DBI) Initiatives. According to the agency, DBI Initiatives support dairy businesses in the development, production, marketing, and distribution of dairy products. They provide direct technical assistance and grants to dairy businesses.

The announcement followed November 2021 DBI-specific awards of $18.4 million to three current Initiatives at the University of Tennessee, the Vermont Agency for Food and Marketing, and the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance, as well as a $1.8 million award to a new initiative at California State University – Fresno. Under the existing DBI program, each Initiative will now be able to submit additional proposals for up to $20 million in American Rescue Plan funds to further support processing capacity expansion, on-farm improvements, and more, USDA said.

“The Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives have supported regional-focused efforts tailored to the needs of dairy farmers and businesses locally,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This additional funding will expand the capacity of the four initiatives to provide technical assistance and sub-grants exponentially.”

Welcome news

The additional investment is certainly welcome news for regional dairy processors and producers adversely impacted by pandemic-related disruptions. And representatives of the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance, one of the four DBI Initiatives included in the available funding, applauded the announcement.

The alliance is led by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) and the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) at the University of Wisconsin. Since 2019, the alliance has served dairy businesses in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, WCMA said, working to increase on-farm diversification, support the creation of new value-added dairy products (including specialty cheeses) and expand dairy export efforts.

“This is a historic investment in dairy businesses and so vital at a time of trade volatility, labor shortages, and supply chain disruptions challenging dairy farm and dairy processor businesses,” John Umhoefer, executive director of Madison, Wis.-based WCMA, said in a statement.

With total funding of $12.7 million to date, the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance has delivered educational resources, direct consulting experience, market research, product development, and more than $6.8 million in direct-to-business grants, WCMA said. A sampling of successes thus far includes:

  • The launch of a butter-making operation by a seventh-generation dairy farmer to create new revenue streams that help maintain the family business.
  • A cheesemaker’s development of innovative wastewater technologies that improve profitability and preserve natural resources.
  • A dairy processor’s development of a shelf-stable dairy product that diversifies its value-added offerings for export markets.

“The dollars directed to the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance are making a significant impact in our region, and this extraordinary investment in innovation will lead to new products and businesses, elevating the U.S. dairy industry globally,” added John Lucey, Ph.D., CDR’s director.

It’s certainly an exciting time for regional dairy operations. I know that I’m looking forward to hearing about many more innovation-focused success stories in the years to come!