UW–River Falls announces four faculty fellowships funded by state-sponsored Dairy Innovation Hub

The University of Wisconsin­–River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) recently awarded four 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; and growing farm business and communities.

Funded through a $7.8 million per year investment by the state of Wisconsin, the Hub 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 foods in an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable manner. Since its launch in 2019, the Hub has funded more than 130 projects across the three campuses.

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.

With additional Hub support, UW­–River Falls recently hired two assistant professors in the areas of agricultural water management and agricultural atmospheric science and climate resiliency. Grants for capacity-building supplies and equipment have also been selected for funding from the Hub. More information is at dairyinnovationhub.wisc.edu.

The following UW–River Falls faculty fellows were selected for funding:

Kate Creutzinger, Department of Animal and Food Science
“Characterizing the behavior and management of dairy cows and calves shortly after birth”

Creutzinger is an assistant professor specializing in dairy animal welfare, funded entirely by the Dairy innovation Hub. Since she joined the faculty in August 2021, she has worked to establish a research and outreach program that supports Wisconsin dairy farmers and service providers through animal welfare focused projects. Creutzinger earned her PhD in animal science from The Ohio State University.

Project Summary: Despite advancements in nutrition and the science of diseases, dairy cows remain at risk after giving birth. A main gap in our knowledge is the best housing environment of these vulnerable animals, which requires a deeper understanding of cow behavior and preferences after calving. The goal of this study is to characterize cow and calf behaviors after calving in a semi-natural setting, as well as common management practices for early lactation of cows in Wisconsin. This study has two main objectives; first, investigate the disease prevalence and behavior after calving for cows and calves kept together on pasture; and second, survey Wisconsin dairy farmers to characterize the management, housing, and reported disease rates for cows in the first three weeks of lactation. The results of this project will improve understanding about the natural behavior of dairy cows and calves shortly after birth and identify shortcomings in early lactation management that can be addressed to improve cow welfare.

Youngmi Kim, Department of Agricultural Engineering Technology
Development of whey protein-lignin based film/coating materials for dairy food packaging”

Kim is an assistant professor of agricultural engineering technology with research interests in food process engineering, renewable energy, and bioprocess engineering. She received her PhD from Purdue University.

Project Summary: Whey, a major by-product from dairy processing, is considered a promising source for biodegradable film and coating materials to replace plastics in food packaging. However, low strength and poor water barrier properties of whey protein-based films are major challenges that limit their industrial use. This project will use lignin, a natural plant polymer, to improve whey-protein film. The research team will also define how the film can be used in large-scale processing facilities. Grace Lewis is collaborating on this project and equipment from UW–River Falls and UW–Madison will be use to measure characteristics of the films.

Grace Lewis, Department of Animal and Food Science
Optimization of casein micelle nanoparticle formation using high pressure homogenization and processing aids”

Lewis joined the faculty in August of 2021 as an assistant professor specializing in dairy processing and her position is funded entirely by the Dairy Innovation Hub. Lewis earned her PhD in food science at Pennsylvania State University.

Project Summary: Casein proteins, the most abundant proteins in milk, orient themselves into micellar structures with water resistant cores. Micellar structures help the body absorb fat soluble vitamins and other complicated fats. Many studies have looked to use casein proteins for the formation of nanoparticles, which allow for desirable applications in both the food and pharmaceutical industries. Many processing techniques have shown promise in improving the formation of these nanoparticles, but some techniques have not been thoroughly studied together. This research project aims to evaluate a model system with new combinations that include ethanol, heat, salts, and high-pressure homogenization. Future work will look to expand on this optimized procedure for dietary and medicinal applications.

Bob Zhiwei Zeng, Department of Agricultural Engineering Technology
“Efficient manure land application through vertical tillage systems: preliminary study”

Zeng is an assistant professor of agriculture engineering technology and a licensed professional engineer with expertise in the areas of machinery systems modeling, testing, automation, and numerical simulation. He earned his PhD in biosystems engineering from the University of Manitoba, in Canada.

Project Summary: Careful manure management is necessary to apply nutrients in an environmentally friendly way. Traditional surface manure spreading is low-cost but may result in nutrient loss, odor and air pollution, and groundwater contamination. This project aims to investigate the feasibility of incorporating liquid manure application with vertical tillage. The goal of this project is to develop a viable liquid manure application system that maximizes field efficiency and crop nutrient availability while minimizing environmental impacts. To this end, the research team will focus on computer-aided design (CAD) and modeling for a prototype machine for liquid manure addition.