Calling the need for next-generation dairy research critical, five Wisconsin farm groups have urged state lawmakers to increase investment in scientists and supporting facilities at the state’s agricultural colleges.

The endorsement came as lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 186, which would create a Dairy Innovation Hub in the University of Wisconsin System. The bill calls for adding researchers to focus on land and water use, human health and nutrition, animal health and welfare, and farm businesses and rural communities.

“As a global leader in dairy research, the University of Wisconsin System has long pointed the way toward innovative solutions that kept America’s Dairyland thriving,” Tom Crave, president of the Dairy Business Association, said. “Today, the challenges facing our farmers, processors and others are increasingly complex and the stakes could not be higher. It’s critical that we remain at the forefront through next-generation research that would come from the Dairy Innovation Hub,” Crave, of Crave Brothers Homestead Cheese of Waterloo, added.

The Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin said the proposal is vital to ensuring a robust future for the state’s dairy community while maintaining UW’s prominence in dairy research around the world.

“The hub strategy will build a world-class team of creative problem-solvers who can provide interdisciplinary solutions to the complex challenges before us,” the groups said in a joint statement after a press conference at the Capitol May 1.

The bill makes a $7.9 million annual investment to be used at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Platteville and University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

The funding amounts to about 0.02 percent of the $43 billion the dairy community generates each year for the Wisconsin economy.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Reps. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel; Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer; Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City; and Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls.

“We applaud the authors of this bill for championing such an important initiative,” the groups said.

The bill was the subject of a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions.

“Increased investments in the University of Wisconsin System’s dairy initiatives will provide a much-needed boost to an industry challenged by international trade conflicts and a severe workforce shortage. As faculty researches new value-added products and trains the next generation of farmers and cheesemakers via the Dairy Innovation Hub, they will truly be working to ensure Wisconsin retains its title as America’s Dairyland for decades to come,” said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.