RIVER FALLS, Wis. – After 30 years, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Dairy Pilot Plant is being renovated to provide a venue for more effective teaching and training through the introduction of food production and security technology.
    “The mission of the UWRF dairy plant is to be a recognized center of excellence for experiential learning, industry training and outreach, and applied research in dairy product manufacturing,” said Michelle Farner, UWRF Dairy Pilot Plant manager. “Distinctive academic excellence and innovation and partnerships are two of the strategic goals of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Since opening in 1982, our dairy plant has had the objective of providing expertise and training for our graduates to work with the industry in product development, processing and food safety.”
    The plant utilizes milk produced at the university’s dairy farm. Under the direction of a full-time plant manager and licensed cheese maker, students work in the plant to produce food products which are sold at outlets around the campus as well as on other UW campuses.
    Farner said student interest in dairy product processing and manufacturing is growing and is demonstrated by the nearly 20 students who work part time in the plant on a regular basis each academic year, noting that some students are able to complete their cheese maker apprentice requirements while working.
    “The renovated plant facilities will allow for concurrent and increased production of cheese and ice cream through the year,” Farner said. “We foresee at least doubling the number of student employees. The food processing technology minor, (IFOM) program and the new updated dairy plant will result in greater interest and enthusiasm on the part of UW-River Falls students.”
    The total estimated cost of the project is $3.5 million which is being funded by the state, the university and industry partners.
    Farner said when she first began working in the plant just over eight years ago, she began noticing that certain pieces of equipment were outdated and that some modernization was going to be needed to continue to provide an effective teaching resource.
    “It became apparent that the … pasteurizer was in desperate need of upgrading to a faster, more efficient piece of equipment,” Farner said. “After a grassroots meeting with industry professionals, it was apparent that the entire facility needed upgrading to equipment with modern technology so students would be better prepared to work in the dairy industry.”
    The renovated Dairy Pilot Plant will include more than 6,000 square feet. The staff will be able to introduce students to additional product and processing safety and security features by integrating the separation of raw product handling and whey processing.  
    The plant’s cheese manufacturing area will be enlarged and will include a space dedicated to raw milk processing and separation. The High Temperature Short Time capacity of the plant will be increased, and there will be room for additional cheese vats.
    The area for manufacturing ice cream will have updated processing equipment, including a cup filling machine, a continuous batch freezer and an additional mixing tank. The ice cream manufacturing portion of the plant will include separate areas for both raw and pasteurized processing.
    The space is being prepared for the installation of new equipment which is set to begin in January 2020. Farner said the university hopes to have the installation of the new equipment completed by June 1 so the facility will be ready to begin production coinciding with the start of the fall semester for the 2020-21 academic year.
    “This will continue to give UWRF graduates a competitive edge as they enter the industry,” Farner said. “Our graduates experience upward mobility and become industry experts at the top organizations in the region and in the nation. Industry representatives have consistently highlighted such experience as a valuable component of our educational programs.”