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Center for Dairy Advancement and Sustainability founded to support Southeastern US dairies

Posted: 21 May 2024 | | No comments yet

The CDAS is expected to be a hub of research, extension and teaching, with the goal of offering innovative solutions to the Southeast US dairy industry.

Center for Dairy Advancement and Sustainability founded to support Southeastern US dairies

The Southeast US dairy industry has faced many challenges over the past several decades, and the number of dairy farm numbers across the region has fallen to historic lows. Fewer than 2,000 are operating, with many teetering on the edge of profitability. In an effort to help local producers to survive economically, as well as to keep their beloved dairy products available to consumers, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) has formed the Center for Dairy Advancement and Sustainability (CDAS).

While the CDAS has been ‘open’ for several months, now is the perfect time to highlight the centre’s operations and goals as the nation begins celebrations for June Dairy Month.

The new centre is led by Liz Eckelkamp, Associate Professor of Animal Science and Extension Dairy specialist. Eckelkamp has been the successful Director of the Southest Dairy Business Innovation Initiative (SDBII) since 2020, which is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded effort to revitalise the regional dairy industry through value-added products. The new CDAS will help with that and more. It is expected to be a hub of research, extension and teaching, with the goal of providing Real. Life. Solutions.™ to the Southeast dairy industry. Building on SDBII, as well as additional funding, CDAS is set to position UTIA as leader in innovative dairy solutions for both large and small ruminants; for example, dairy cows and goats.

Eckelkamp, who also coordinates and provides curricula for the Tennessee Master Dairy Program, said that dairy farmers in the Southeast are faced with high costs of production. “On average, they lose $6 for every hundred pounds of milk they sell commercially. In the face of these elevated costs and to thin negative profit margins, producers and processors must find alternative ways to remain in business and support their families, employees and communities,” she stressed. “The CDAS will focus on facing these challenges head on through alternative revenue sources such as farmstead creameries, alternative inputs such as non-traditional forages, technologies to reduce labour costs and access issues, marketing and outreach tools and leadership training for existing dairy businesses.”

Centre members consist of UTIA and other UT Knoxville faculty with the expertise to support the advancement and sustainability of the dairy industry through a dairy systems approach that includes topics under the areas of animal husbandry, precision dairy technologies, dairy foods, labour management, leadership, marketing, branding and small business economics. Eckelkamp said: “We envision establishing UTIA as a leader in dairy precision technology and alternative income strategies addressing the needs of farmers, processors and producer/processors through Extension, research and teaching with University and industry synergistic partnerships.”

To raise awareness and grow the industry, CDAS will also provide opportunities to students through internships, conference travel and research experiences. Centre members will also have the opportunity to apply for seed grant funding through CDAS to answer pressing questions for the dairy industry.

Neal Schrick, Professor and Head of the UT Department of Animal Science, remarked: “Dr. Eckelkamp and her team have developed the Center for Dairy Advancement and Sustainability to provide focus and additional resources toward providing solutions for southeast dairy producers to help them overcome the many obstacles in their path toward sustainability of the industry. With Dr. Eckelkamp at the helm of the center and with the team she has organised across the Southeast, I see great opportunities across many different facets of the dairy industry in the knowledge and initiatives that CDAS will provide.”

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