Keeping Connected With The Dairy Industry

US - Close connections to the dairy industry are an important part of development for the South Dakota State University's Dairy Science Department.
calendar icon 10 February 2011
clock icon 4 minute read
University of South Dakota

With a bustling dairy shop on campus and a new store in downtown Brookings, the department’s ice cream is a familiar, and certainly the most tasty, part of South Dakota State University’s image.

But the department is more than ice cream, much more. And that fact has been recognised and celebrated by the dairy industry that the department serves.

That connection to industry is apparent in every important aspect of the dairy science department, from funding for a building and renovation project, to ample scholarships, to a high demand for the department’s graduates.

Currently the most obvious sign of industry’s investment is the construction project for 10,850 square feet of additional space and a renovation of the dairy plant. The project was funded by many leading companies in the dairy industry.

“It garnered a lot of interest in the industry,” said professor Vikram Mistry, head of the dairy science department. “They saw their future in this new dairy plant.”

According to Mr Mistry, the unique nature of the SDSU programme is particularly attractive to industry. The dairy science department is one of only two in the nation that offer the capability of studying dairy subjects from the cattle herd in thefield to the finished product on the grocery store shelf.

Because of the broad span of dairy subjects, the department can offer degrees in dairy production—producing milk on the farm—and dairy manufacturing—processing dairy products into foods.

“The industry has recognized the need for graduates of this type,” Mr Mistry said.

And that industry has stepped forward to fund the renovation project. The price tag on the project is $9.5 million with $8.5 million coming from donations fromproducers, processors, alumni and friends.

“It just makes our ties with industry a lot stronger,” Mr Mistry said.

Those ties are particularly strong with Davisco Foods International of Le Sueur, Minnesota, and Valley Queen Cheese of Milbank.

“Those two really came up in a big way to help,” Mr Mistry said, noting engineers from Davisco are often on the building site offering their expertise.

The other $1 million of the project will come from Higher Education Facilities Funds, student fee dollars collected system wide for the purpose of fundingbuilding projects. That portion of the project’s funding is the subject of South Dakota Senate Bill 10 in the current legislative session, a bill that will serve to reauthorise those funds for the project.

With the building project set to be completed in April and the renovation project done in July, the department will ensure the continuation of its ability toprovide research opportunities for students and research value for industry.

On the production side, the department’s faculty members are known as research leaders in dairy cattle nutrition. Mr Mistry noted their work with co-products like distiller’s grain from the ethanol production process as a supplement in cattle feed to determine its impact on milk production in dairy cows.

On the manufacturing side, since 1988 SDSU has been a member of the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center. Other members include the University of Minnesota and recent addition Iowa State University.

“The center is funded through dairy check-off dollars,” Mr Mistry explained. “We work to help sell more milk. That’s the mandate.”

Research in that area has centered on dairy ingredients, low-fat cheese and dairy products high in conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, an ingredient known for its anti-cancer and weight management properties.

According to Mr Mistry, the department’s unique structure facilitated its research on CLA, allowing scientists to monitor the diet of cows, track the impact on milk production and see its effects in the finished product.

“We’re able to go all the way from the farm to the product,” Mr Mistry said.

The department’s unique structure has helped its graduates stay in demand in the dairy industry, a sector of the economy that’s not necessarily feeling the effects of the recession.

“We are part of the food industry,” Mr Mistry said. “Whether there’s a recession or not, there’s a demand for food.”

This helps spur the demand for the department’s graduates who can be foundthroughout the dairy industry in positions as diverse as university faculty,dairy plant management, quality control lab technicians, family farmers, business owners and government officials. Starting salaries for the dairy science department’s graduates are usually in the $45,000 to $50,000 range.

“It’s an applied field,” Mr Mistry said. “The opportunities that are available are based on the graduate’s strengths.”

The department generally has 80 to 85 undergraduates and 15 to 18 graduate students enrolled. Those students are helped along, again by the dairy industry, through generous giving directed toward dairy science scholarships.

In the 2010-2011 school year, the SDSU Dairy Science Department gave out $75,000 in scholarships ranging in size from $500 to $5,000.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Mr Mistry said about the generosity of the dairy industry. “Based on scholarship support and employment possibilities, dairy science remains a popular major.”

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