The U.S. Department of Agriculture will shortly provide Fresno State students and professors with $19 million in regional financing for Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives, which will promote the expansion of dairy processing capacity and technical assistance in six Western states.
The project’s director is Dr. Carmen Licon Cano, an assistant professor of food science and nutrition at Fresno State. She is enthusiastic to assist farms in becoming more profitable and resilient in the face of economic hardship while opening up new job prospects for students. She is an expert in dairy product development and sensory evaluation.
The follow-up, four-year award administered by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to dairy processors in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada will directly assist Fresno State’s dairy processing programme in numerous ways.
According to Licon Cano, “this programme is a crucial approach to better integrate the sector with higher education institution resources.” The Pacific Coast Coalition provides numerous opportunities for companies to improve their product lines, packaging, marketing, branding, supply chain strategies, and workforce development initiatives. Additionally, the combined experience creates a variety of avenues to improve both student and current dairy sector employee training.
Working closely with the partnering businesses, students from Fresno State and other colleges will gain from an internship programme and research jobs.
The research is coordinated by Dr. Susan Pheasant, director of Fresno State’s Institute for Food and Agriculture, with assistance from Daniel Avila, manager of the campus creamery.
A renovated, pilot plant creamery featuring modern technology will better position Fresno State at the heart of the program. New campus equipment will create products in smaller volumes while encouraging hands-on learning, research and product development. The upgrades include:
A cheese processing line, including a cheese vat donated by the Leprino Foods Company Foundation. Leprino Foods is a global leader of the dairy industry and has two manufacturing facilities in the Central Valley. A cheese-ripening chamber. A mozzarella cheese stretcher, cooker and molder. A membrane separation system to filter various components from milk to make different types of products. A new semi-automated yogurt processing line. Fresno State is located in the heart of California, the nation’s leading dairy processing state with over 40 million pounds of milk produced annually. Nearby Tulare County often ranks as the national production leader, and several other Central Valley counties routinely rank top 10 nationally. The six-state Pacific Coast Coalition region accounts for nearly 30% of all milk produced within the United States.
Additional faculty from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Cal Poly, Humboldt; Chico State; Chapman University; UC Davis; Oregon State University; and Washington State University will share their dairy processing expertise and pilot processing plants to offer technical assistance and work with industry members through outreach activities and events. Veronique Lagrange from the California Dairy Innovation Center, participating universities and professional partners will provide technical assistance through workshops, short courses and webinars to foster innovation and best practices. Bilingual forms of training will improve the implementation for Spanish-speaking workers.
The program’s Pacific Coast Coalition was created in October 2021 thanks to an initial $1.8 million, three-year grant to support dairy product development, production, marketing and distribution in California, Oregon and Washington. This past August, the initiative accepted its first round of applications for its innovation awards for dairy processors and producers throughout the coalition’s three initial states. A combined $300,000 per year will be awarded for the next three years in increments of $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000. This new round of funding will provide an additional $9.5 million over four years to dairy processors throughout six states.
Applications will be tied to products and methods connected to value-added product development, product line expansion, alternative processing technologies or sustainability enhancement methods that increase profitability. The second round of funding is part of the American Rescue Plan. An initial announcement came on a campus visit in July 2022 by USDA Under Secretary Jennifer Lester Moffitt that included U.S. Representatives Connie Conway and Jim Costa and Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval.
The government officials met Fresno State Food Science and Nutrition Department graduate students Daniel Olmos and Joanie Snow and learned about their innovative dairy product research projects at the Jordan Agricultural Research Center and the facility’s Olam Sensory Laboratory. According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, “the epidemic has shown that dairy producers and regional dairy processors, particularly those involved in value-added output, endured structural shocks over the previous three years.” “Producers and processors have spoken to us directly about how we might collaborate with the sector to strengthen the long-term sustainability of local dairy supply chains. The Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives have aided local initiatives that are geared toward serving the needs of the dairy industry.
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