November 20 – RIVER FALLS. Four years and $8 million later, renovations at the UW-River Falls Experimental Dairy Plant are nearing completion – only the Educational Dairy Center will be given a new name.
The university announced Thursday that with a $1 million transformational gift, the Wüthrich Family Foundation and Grassland Dairy Products, Inc. received the rights to assign a name to the object.
The plant, scheduled to launch in spring 2023, will now be known as the Wuethrich Family/Grassland Dairy Center of Excellence.
“Innovation and modernization are essential for the future development of the Wisconsin dairy industry,” Trevor Wüthrich, president of Grassland Dairy Products, Inc., said in a university press release. “We view our donation as an investment in UWRF – and the future of our industry – by providing students with a real life experience. We are honored that our names are associated with this enterprise, which has earned the status of a dairy center of excellence.”
According to Michelle Farner, director of dairy operations at UW-River Falls, the original facility opened in 1981.
After completing a multi-million dollar renovation, the dairy center will provide students with state-of-the-art hands-on experience in the development, production and marketing of cheese, ice cream and other dairy products, the university said.
“A lot of the equipment was even older than the facility when it opened because they were receiving donated equipment at the time,” Farner told Leader-Telegram. “So, it just needed to be updated a bit to be more in line with what students would see in the industry.”
In addition to the equipment upgrade, Farner said the space itself has been expanded from 1,500 square feet to over 6,000 square feet. However, nothing has been added; spaces that weren’t used to their full potential were simply repurposed, Farner explained.
Prior to the renovation, Farner said, 12 to 15 students could work at the facility at the same time during the school year. According to her estimates, after the completion of the repair, their number will reach 40.
“(Students) learn how to make products so they can go straight to work for any company that wants to hire them,” Farner said.
Farner also added that the upgraded equipment will increase the dairy center’s overall efficiency, quadrupling its ice cream production and tripling its cheese production.
Farner said that, like many other industries, there is a “critical need” for people willing to work in the food industry. She hopes the new school will inspire excitement and enthusiasm among UW-River Falls students.
“I am honored that the Wüthrich family has entrusted our university with the leadership of their legacy,” Farner said. “This is an amazing gift – one of five, I think, in the history of the university since 1874 – a million dollar gift. And that it’s run by a Wisconsin agricultural company, I think says a lot about our university and the students who take our programs.”
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