Checkoff-funded Dairy Research Centers Are Dairy's Secret Weapon

  • 3 min read November 13, 2019
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

Did you happen to catch the results of the recent World Cheese Awards? The U.S played the role of disruptor with our specialty cheesemakers claiming 131 medals. But the biggest breakthrough moment came when -- for the first time ever -- a U.S. cheese took home the title of world champion. Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue from Oregon beat more than 3,800 entries from 42 countries!

The event took place in Italy and is usually dominated by cheesemakers in countries beyond the U.S. Talk about pulling off the big upset on the road!

While U.S. dairy should feel plenty proud about the moment, I want to celebrate for another reason. Support from the dairy checkoff has helped many of these cheesemakers elevate their game.

One of the great stories of the checkoff is one we just don’t talk enough about. The National Dairy Foods Research Center program, which receives significant national and local checkoff support, has been working every day on our behalf behind the scenes for the last 32 years. 

Dairy Research Centers

There are six regionally-based centers affiliated with a network of universities that collaborate with farmer-founded organizations National Dairy Council, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and U.S. Dairy Export Council. Processors and manufacturers also provide financial resources to the centers. 

Scientists at these centers – as well as those at Dairy Management Inc. who manage and guide their mission – work with a daily purpose of helping to find ways they can further build global demand for dairy.

The centers are spread across the country and include:

  • Midwest: South Dakota State University, University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of Missouri and University of Nebraska.
  • California: Cal Poly State University
  • Northeast: Cornell University
  • Southeast: North Carolina State University
  • Western: Utah State University, Brigham Young University, Oregon State University, Texas A&M, University of Idaho, Washington State University and Weber State University
  • Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Each center has its own proficiencies. Some have food safety expertise while another may be the go-to source for cheese production or ingredients. All have the facilities and technical experts needed to help the industry improve or introduce products into the marketplace. They accelerate innovation, helping the checkoff’s goal of providing consumers with the dairy products they want and enjoy.

Dairy Research Centers Map 

While the cheese story is generating headlines now, here are other stories you should be aware of that came out of the research centers:

  • Exports: Research investment to improve quality and performance for milk powders and cheese removes global market barriers and advances the use of value-added U.S. dairy ingredients among international customers.
  • Product Innovation: The continued product research focus on shelf life, flavor and quality helps increase consumption of cheese and stem the decline of fluid milk.
  • Sustainable Nutrition: Technologies, such as advanced filtration and separation, help to deliver processing efficiencies and complete utilization of milk components which results in improved sustainability.

One other result that comes from these centers is one that farmers may not think about. These centers also produce the workforce of tomorrow. Students who graduate from these programs typically seek jobs within the dairy industry and they begin their careers armed with a sound education and experience that was made possible by our checkoff support.

It’s easy to get excited about the many other parts of the checkoff that are more visible: our partnerships with global leaders such as McDonald’s, the export work being done by the U.S. Dairy Export Council, our fluid milk revitalization efforts, our presence in schools through Fuel Up to Play 60 and the Undeniably Dairy campaign.

But I also want to make sure you know the great story of our research centers. It maybe hasn’t always generated the same attention as other efforts, but it very much is checkoff’s secret weapon when it comes to making a difference for us. 

Just ask those cheesemakers.

If you want to talk about the Dairy Research Centers, I encourage you to reach out to me through or leave a comment below.

If you’d like to join the Facebook conversation about the national dairy checkoff, please ask to join the Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group.