Research-boosting BUILD Dairy gains momentum

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New Delhi, March 16, 2019: The number of researchers moving directly from universities to jobs in the dairy industry via a Dairy West-administered program could double in the next several years.

Food researcher Eric Bastian is Dairy West’s vice president of innovation partnerships. In 2017 he got the organization’s Building University and Industry Linkages for Learning and Discovery program — known by the acronym BUILD Dairy — up and running. It aims to help the industry boost the supply of research scientists who want to stay in the West.

Dairy West administers checkoff dollars collected from Idaho and Utah producers to fund marketing and research.

Through BUILD Dairy, 40 graduate students are working with professors on projects and are on track to qualify for research jobs with dairy products companies when they graduate. The total figures are on track to double by the program’s five-year anniversary.

“I asked processors, ‘How many people are you going to need in the next five years?’ The number came up to about 80 master’s degrees,” Bastian said. “And they want some undergrads, which we are working on. We are about halfway in.”

He predicts that by the end of five years, “we will be able to produce those 80 critically trained people for the industry.”

BUILD Dairy has so far produced about 20 graduates, many of whom are working in the industry in the West. Bastian, with added funding from industry, has since 2017 boosted the budget by about $650,000, to $2.6 million-plus.

“All the projects related to BUILD have industry stakeholders, and they have some importance to the industry,” he said. “Typically they are questions the industry can’t answer on its own, whether they are too time-consuming or too costly or they do not have the personnel to answer those questions.”

Students selected for BUILD Dairy connect with companies and work with professors on research that can benefit the industry. The companies often use the findings to develop new processes and products.

Danton Batty of The Dalles, Ore., last summer completed a master’s degree in food science and technology. He was quickly hired by a large Idaho cheese processor as a research scientist. As a student and BUILD researcher, he used ultra-high hydrostatic pressure to kill listeria bacteria, which can be present between when milk is pasteurized and cheese packaged.

“Through BUILD, I learned a lot about dairy processing and dairy technology, as well as how to do research with food products,” Batty said. “That helps me now because I am doing industrial-scale cheese research. I know how all the equipment works and how the processing affects the products.”

He knew about opportunities for research work in the dairy industry by working in Oregon State University’s on-campus creamery for about three years, and concentrating on dairy manufacturing in his graduate studies according to capitalpress.com.

Bastian said Western processors traditionally looked to the Midwest and eastern U.S. universities looking for graduates qualified to do research. Some of the hires moved West for a handful of years before moving back.

“Danton is a regionally raised kid happy to stay here long-term,” he said.

BUILD participants include dairy processors, Western land-grant universities with food science programs, and other schools noted for strong work in related fields such as microbiology and chemistry.

“We recruit sophomores to seniors, but are really looking for seniors who are interested in continuing their education,” Bastian said. “We like to get them at least six months before they graduate.”

At an annual meeting, students present their research and engage in a speed-interview process with industry representatives.

Bastian aims to broaden the base of students to include undergraduate research.

“Now what we want to do is start to drive it down to the undergraduate level,” he said. After that is established, “we may even work it down to the high school level and FFA programming.”

BUILD Dairy has grown even as milk prices sagged.

“What better reason to try to go out and find new markets? We see this down market we’re in as a huge reason to do what we are doing,” Bastian said.

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