Rising to the Top

A new  ‘showcase for the modern dairy industry’ adds luster to the FBNS Department’s golden anniversary.

There’s a new milking center under the last stages of construction at N.C. State University’s Lake Wheeler Road Dairy Research and Teaching Farm, to be joined by a new heifer raising facility, classroom pavilion and a visitor center/museum. All are components of the Dairy Enterprise System, a vertically integrated university approach to all aspects of the dairy commodity, from milking to market, from cow to consumer. That system is housed in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The FBNS department, formerly known as Food Science, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. And it is fitting that the modernized dairy unit is the newest milestone in the department’s history – because it all started with a creamery, well before the department’s official creation in 1961.

W.L. Clevenger

Food science at N.C. State evolved from the work in the dairy technology field on the N.C. State campus in 1918, pasteurizing milk for soldiers based near the college. This also was the first milk pasteurized in the state. By the early 1920s, Professor William L. Clevenger was on campus as dairy manufacturing and Extension specialist, teaching courses and working to develop the state’s cheese and dairy industry. The details of all this were recalled by Dr. W.M. Roberts, who in 1961 became the first head of the new Food Science Department, in an interview with Dr. Dean W. Colvard.

(Colvard, who served as CALS dean from 1953 to 1960, spoke with Roberts in 1979 as part of his research for Knowledge Is Power, a history of N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Colvard later turned over all interview transcripts and other pertinent papers as a gift to the College’s former Department of Communication Services.)

When Roberts came from Tennessee in the early ’40s to visit N.C. State about a dairy-related position in the college’s Animal Industry Department, it was Clevenger who met his train and hosted a tour of dairy operations around the state. “I could see the relationship that Professor Clevenger had with these people and the confidence they had in him,” Roberts told Colvard. And when N.C. State offered Roberts a job, he was told “it was the first state appropriation that had ever been given for work in this particular area. This was the beginning.”

Roberts said that he was “quizzed very critically and in detail about what I thought it would take to build a dairy manufacturing department of the type that was needed and wanted,” and Roberts laid out what he envisioned.

“We had rather quickly one of the best staffed departments in the South” Roberts told Colvard. In fact, Roberts recalled, by 1952, North Carolina State College conferred, “as far as we can determine, … the first Ph.D. in dairy manufacturing in the South to Dr. R.B. Redfern.”

Among the college units and departments that make up the cross-curricular origins of the food science/food processing curriculum at N.C. State is Horticultural Science.

Ivan Jones

In 1930, Dr. Ivan Jones joined the (then) Horticulture Department, where he was instrumental in enlarging the food preservation program and conducted N.C. State’s first research on the commercial processing of fruits and vegetables. In 1961, having led the committee to develop a food processing curriculum, he became a professor in the newly created Food Science Department.

Going into the 1960s, food processing had been recognized as a viable economic player in the state’s economy. By 1961, the state’s legislature had before it the request to start a new Department of Food Processing at N.C. State.

Jones, also interviewed by Colvard in 1979, offered his recollection of the department’s creation: “I think of Governor [Terry] Sanford as being the man who was really responsible for getting a food processing department started,” Jones said. “Not only Governor Sanford, but Ralph Scott, … who, I think, deserves the recognition for being responsible for starting the present food science program on the campus.” (Scott, N.C. State class of 1924, who served as a state senator and university trustee, was one of the organizers of the Dairy Foundation at NCSU.)

A bottler works at the N.C. State dairy plant in Polk Hall in the 1950s.

“I was told that he specified that a certain amount of money be set aside for possibility of making preliminary steps to a Department of Food Science in 1959 or 1960,” Jones added. “The amount of money was a nominal sum, but it did serve as seed money and with the backing of Gov. Sanford, there was a Department of Food Science established. The faculty was formed from various departments.”

Thus in 1961, the department was established to house the university’s academic curricula and research and extension programs related to food processing. The department was first called “Food Processing,” then became “Food Science” and is now the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences.

In 1964, ground for Schaub Hall was broken by (from left) UNC system President Bill Friday, NCSU Chancellor John Caldwell, N.C. Gov. Terry Sanford, CALS Dean H. Brooks James, Food Science Department Head William Roberts and N.C. Sen. Ralph Scott.

There are, of course, numerous historic events that mark the way from 1961 to 2011 for the department. And in this anniversary year, there’s an event in the making: the modernized Lake Wheeler Road Dairy Farm.

What a farm it will be. The construction started in December 2010, with completion to be in late fall 2011. When all modernization is complete, the Lake Wheeler Road Dairy Educational Unit will include a new milking center, freestall facility, heifer raising facility, classroom and pavilion — and a visitor center/museum to teach visitors about the dairy and the property’s Randleigh Farm connections and history.

“The Randleigh Farm, which was donated by William Kenan to the university in the ’60s, was sold, and a significant part of the proceeds was set aside for a new milking parlor,” said Gary Cartwright, director of the Dairy Enterprise System.

“This all represents a 20-year master plan,” he said. “We want this to be the farm of 2050, not the farm of 2010.”

Currently, the farm has more than 300 total cows, about one-quarter Jerseys and the rest Holsteins. The milking herd has been as low as 125 animals but is currently at 165, Cartwright said. “Our target is to be between 160 and 180 to be an efficient operation and have sufficient numbers for valid research trials.”

In oversight of the herd, he said, “We absolutely depend on the Department of Animal Science to define the direction we want to go. The operation is under FBNS, but Animal Science is the driver of teaching and research and collaborative efforts with the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).”

Animal Science Professor and Extension dairy specialist Dr. Brinton Hopkins said, “While several university dairy teaching and research herds across the country have been closed in recent years, N.C. State University had the great foresight to do just the opposite and expand and improve our dairy facilities. This puts N.C. State University in the forefront as the primary dairy teaching and research location in the Southeast United States.”

Hopkins said that “dairy farmers in North Carolina view these new dairy facilities as being the showcase for the modern dairy industry in North Carolina. Since many of our dairy farmers provided input into the design and construction of these facilities, they also feel ownership and great pride in the revitalization of our dairy teaching and research programs at the university.

“Extension agents and FFA vocational agriculture instructors, as well as 4-H and FFA members, will utilize these new dairy facilities to learn more up-to-date information to share with dairy farmers and the general public across the state,” Hopkins said, adding that “the general public will gain a greater, more positive appreciation for the North Carolina dairy industry by visiting our new dairy facilities and museum at the Lake Wheeler Road Dairy Educational Unit.”

Cartwright says the new facility will be an environment that truly represents the region’s dairy farms.

According to his animal science colleague Dr. Vivek Fellner, the key advantages of having the new dairy unit facilities are “an improved facility to showcase newer technology to students; new degree programs that combine pre- and post-harvest technologies; increased cow comfort and well-being of animals; enhanced waste management by streamlining housing, milking and feeding areas; and improved nutrient capture, to minimize environmental impact of the farming system.”

Moreover, he said, the expansion of the facility “will allow us to propose a new degree program outlined for students who want technical expertise in dairy management with pre-harvest and post-harvest technologies.

“The future of the dairy industry lies in a better understanding and close link between production practices at the farm and milk handling, processing and marketing of dairy products. The new milking parlor, improved calf housing modules and on-site pasteurizer units give us an edge over other campuses in the United States for highly focused and specialized research projects.”

Anthony Chesnutt, dairy farm manager, shares his colleagues’ enthusiasm about the new milking parlor, which, he said, “will host numerous milking labs associated with the NCSU animal science and the Agricultural Institute curricula that afford students the opportunity to get hands-on experience in the milking process.”

Furthermore, he said, both CALS animal science and CVM faculty and students will have opportunities to take part in research-related activities, such as milk sampling, teat scoring, mastitis management and milk data collection.

“A new calf milk pasteurizer will be located in the new facility for research and teaching purposes,” he said.

The framework for the new Lake Wheeler Road milking facility has taken shape.

Groups associated with 4-H, YMCA, Ag in the Classroom, elementary and middle schools, dairy industry and private farms will be touring the facility under strict bio-security guidelines, said Chesnutt. “Biosecurity will be a major emphasis and teaching aspect of this facility.”

And, as always, he said, “N.C. State students will continue to work in a flexible capacity in the new facility, which will afford them hands-on large animal and dairy experience to enhance their educational endeavors.”

FBNS’ Cartwright is equally excited about what the new facilities mean to the Dairy Enterprise System, which integrates the Lake Wheeler Road Dairy Farm with the Schaub Hall Dairy Pilot Plant. “We wanted to have an operation large enough to have valid research and teaching applications,” he said. “This model allows us to do that.”

The main change to the department’s dairy operation that the Dairy Enterprise System puts into place is “implementing entrepreneurial and economic feasibility into the whole operation. Our mission is research, teaching and extension, but paying for it is paramount. Our ultimate goal is being totally self-sufficient. The dairy processing plant has always been totally self-supporting,” Cartwright said.

Students work in the current milking parlor, which will soon relocate to the more spacious, modern facility nearby. Adjacent will be a classroom pavilion and labs.

“All participants – students, researchers, instructors and staff – have the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a continuously improving operation.  There are finite resources, so decisions must be made as to the best way to invest for maximum return. However, in our environment those returns are not measured just by dollars, but elements of cow comfort, genetic quality, teaching efficiencies and capabilities, feed and metabolism, breeding, etc., are considerations of value.”

And while the dairy farm construction is funded by proceeds of the Randleigh Farm sale, “right now money is flowing from our operation in Schaub back to the farm,” said Cartwright. “The system can balance itself out.”

The operation in Schaub, of course, processes and markets N.C. State dairy products, particularly ice cream, now branded as Howling Cow products. “We’d always been N.C. State ice cream, N.C. State milk,” explained Cartwright. “We decided we wanted to brand it, so in 2008, we came up with ‘Howling Cow.’”

It was in 2004 that the department went to the legislature and asked for an exemption from the Umstead Act, which prevents universities from competing with the private sector. “The legislature supported us, and the state dairy industry supported us and supports us in this new direction,” Cartwright said. “The legislature gave us the ability to sell dairy products produced in FBNS to the general public, which we could not do previously. But we must sell it on N.C. State’s campus.”

As for the ever-popular ice cream venue at the N.C. State Fair, he said, “We sell the ice cream to the Food Science Club students, and they sell it at the fair.”

Dr. Keith Harris and FBNS students scoop ice cream for State Fair customers.

The FBNS dairy operation can also claim credit for enhancing the university’s participation in the local foods movement — which emphasizes the support of the state’s growers via consumption of locally grown products — as campus student food venues have traditionally sold the department’s milk and ice cream.

And there are more products to come, said Cartwright.

“With the popularity of our ice cream, we knew the future of our operation and the best template for educating students was a much more diverse fluid line than plain milk,” he said. “We want to do more diverse, value-added dairy products and integrate the students into what we do. It is an incredible teaching tool: From bench-top ingredients to processing to labeling and marketing, all those things have to be put together, and this gives our students significant real-world experience and advantage.”

And, he added, “This also creates a pipeline that perhaps the next Gatorade comes from N.C. State and will be a milk product. But everything will be education-based.
“The need to do all this,” he said, “meant we needed to have an outlet to showcase. All of these concepts culminated in the Schaub annex.”

That’s another milestone event coming: N.C. State is to have the Creamery, an on-campus dairy retail operation/ice cream parlor addition planned for the north side of Schaub Hall.

The planned annex to Schaub Hall will house an on-campus dairy retail operation and an ice cream parlor.

Dr. Christopher Daubert, interim head of FBNS, called the Creamery “a significant part of our departmental history: Food Science was born from the Dairy Manufacturing program within dairy husbandry. The formation of the vertically integrated Dairy Enterprise System, through adoption of our research and teaching farm on Lake Wheeler Road, is a natural extension of an already successful function. The farm provides our scientists with the opportunity to extend research all the way back to the crops grown for our cows, availing the opportunity to observe and see impacts on food quality and nutrient value. We essentially have command and control of the production pipeline, from the crops to cow to cream.”

Daubert added that “as far as we know, N.C. State is the only major university to integrate all aspects of dairy production under one system, with the goal of approaching operational self-sustainability.”

At the same time, he said, “by keeping education through research, teaching and extension as our driving mission, N.C. State is producing dairy professionals who are skilled in science and have practical experience in every facet of the dairy business. We are already hearing from industry leaders — not only in North Carolina, but nationally — that students exposed to all levels of farm-to-fork production are in high demand.”

As the function and operation of the facilities expand, he said, “Our vision is for this N.C. State farm to represent a model for the future of dairy farming. We feel an obligation to instruct the next generation of leaders in the dairy industry with the next generation of technologies that address issues of concern, like waste and water management, animal health and welfare, and energy conservation to name a few.”

Said Cartwright, “From my perspective, the impact to the dairy program within our department is the ability to vertically integrate and stabilize financially for perpetuity and be here for future generations.”

And appropriately enough, this vision takes shape during the FBNS anniversary.

We are celebrating 50 years of achievement by our faculty, staff and students,” said Daubert. “This department is the key engine that drives innovation and entrepreneurship for food manufacturing in North Carolina.” — Terri Leith

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