Chapter Five

Bioscience Research: Impact on Wisconsin Agriculture

Agribusiness is Wisconsin’s #1 industry. Wisconsin farmers will sell $5.5 billion worth of products in 1996, with 85% ($4.6 billion) in sales outside of the state. With over 78,000 farms and 500,000 employees, agriculture has a $20 billion annual impact on Wisconsin’s economy.1

Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production and in snap peas and sweet corn production for consumer processing. Wisconsin ranks among the top five states nationwide in livestock and livestock products, milk and butter production, and oats, potatoes, cherries, cranberries, carrots, beets, cabbage, green peas and cucumber crops.

Wisconsin’s farmers owe much of their success to public investment in bioscience research. Wisconsin citizens gain in three ways from this research:

  • Direct economic impact in the form of increased production and cost saving technologies for producers and manufacturers.
  • Decreased food costs to consumers.
  • Improved nutrition, food safety, and environmental protection.

Wisconsin research scientists are at the forefront of the advances in agriculture that benefit consumers and farmers in Wisconsin. Wisconsin bioscience research contributes $50 million annually to Wisconsin’s economy through direct cost savings and improved agricultural production. 2

Bioscience research nationwide has had a major economic impact on the costs of food for consumers. Nationwide the average proportion of income spent on food has declined 50 percent since 1950.3 As the standard of living has increased, agricultural production and efficiency has increased as well, lowering the relative cost of food. For Wisconsin families that means spending half the time earning the income necessary to put food on the table than the preceding generation spent.

` Thanks to developments in microbiology our food is safer. And bioscience research into plant and animal biology and food additives has resulted in better nutrition. At the same time, researchers have developed biological agents and crop rotation systems that decrease agriculture’s dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Agricultural Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison,
College of Agricultural & Life Sciences

  • With a research investment of $87,000, Norm Olson and other scientists at the Center for Dairy Research found a way to eliminate $6 million in annual losses for Wisconsin cheese makers. Their research produced a treatment for cheese that prevents a white haze from forming. This unattractive, but harmless, discoloration had kept consumers from purchasing the cheese, resulting in the loss in sales.
  • Poultry scientists Art Maurer, Bernie Wentworth and Mark Cook, and graduate student John Brunnquell, developed a method to produce eggs with 25 percent less fat and cholesterol than regular eggs. This enhancement has helped create new markets for Wisconsin egg producers.
  • A potato cultivar developed by geneticist and breeder Stan Peloquin has brought the chip potato industry back to Wisconsin. Since the cultivar was released by the University in 1990, the nation’s two largest potato chip manufacturers have been shifting potato contracts back to Wisconsin. One Wisconsin grower has increased sales from $180,000 to $9.5 million in four years, all due to the development.
  • Wisconsin farmers save millions of dollars annually by following the College’s plant variety evaluations and recommendations. A recent study showed that 60 percent of Wisconsin farmers depend on these evaluations.
  • A new biological agent to protect soybeans from root disease has been developed by plant pathologist Jo Handelsman and her colleagues. Wisconsin farmers could save $2 million annually by using the agent in place of chemical fungicides.
  • Mike Pariza of the Food Research Institute and poultry scientist Mark Cook have developed a method to reduce the amount of feed needed to grow animals. Wisconsin’s poultry industry is expected to save $1 million annually in production costs thanks to the research, while savings for the cattle and swine industries are likely to be even greater.
  • Food toxicologist Fun Sun Chu has pioneered state-of-the-art tests for measuring natural toxins in feed and water. In 1993, Chu worked with the Department of Natural Resources to test drinking water supplies for toxins from lake algae.
  • Forest geneticist Ray Guries has developed genetically improved pine and spruce trees expected to grow 10 to 30 percent faster and to have greater disease resistance than previously available trees. In 1994, most of the 4 million jack pine and white spruce seed sown in the Department of Natural Resources’ forest nurseries for planting in Wisconsin benefited from Guries’ work.