UW-River Falls: AERES officials visit UW-River Falls, meet faculty, administrators for collaborative efforts

May 10, 2022 — The new dual degree program in international food operations management between University of Wisconsin-River Falls and Aeres University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands is expected to be a win for students and industry.

That is according to Natasja Spaargaren, Aeres University head of international studies and consultancy.

“For students, first and foremost, it is crucial for them to get an international experience,” Spaargaren said. “The joint program between UWRF and Aeres will show them the North American and European perspectives. Our students will get to come to UWRF for a year to study and students from UWRF can come to Aeres for a year. It will help prepare them for international jobs. At Aeres, they will learn more about the business part and at UWRF, the operations management part. I think it is great for anyone who wants to work in the food industry.”

Studying at both institutions will give students a worldview, Spaargaren said.

“The universities are different,” she said. “The cultures are different. Seeing the differences creates opportunities. It inspires us to improve and learn. It is beneficial to help create new ideas and innovation.”

Spaargaren and Alfred Pot, Aeres team leader in agrotechnical and management, visited UWRF May 9-10. While at the university, they met with campus administrators and faculty from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

They toured the Dairy Plant, which is undergoing nearly a $6.5 million renovation, to modernize the 30-year-old Dairy Plant and provide more effective teaching and training through the introduction of food products and security technology.

The goal of the renovation project is to:

  • Enlarge the cheese manufacturing area and include dedicated space for raw milk processing and separation.
  • Modernize the Dairy Plant equipment and processes to provide more effective teaching and outreach programming. The Dairy Plant will be more than 6,000 square feet.
  • Introduce additional product and processing safety and security features by integrating separation of raw product handling and whey processing.

The renovated plant facilities will allow for the quadrupled production of cheese and ice cream throughout the year.

“It’s important we try to duplicate the automation a student will see in the dairy industry,” said Michelle Farner, UWRF Dairy Plant manager, who led the tour. “We have amazing pieces of equipment being installed, including a few pieces from the Netherlands, that will make the Aeres students feel at home when they come to UWRF.”

Students will arrive from Aeres in Dronten, the Netherlands, for classes in 2023-24. Then, UWRF students will travel to the Netherlands the following year when they are in their third year. The cultural exchanges will then continue for students in their second and third year of college.

During the tour of the plant, Spaargaren expressed excitement about the renovation.

“It’s lovely and so exciting,” she said, noting her university has had a smaller dairy processing unit operating for about a year. The university also works with a local cheesemaker for additional student training. “This is beautiful. Students will be very excited for the technology and the information management part.”

In the Dairy Plant, Farner showed a horizontal cheese vat, which is how much of the cheese is made in the industry, as well as a more traditional open cheese vat for teaching.

“Once this is done, it is going to be transformational,” Farner said of the Dairy Plant. “There will be nothing like it. We have great company partnerships and have accepted many generous donations through this project.”

Spaargaren said industry donations show the support the companies have for UWRF.

“These companies truly believe this is important or they wouldn’t make a donation,” she said, adding companies will benefit from students’ training and knowledge.

“Companies wanting to export from the U.S. to Europe have to follow the rules of exporting and vice versa,” Farner said. “These students will be able to help with that.”

The Dairy Plant will allow students to learn skills relevant to the dairy industry, expand opportunities in the plant to emulate current industry standards and increase the pool of qualified dairy industry employees.

Pot was visiting UWRF to discuss potential collaboration with agricultural engineering and agricultural engineering technology.

“I want to create a new program and hope to learn from them,” he said. “We will see what opportunities there are.”

Fundraising is continuing for the Dairy Plant at UWRF.

With a contribution of $1,200, two milk cans will be engraved with the donor’s name. One will be displayed in the Dairy Plant renovation donor alcove, and one will be sent to the donor for their desk or to display. To learn more, visit https://www/uwrf.edu/UniversityAdvancement /MIlkCanCampaign.cfm.

For questions or more information on the Dairy Plant, email Farner at [email protected] or Julie Stuckey with the University Advancement Office at [email protected].