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Dairy Foundation plans for robotic milking center moving ahead

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 04/04/2013 7:32 PM

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CALMAR, Iowa — Members of the Northeast Iowa Community-Based Dairy Foundation received an update on the new robotic milking center that will be built at the Dairy Center at Calmar at the group's annual meeting last week.

Dave Lawstuen, chairman of Dairy Operations at the Dairy Center and a Northeast Iowa Community College instructor, said two Lely robots were purchased from Fitzgerald Inc. in Elkader in December. Site excavation was also completed in December.

The $1.5 million project will consist of a lean-to addition to the south side of the current free-stall barn that will use the existing feed alley. The addition will include three rows of free-stalls, two robotic units, a milk room, class room and viewing area. One robot will milk registered Jerseys, the other a high genetic registered Holstein group. There will be plenty of windows for students and visitors to watch the cows.

The existing free-stall barn along with the addition will be converted to tunnel ventilation and stalls will be bedded with sand.

Bids for additional construction were opened last week. The manure system will go out on bids soon. Construction should begin in April with cows milking in the robotic center by Aug. 15.

With the renovation, the Dairy Center herd will grow from 250 to 300 cows. Half the herd will be milked by robots, the other half in the current parlor.

Lawstuen said the primary purpose of the Dairy Center is to educate students, dairy producers and consumers. Its goal is to be a show place dairy that demonstrates new technology and best practices.

"NICC has come to the table in a huge way to support this project both with the project's conception and financially," said Gary Kregel, president of the Dairy Foundation and a Guttenberg dairy farmer. "Lely was the low bidder for the robotic units and along with Fitzgerald Inc., of Elkader, will be a major contributor to the project. CJ Moyna did the fall excavating and site preparation at a substantial discount. There will be opportunities for everyone to become part of this project."

The Dairy Foundation is aligning its fundraising campaign with the NICC Foundation's Capital Campaign for Excellence this spring.

"Through our partnership with the NICC Foundation, we will embark on a five-year initiative to ensure our sustainability," said Dairy Center coordinator Megan Kregel.

A kickoff event, "Partnering for Iowa's Agricultural Future" will be at 2 p.m. April 3 at the Dairy Center.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will speak about the importance of Iowa agriculture and Northeast Iowa Community College President Liang Chee Wee will share the college's present and future educational priorities.

Dairy Foundation members approved several bylaw changes.

Gary Kregel recognized retiring board members Jed Becker and Ted Koehler. Becker has been a long-time board member and past president.

"Jed was on the board when the foundation started, went through the black period a couple years ago when things seemed uncertain, and now we're back where you started," Kregel said. "We appreciate Jed's many years of service."

Rob Hahn, Gary Kregel, Dennis Cline, Mike Scott, Matt Stoll and Kent Lehs were elected to the board.

Megan Kregel said this year's Breakfast on the Farm will be 8:30 a.m. to noon June 22.

She said that a new dairy awards and recognition display has been created in the hallway at the Dairy Center. The display is meant to showcase student achievement through national winning teams and individuals in dairy judging, the Post Secondary Agriculture Students, outstanding alumni and dairy friends of distinction.