The Wisconsin dairy industry has been under significant duress in recent months, and it is still reeling from the after-shock of the market-access crisis in April and May that left dozens of dairy farmers scrambling to find homes for their milk.
That situation has essentially been resolved, although state officials warn that the dairy industry isn’t out of the woods just yet.
Commenting at a recent State Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection meeting, DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel said he believes the dairy community still has work to do to make sure situations such as the Nasonville-Grassland Dairy farmer shut-offs don’t happen again.
“I don’t see this turning around real fast,” Brancel said of the supply and demand imbalance.
Despite the challenges ahead, the dairy industry still has much to celebrate as June Dairy Month gets off the ground. The state still had 9,167 milk herds as of May 1 — more than any other state — and has a dairy infrastructure that is the envy of dairy farmers around the world.
According to an historical essay by the Wisconsin Historical Society, wheat was the predominant agricultural commodity produced in Wisconsin when the state was in its infancy. But when tiny insects known as chinch bugs began devouring wheat crops in the 1860s, Wisconsin farmers began experimenting with alternative crops and different forms of farming. Feed crops, rather than cash crops, were better suited to Wisconsin’s climate and soil. By 1899, more than 90 percent of Wisconsin farms raised dairy cows.
While dairy farm numbers have been in a steady decline since the mid-1950s, dairy is still by far the state’s No. 1 agricultural industry.
The Stephan & Brady advertising and public relations agency recently solicited comments from state dairy leaders for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board in anticipation of June Dairy Month. Those comments, some of which follow, make it clear how important the industry is to people all across the state.
John Pagel, Kewaunee County dairy farmer and WMMB director: “The Wisconsin dairy industry is comprised of some of the hardest working and dedicated individuals you will ever meet. Farm families across the state deserve to be recognized for their commitment to excellence in animal care and being good stewards of Wisconsin’s valuable resources like land and water.”
Ann Kieler, Grant County dairy farmer and WMMB director: “In Grant County, dairy farming is a major agricultural industry. Everyone in this county is in some way touched by the dairy industry and that’s what makes us one giant family.”
Stacy Eberle, Green County dairy farmer and WMMB director: “I love Green County and its diverse agricultural community. The county is home to 12 cheese plants, including Wisconsin’s only producer of Limburger cheese. These cheese plants utilize milk from more than 260 dairy farms to produce award-winning artisan cheese. Green County also has yogurt factories and offers a picturesque landscape dotted with dairy farms and wineries.”
Steven Sternweis, Marathon County dairy farmer and WMMB director: “Marathon County is in the heart of Wisconsin. Residents here have many reasons to celebrate June Dairy Month and take pride in the rich traditions of dairying in the community.”
Jeff Strassburg, Shawano County dairy farmer and WMMB director: “The No. 1 industry in Shawano County is dairy. I encourage everyone to attend Breakfast on the Farm in Shawano County (on June 25) to meet the passionate and hard-working dairy farm families who help produce Wisconsin’s signature dairy products.”
Juanita Krug, Taylor County dairy leader group representative: “If you haven’t done so already, mark your calendars for the Taylor County Dairy Breakfast on June 17. This annual event is both educational and fun. Attendees will not only enjoy a hearty breakfast featuring real, Wisconsin dairy products, but they will also have the opportunity to learn about our state’s dairy industry and socialize with neighbors and local farmers.”
Ben Peterson, Burnett County dairy farmer and WMMB director: “In northwest Wisconsin we don’t just celebrate June Dairy Month, we live it. Come out to the Tri-County Farm Breakfast this June (10) to meet our local farm families and join us in our annual celebration.”
Kevin Walleser, Vernon County dairy farmer and WMMB director: “America’s Dairyland is a diverse and wonderful place. In Vernon County, century-old farms dot the landscape, reminding us that the dairy industry is an irreplaceable part of Wisconsin’s history and future.”
We couldn’t have said it better than the dairy farmers themselves.
This month and every month, celebrate the fact that the dairy industry is still strong in Wisconsin. We all need to do our part to keep it that way.