There aren’t too many people who do a job so well that after they leave a position and move on to something else, they are asked to come back and do the job again.
Unless perhaps they are manager of the New York Yankees, where managers sometimes cycle through the system several times (such as Billy Martin did five times between 1975 and 1988).
But that was the case with Ben Brancel, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, who announced July 20 that he would be retiring on Aug. 13. Brancel served as DATCP secretary from 1997 until 2001 under Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, and then was reappointed to the position in 2011. In between those two stints on gubernatorial Cabinets, he was the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency executive director.
Earlier in his career, he served in the Wisconsin Assembly from 1987 to 1997, where for a time he was the Speaker of the House.
Brancel gained respect from all he worked with as a legislator and agency secretary. He was always transparent in his dealings with the public and willing to tackle a problem head-on. That was especially apparent during the recent Grassland Dairy fiasco when dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers lost their milk market. He worked tirelessly with his staff and others to make sure those farmers found a home for their milk.
Several agricultural leaders and others had high praise for Brancel after his retirement announcement.
Gov. Scott Walker said Brancel “served with distinction” while in the Legislature and as agriculture secretary, and said his counsel on agriculture and trade issues have been “invaluable” to his administration.
Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden said he first met Brancel when working on milk-pricing issues in the mid-1990s. During the 20-plus years he has known him, Von Ruden said Brancel always put Wisconsin agriculture first.
“He has traveled countless miles to meetings around the state, listening to farmers and creating an open dialogue on the issues that matter to rural Wisconsinites,” Von Ruden said. “We would like to wish Ben and his family all the best as he returns to the family farm.”
Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte said Wisconsin farmers owe Brancel a debt of gratitude for his years of service and dedication to the agricultural industry.
“During (his 30-year public service career) he helped enact Wisconsin’s use-value-assessment law, which taxes farmland at the value of its use, as opposed to its market value if sold,” Holte said. “He also updated Wisconsin’s right-to-farm law and trespass law.”
Brancel said in his retirement letter that he plans to return to his family’s Marquette County beef farm to help prepare for the family’s first-ever production sale. His son and daughter-in-law are now the sixth generation to farm the land.
“My first job was a farmer and my last job will be a farmer,” Brancel said.
It’s likely that even though Brancel is stepping away from official public life that it won’t be the last we’ll see of him at various events around the state.
We hope that’s the case, as his opinions and perspectives are valuable to Wisconsin agriculture and will be welcome in the years ahead.
Brancel’s steadying influence will be missed at the DATCP, but after criss-crossing the state, country and world on behalf of Wisconsin agriculture, he deserves the opportunity to slow down and spend more time with his family.
We wish Brancel well, and expect that we’ll continue to see him as his travels and those of The Country Today staff are on the same path in the future.