TOMAHAWK — Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel has announced his retirement from state public service. He revealed his plans at the end of the regular Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection meeting held July 20 at the Packaging Corp. of America Containerboard Mill in Tomahawk.
He said that, effective Aug. 13, he will step down as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to return to his family’s farm near Endeavor in Marquette County full time. The decision to retire has been in the works for some time, he said.
“It has been a fun ride,” he told the board. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”
In a July 20 letter, Brancel said he has given much thought to the question of when is the right time to retire: “I came to the conclusion that there always will be unfinished business to be done, but now is the time to return to my family’s farm full time ... as we plan for our first ever production sale. My 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 and his family raise registered Angus and Hereford beef cattle. He and his wife, Gail, live on his family’s 290-acre farm, now owned by his son, Tod, and daughter-in-law, Sondra.
Brancel, 66, has served a total of more than 10 years as state ag secretary. He was first inspired to enter public service while in high school, when he met Congressman Melvin Laird through a national 4-H trip.
In 1986, he was elected to represent the state’s 42nd Assembly District. In 1997, Gov. Tommy Thompson first appointed him DATCP secretary. In 2001, Brancel began his service as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. In 2009, he became the state liaison for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW-Madison. In 2011, Gov. Scott Walker appointed him DATCP secretary again; Brancel was reappointed in 2015.
“It has been my pleasure to serve as secretary,” he said. “I especially want to thank Gov. Walker for the privilege to serve in his Cabinet. I am grateful that I was able to be part of this administration, serving farmers, protecting consumers and supporting businesses. I am very appreciative of my leadership team and the entire staff at the department. The service the agency provides to the public is second to none.
“I am humbled by the great opportunities I have had throughout the past three decades. My work has taken me around the world, something I never would have imagined when I was young working in my barnyard. I have always said that in agriculture, we are a family. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.”
DATCP Board Chairperson Miranda Leis said she regularly hears from farmers and others who say they feel Brancel “really listens to their needs, and that’s a very rare treasure in public service.” Leis said farmers have appreciated his “steady hand of leadership,” and he will be sorely missed at DATCP.
Walker, in a statement, said Brancel has “served with distinction as a state representative and speaker of the state Assembly, as DATCP secretary under both our administration and Gov. Tommy Thompson’s administration, and as a leader of a number of agricultural organizations in our state. His leadership and counsel on agriculture and trade issues have been invaluable to me, and I thank him for his service and dedication to the people of Wisconsin. We wish Ben and his wife, Gail, all the very best as they begin this new and exciting chapter.”
Cathy Stepp, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement that the state will be losing a dedicated public servant.
“I will miss serving with him in Gov. Walker’s Cabinet,” Stepp said. “Through his many years in public service, Ben has always understood the challenges of making laws and implementing them. I offer my appreciation for those years of service. I congratulate him and wish Ben a rewarding retirement. He has definitely earned it.”
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte complimented Brancel on “a notable job representing Wisconsin farmers” through the years at state, national and international levels.
“Secretary Brancel understands our agricultural and rural communities because he is first a farmer. He understands the trials and tribulations our farmers face daily, and that has always been reflected in his work,” Holte said. “We owe him a debt of gratitude for the support he has given to Wisconsin farmers in his 30-year public service career. During that time, 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. He also updated Wisconsin’s right-to-farm law and trespass law.”