Western Wisconsin farmers soon will see a familiar face — and name — at the helm of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Gov. Scott Walker announced Friday he has appointed state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, as Wisconsin’s agriculture secretary.
Harsdorf, 61, will become the first woman in the agency’s 88-year history to serve as its secretary when she starts the new position on Monday. Her resignation from the state Senate was effective Friday.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be asked to serve in this position,” Harsdorf said. “Ag has always been near and dear to my heart, first as a dairy farmer and then in the Legislature.”
Harsdorf said she looks forward to addressing the many challenges faced by agriculture, an $88 billion industry that has long been one of the state’s largest.
She continues to live on her family’s dairy farm near River Falls, although she isn’t actively involved in farming. The land is farmed by her brother Jim Harsdorf, a former state senator who served as ag secretary from 2001 to 2003 under former GOP Gov. Scott McCallum.
Her brother should serve as a good resource about issues faced by dairy farmers and the internal workings of DATCP, Sheila Harsdorf said.
“Sheila’s experience as a highly respected, dedicated legislator and dairy farmer make her an excellent fit to lead DATCP,” Walker said in a news release. “I thank Sheila for her hard work and willingness to continue serving the public, and I look forward to working with her to keep Wisconsin moving forward.”
Harsdorf replaces Ben Brancel, who retired as ag secretary in August.
Harsdorf has represented the 10th Senate District since 2001 and has served in leadership roles including majority caucus chairwoman, chairwoman of the Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges and as a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. She previously served in the Assembly from 1989 to 1998.
She holds a degree in animal science from the University of Minnesota.
State Sen. Terry Moulton, R-town of Seymour and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he has appreciated Harsdorf’s work as a member of that committee and believes she will do a great job as ag secretary.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Moulton said of Harsdorf’s appointment. “Sheila has a great background in agriculture, and she comes from a farm background. I’ve been to ag summits with her, and she’s just a very capable person.”
With so many top state posts occupied by people from southeastern Wisconsin, “It will be nice to have someone from up here in that position,” Moulton said, adding that her familiarity with west-central Wisconsin and the issues faced by area farmers should benefit the region.
“I’m excited to work with and support our farmers, businesses, and consumers to promote a fair marketplace and economic growth in Wisconsin’s vibrant agriculture industry,” Harsdorf said in a news release.
The 10th Senate District seat will be filled in a special election Walker scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 16. If a primary is necessary, it will be held Tuesday, Dec. 19.
Nomination papers for candidates must be filed no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21.
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