MADISON — Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Brad Pfaff couldn’t help but smile as he addressed the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin board of directors last Wednesday, June 19. He recognized a lot of familiar faces and was reminded of the time when his own father served on the former Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, representing La Crosse County and their family dairy farm there.

As the organization wrapped up its fiscal year, many were pleased that Pfaff and Assistant Deputy Secretary Angela James could attend one of the board meetings, providing an update on priorities and asking for assistance as Pfaff continues in his role as the state’s agriculture secretary.

When Gov. Tony Evers appointed Pfaff as the secretary-designee, Pfaff said he told the governor he had three areas of special focus: dairy, water and water policy, and hemp and new product development. He’s spent quite a bit of time on the first two items already, Pfaff said, and asked the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin board, composed of 25 dairy farmers from all sizes of operations around the state, how the department could better partner with the organization to refocus Wisconsin on dairy.

“I’m a welcoming hand and I need you; you, as dairy farmers, are my boots on the ground,” he said.

Pfaff aims to partner with Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin to help develop the Wisconsin brand, increase markets, find where consumers are moving to in the grocery space and continue a working relationship with other partners, such as the Center for Dairy Research, to move Wisconsin dairy forward. He plans to push that discussion along by sharing Wisconsin’s story in dairy, but he needs the help of dairy farmers like the ones serving on the board to do so.

“Dairy is our history. Dairy is our present. Dairy is our future,” Pfaff said. “It’s way too polarized right now but pride and who we are unites us.

“I know where I’m from,” he continued. “I’m proud of where I’m from and know where I want to go. I want to take Wisconsin dairy forward. Our dairy heritage is our value-added; it is what sets us apart from other states.”

Pfaff also aims to continue to communicate with farmers, working with them as they make difficult decisions on their farms. He also stressed the need to communicate with non-agriculture audiences and lawmakers about the importance of Wisconsin agriculture, particularly Wisconsin dairy. As he listens and advocates for Wisconsin farmers, he also is tasked with recognizing the connection between the farm and food, communicating that with those not directly involved with agriculture.

“I’m in a unique position to tell that story,” he said. “But we’ve got work ahead of us and we’re going to need your ideas.”

Four new directors also attended their first Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin board meeting on June 19, with four outgoing directors sitting in at their last formal meeting. Outgoing board members Ken Heiman, Tina Hinchley, Vivian Thompson and Kevin Walleser all received recognition for their service at the meeting while new members were welcomed by the board.

Stephen Pankratz, the new District 12 director, farms near Marshfield with his wife and children. They milk 140 cows and have been shipping milk to Lynn Dairy since 1958.

Virgil Haag, the new District 24 director, milks 190 registered Holsteins outside of Mount Horeb. He farms with his wife and two children, and ships his milk to Klondike Cheese Co. in Monroe.

Douglas Danielson, the new District 6 director, farms in Cadott with his wife and several others who serve as co-managers of the farm. He milks 425 registered Holsteins and ships his milk to La Grander’s Hillside Dairy in Stanley.

Gail Klinker, the new District 21 director, farms near Viroqua, milking 20 Holsteins and 30 Jerseys. She farms with her husband, Rob, and their five children, shipping their milk to Westby Cooperative Creamery in Westby. Both of her parents have served on the former Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, which sparked her interest in promoting the dairy industry at a young age.