MADISON — Brad Pfaff’s family has been farming in northern La Crosse County since the mid-1800s, when they first came to this country. As a youth, he watched the farm provide for his family, both financially and through the ways it was able to shape him into the person he is today; it also gave him strong values and a deep appreciation for rural communities.
“My story is very similar to many of yours,” he told attendees at the Dairy Strong conference last week during his legislative address.
Pfaff has been working as the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for just about three weeks now, putting together his leadership team at what we called “the people’s agency.” He is a strong believer in communication and collaboration, and shared that he believes representatives can work together to find solutions to challenges in the agriculture industry, particularly the dairy industry.
“While we can, and should, debate the policies and contemplate solutions, I believe we can all agree that there’s more that unites us than what divides us,” he said.
Wisconsin is a world leader in dairy, but dairy farmers in the state also contribute just as much locally. The average dairy cow in Wisconsin generates $34,000 each year, supporting local businesses, schools and providing opportunity for those in rural communities across the state. Pfaff assured dairy farmers and industry professionals in attendance that this $43 billion industry will not go unnoticed by himself and his team.
He recognized the dedication of Dairy Task Force 2.0, a group of 31 dairy farmers, industry professionals and stakeholders that have been working on recommendations to maintain viability and profitability as a dairy state. Nine sub-committees have been meeting regularly to discuss research and innovation, regulations, dairy and rural community vitality, a skilled workforce, access to capital, price volatility, food safety and the next generation of dairy farmers.
Task force members are finding areas that can be improved, such as bettering communication across all agencies and between processors and farmers to determine how much milk is needed, keeping people informed about policy and regulatory changes, furthering the study of the impact farms have on rural communities, communicating the tremendous work opportunities in agriculture, assessing the critical need for access to capital for rural processors, and providing the next generation with the right tools during a farm transition.
“There are some major challenges facing our industry,” Pfaff said. “However, I believe the Wisconsin dairy industry is strong. And we become stronger when we come together, when we can communicate, when we can share ideas and when we can try to find opportunities.”
Wisconsin’s dairy industry is highly developed, with no other state offering the concentration of dairy resources and the support network that Wisconsin has, he added. He will continue to advocate for the dairy industry wherever he goes, fueled by the connections among all of those in it — regardless of management types and sizes.
“We need to remember that in dairy, we are one industry,” he said. “One type of agriculture doesn’t have to fail for another structure or type to succeed. We are on the same team, and we have more to gain by building each other up than by taking each other down.”
To Pfaff, Wisconsin agriculture is more than just the volume of raw milk that we produce or the pounds of cheese that are produced, he said, drawing attention to the farm families that milk cows, plant and harvest crops; the rural communities that support them and the rural businesses that service those farms and families.
“To me, connecting the dots is the heart and soul of Wisconsin agriculture,” he said. “It’s the connection between farmers, producers, processors, rural communities — bringing it all together.”
He concluded by asking those in attendance to think about what unites us and what brings us together.
“It is a passion,” he said. “For dairy, for agriculture, for our neighbors and for our rural communities.”