The new leader of Wisconsin’s agriculture department acknowledged today’s struggles of dairy farms and other businesses, but also stressed the importance of the dairy community during an address Jan. 24 at the Dairy Strong conference.
Dairy accounts for more than half of the state’s $88 billion annual agriculture economy, supporting a host of related businesses, thousands of jobs and communities everywhere.
“That money circulates, supporting schools and businesses and providing opportunities to people,” said Brad Pfaff, who was appointed by newly elected Gov. Tony Evers as secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The state of dairy in Wisconsin is strong, but low milk prices and other stiff challenges exist, Pfaff said.
He talked about the Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0, which was formed last summer as a collaboration between DATCP and the University of Wisconsin to ensure a successful dairy community. Patterned after a similar task force from the 1980s, the new project consists of 31 dairy farmers, milk processors and representatives from agricultural organizations, with the goal of coming up with recommendations for improvements.
Committees work in nine areas of focus: research and innovation, regulatory consistency, rural community mentality, developing a skilled workforce, markets, access to capital, price volatility and profitability, consumer confidence, and transitioning to the next generation.
Before being appointed to DATCP, Pfaff served as deputy chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, and before that as executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, where he oversaw crop assistance programs, federal farm loan programs and the conservation reserve program. Prior to that, he was a staff member for U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.
The 650-employee DATCP encompasses six divisions plus the Office of the Secretary. They include the departments of Agricultural Resource Management, Animal Health, Agricultural Development, Food and Recreational Safety, Trade and Consumer Protection, and Management Services.
“DATCP’s mission is to help Wisconsin grow its economy by growing quality food, plants and animals; ensuring sound use of land and water resources; and maintaining a fair marketplace,” Pfaff said.
“Whether you’re buying something at the deli, filling up your car with gas at the gas station or caring for your livestock, the DATCP had something to do with it,” he said.
Pfaff said the Division of Animal Health is in the middle of a bovine tuberculosis investigation. “Thanks to our staff, Wisconsin has been TB-free since 1980, and with this investigation and containment, I’m confident we’ll maintain our TB-free status with the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” he said.
In a banquet hall filled with people representing farms of all sizes and a wide variety of connected companies, Pfaff touched on unity.
Dairy-focused businesses come in a range of sizes and management styles, and all deserve to thrive, he said.
“The diversity of the Wisconsin dairy industry is something we need to value. One type of agriculture doesn’t need to fail in order for another to succeed. We have more to gain by building each other up than by tearing each other down.”