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Wisconsin 2030: Can the family farm survive?

It’s been challenge after challenge for Northeast Wisconsin’s dairy farmers.

“Right now, we’re kind of in the economic downturn,” fourth-generation farmer Kelly Oudenhoven said.

She and other farmers are pushing through tough times, hoping for better ones.

“You have to stay optimistic because if you don’t stay optimistic, you won’t survive,” Oudenhoven said.

She’s optimistic to one day pass her farm to a fifth generation – her kids. Others have seen that dream fade.

“There’s been a huge exit out of the dairy industry because of the tough times,” Extension Brown County’s Liz Binversie said.

When Binversie started at Extension Brown County, there were roughly 190 dairy farms in the county. Five years later, there are now between 120 and 130.

“It’s just been really tough,” Binversie said. “All sorts of industries, whether it’s beef farm or dairy farm, anything like that, cropping, cash cropping, the prices that farmers are getting for their crop isn’t that great.”

The question becomes, ten years from now, can Wisconsin’s family farm survive? Experts think it can if farmers adapt.

“It takes a lot of family members to run a larger farm, so it’s not that we’re seeing these corporate farms where there’s no family tie whatsoever,” Binversie explained. “What we’re seeing more and more are multi-generation farms. We’re seeing the grandpa, dad, and son or daughter on the same farm.”

“I think you’re still going to see the family dairy farm, but i think you’re going to see more multi-family dairy farms,” Oudenhoven said.

Moving forward, efficiency could help farmers greatly. Technology is now a key part of the industry.

“Looking back to where we came from, not that long ago farmers were using horses to plow the fields, and now we’re looking at having tractors that can drive themselves,” Oudenhoven said. “That’s not too far off in the future.”

Oudenhoven has already implemented GPS technology on her cows and is exploring more technology like robotic milking. Those measures help reduce manual an industry where the average farmer’s age is 57 years old.

“I think we’re going to see more technical things, more robotics, to take the ease of that manual labor,” Oudenhoven said.

It’s something the next generation will need to continue i the farming industry is to move toward ‘Wisconsin 2030.’


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