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State ag secretary tours local farm

Ben Brancel, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, delivers remarks as Henk and Bonnie Van Dyk listen during the secretary’s July 17 visit to Willows-Edge Holsteins just west of Boardman. The Van Dyks have owned the dairy operation since 1976. (Photo by Micheal Foley)1 / 2
Ben Brancel (right), secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, chats with a community member during a tour of Willows-Edge Holsteins on July 17. (Photo by Micheal Foley)2 / 2

More than 25 people gathered at Willows-Edge Holsteins just west of Boardman on Thursday, July 17, as Ben Brancel, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, delivered remarks and toured the farm.

The family farm, which is owned by Henk and Bonnie Van Dyk, was the third stop on a two-day northern swing by Brancel. He stopped at the DATCP grain inspection unit at the port in Superior the previous day, and he spent a portion of last Thursday morning at the Barron County Fair in Rice Lake.

Brancel said he agreed to stop at the Van Dyk farm more than a decade after an invitation from Henk. Last week he finally made good on that invitation to visit Willows-Edge. The farm milks about 125 registered holsteins, and it is highly regarded in the agriculture community for its high-quality genetics. The 38-year-old dairy operation sits on 975 acres of land along the Willow River, 660 of which is used to grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat.

Henk asked Brancel if more could be done to help smaller farms in the face of competition from massive operations that milk 1,000-plus cows and draw from vast resources.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to do that,” Henk said. “They’re going to be forced out, I’m afraid. They won’t be able to compete with the price of commodities, the price of semen and the labor to get the work done. … Has anything been done to help out, not me, but the young people who want to have their 50-, 60-, 70-cow herds. To keep them in business, is there anything being talked about?”

Brancel said robot technology to milk cows is a technology that can be scaled down for smaller farms to utilize.

“A lot of the equipment now is built for big, big and bigger,” Brancel said. “That’s an issue area where we’ve tried to help in. Our agency’s 30x20 program is not to drive it bigger, but to drive profitability.”

According to the department’s website, the initiative, formally called Dairy 30x20 has a stated goal of improving “the long-term viability of Wisconsin’s dairy industry through services to achieve an annual milk production of 30 billion pounds by 2020 to meet the growing demand of the marketplace.”

Brancel also discussed how frac sand mining has made rail service a lot harder to come by for farmers looking to move products to market. He said frac sand moving east and oil moving south has put a strain on rail service availability. He indicated that the rail industry is waiting to see if an oil pipeline will be built before committing to building more engines and railcars.

Brancel also said that while many communities don’t want to see increased rail traffic, the method of transportation remains favored over semi-trucks because rail shipping helps ease wear and tear on roadway and traffic on the state’s already-congested highway system.

Bracel also touched on international topics, including the fact that “food security” is a very serious issue in many countries, and that Americans largely take for granted that their food products are safe.

He also fielded concerns from a community member interested in how the state agency can better spread the word about animal diseases, such as the recent outbreak of the potentially deadly equine herpes virus experienced by the local horse community.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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