Dairying saved Wisconsin

posted May 31, 2016 10:28 a.m. (CDT)
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To the editor:

The cow saved our Wisconsin soil and created an economy, moral ethic and a way of life. Dairying — with its year-round, labor-intense, capital-intense, local-business-reliance, build-wealth-slow dynamics — provided the basis of a stable economy that transformed rural Wisconsin.

In the early years of our statehood we were in grave danger of suffering from the dire consequences of exploitation, land speculation, and the eventual despair of agriculture wheat in Wisconsin. The wheat crisis left severe deficits in the soil and farmers’ core.

Animals and grass would rebuild the land and make the entrepreneur, intelligent farmer. Champions of righteous milk and cheese would create a dairy revolution. Their Wisconsin Idea of dairying would call for improvements of farming practices, attitudes and education. 

This was led by progressive farmers, profit-oriented factory men, university professors, writers and government researchers. They developed the game-changing silo and improved feeds and forages. Leaders founded land-grant universities like Madison, where they held successful short courses in dairy, cheese and butter making. Congress later added agriculture Extension services, where science could merge with agriculture. While milk production, quality and safety were improving, dairy leaders had to create a manufacturing industry and marketing simultaneously. When animosity between farmer, capitalist and dreaded middle man ran deep in rural America and social politics, the Cooperative Movement was born.

Now folks with milk on their boots are being replaced by folks with ink on their fingertips in government and business. Our university and education system are being cut along with our local county Extension offices. Our state needs to remember what built and still drives us. We need to make the cow great again.

Jeff Peck



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