- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - The federal government released new farm data this month in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which helps illustrate changes in how the nation’s food is produced. Here’s a look at some interesting trends in Wisconsin:


Advertisers and retailers use the phrase “family farm” to conjure images of small, idyllic homesteads run by a nuclear family. Some Wisconsin farms still fit that mold, but a growing number are run by extended families, with siblings, cousins and other relatives working together.

Most of Wisconsin’s 69,754 farms are family-owned, but nearly half - 48.6 percent - are run by more than one person.

Farmers say there are two main advantages to working together: They can focus on individual areas of expertise and take breaks. Partnerships are particularly appealing in the dairy industry, where cows need nearly around-the-clock care.

Karen Hughes oversees milking and care of the 900 cows on a farm near Allenton started by her father and his three brothers in the 1970s. Cousins and friends also have come on board with expertise that improves the farm’s operation, specializing in things like manure management, crop rotation and machinery.

“When the skid loader breaks, I don’t have to worry about fixing it, I can call a guy who knows exactly how to fix it, and he’s fast at it because he knows how to do it,” said Hughes, 29.

Sharing the work also allows family members to volunteer at church, the local fire department and on the town board.


Wisconsin had 1,180 organic farms in 2012, more than any other state except California. Nearly one in five was in Vernon County, home of Organic Valley, the nation’s top seller of organic milk.

In the late 1980s, tobacco farmers in western Wisconsin were looking for a new crop. A handful of vegetable growers helped form the cooperative, and dairy farmers joined later.

“Once we started succeeding, it also fostered other people succeeding,” said Organic Valley CEO George Siemon, one of the founding farmers. He estimated the company’s economic impact in the state at more than $40 million.

The area has developed a support system, with organic feed mills, veterinarians and training provided by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. Vernon County is also home to Harmony Valley Farm, and another major farm, Driftless Organics, is in neighboring Crawford County.

Organic Valley now employs 1,800 farms nationwide and 750 non-farm workers.


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