From “A vision for 21st century tech colleges” – By Rebecca Kleefisch – We should celebrate our sons and daughters who become nursing assistants and machinists just as much as those who become lawyers and doctors. That was my message this weekend at Waukesha County Technical College’s commencement ceremony, when hundreds of students walked across the stage and stepped into new careers and new opportunities.

Governor Walker said the same thing this past January in his State of the State address. He and I know that the twin drivers of our state’s economy are manufacturing and agriculture. Both of those industries rely heavily on technical colleges for expertise and employees. A strong Wisconsin economy needs strong tech colleges in every part of the state, staffed by top-notch teachers and filled with cutting-edge technology. Our tech colleges are a good investment for students, a good partner for employers, and a good value for taxpayers.

The students graduating from WCTC are entering into careers offering the promise of prosperity. An associate’s degree graduate in Aircraft Electronics can get jobs with a starting salary of $47,000. A one-year technical diploma in brick-laying and masonry leads to jobs with a median starting salary of almost $43,000. A dental hygiene grad starts with a salary just shy of $50,000. In fact, for the past 15 years, the tech colleges have placed at least 86 percent of their graduates into jobs within six months of graduation. In other words, tech colleges are equipping our workers with the skills they need to get the high-paying jobs they want and the economy offers.

One reason these jobs pay so well is because our Wisconsin employers are actively searching for employees with the skills and experience to fill jobs across our economy, especially in our agriculture, health care, and manufacturing sectors. It’s vitally important that technical colleges gear their services to the jobs available in their communities today and in the future. That’s why I was so impressed by the Fab Lab at Gateway Tech, for instance, which offers itself as a resource to students, faculty, and local manufacturers to try new ideas and products.

Tech colleges need to stay connected to both the community and to the state as a whole. The Governor’s Blueprint for Prosperity, which invested the state’s $911 million surplus, included $406 million in property tax relief through the tech colleges. At Madison Area Technical College, for instance, state funding jumped from 10 percent to nearly half of MATC’s budget. With the property tax caps in place, that will drop MATC’s local tax levy by almost half, saving the owner of an average Madison home about $200.

We need to continue investing in our technical colleges because of the crucial role they play in our communities and our economy. For instance, given all the technical advances discovered by our tech college staff and students, I’d like to see new programs that help commercialize these innovations as new products and processes for use in business.

My address at WCTC on Saturday was my 37th stop at a technical college since taking office. All those visits reflect the high priority that Governor Walker and I place on our tech colleges. Commencement provides each of us, as friends, family, and neighbors of the graduates, an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and to appreciate their new careers building a stronger Wisconsin.

From “FVTC hosts ag competition” – About 1,000 high school students from 70 schools are participating in an annual competition, at Fox Valley Technical College today.

It’s the career development event for the Future Farmers of America.

Agriculture department chair Randy Tenpas says the number of jobs in the industry is growing, and so is technology. He says demand for skilled workers has never been higher.

Tenpas says students are competing in 13 different areas, including veterinary, dairy and horse sciences, and forestry and wildlife.

Qualifiers will move onto the state competition in Madison. Nationals are in Louisville, Kent. in October.


From “FVTC hosts Midwest Dairy Challenge for college and technical school students” – NEW LONDON — The temperature hovered just below zero Thursday morning as two buses of students from colleges and technical schools in Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin filed into a barn at Sugar Creek Farm.

They were there for the Midwest Dairy Challenge, a competition featuring teams of students who conduct a detailed analysis of farming operations, said Kevin Rauchholz, an instructor at Fox Valley Technical College.

Students walk through dairy farms, examining everything from cow comfort, feed quality and ventilation to milking parlor management. With their observations and the farm’s financial information, the teams put together a presentation on what the farm is doing well, and areas where it could improve.

FVTC hosted the challenge this year, ushering students to Sugar Creek Farm and Country Aire Acres in Greenleaf.

At Sugar Creek Farm — an operation with 1,200 cows — students walked through the foggy barns, picking up feed and sifting through it. They counted how many cows were in a given space, and measured how wide the lanes were for the cows to walk through.

Outside, they examined feed storage before moving inside to the milking parlor. Cows stood above the students in the parlor waiting to be milked. Walls of 20 automatic milking machines on the right and left made way for a lane in between, where two workers cleaned the cows’ udders and attached the milkers.

Students milled down the gangway, watching how the udders were prepped and timing how long it took a group of cows to finish milking.

Matthew Bull competed in the challenge four years ago. Now he works for Cargill, and returned to the contest this year as a volunteer.

Bull said the experience gives students an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned and make connections with potential employers.

“Here with the students today are a host of industry professionals representing different companies … so that exposure with the students is really beneficial for them as they enter their junior and senior years in college and some into the workforce later on this year,” Bull said.

John Schmidt, another Cargill representative, said the challenge showcases various career paths in agriculture, which helps students determine what they’re interested in.

In potential employees, Schmidt said he looks for students who are inquisitive, professional and confident.

“We want people who have confidence in what they know, but not so much that they’re afraid to ask questions if they don’t know something,” Schmidt said.

After two hours on the farm, students spent the rest of the day working on their projects. They presented them Friday.

No matter who won, the students walked away with appreciation for the event.

“Today was a great learning experience,” said Darcy Steffes, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “It’s nice to go to different farms and get a look at what you can help them with so they can be more profitable in the future.”

From “New direction: Madison College focusing on farm business management” – REEDSBURG — Madison College officials are revamping a nearly dormant agriculture program to focus on farm-business-management skills for beginning and established farmers.

John Alt, north region administrator for Madison College, formerly known as Madison Area Technical College, said college officials are making the transition from a combination farm-business and production-management program to focus strictly on farm-business management.

Randy Zogbaum, most recently the agriculture education director for the Wisconsin Technical College System, has been hired as the program’s instructor and coordinator.

Madison College had offered a diploma program with courses in soils, crop and livestock management, livestock nutrition, and farm records and business analysis. Alt said they heard loud and clear from farmers and advisers that what farmers really need is a program designed to help them with their business-management skills.

Zogbaum had been helping the college shape the new direction while working in his WTCS role, so when he expressed an interest in the Madison College position, Alt said Zogbaum was a perfect fit.

“(Zogbaum) has tremendous knowledge of what goes on statewide and nationally,” Alt said. “In all fairness, we recruited him. We’d be crazy not to look at a person who was this close to the whole process of developing the program. I’m looking at Randy to grow this program.”

The program has been slow to gain traction out of the gate — only three students signed up for a limited number of classes that started in November — but officials hope to build interest in sign-ups for another round of classes in January and have full classes in the fall of 2014.

The 2014 classes will start in mid-January and run for about six weeks each. A second group will start in late February and run until early April. All classes will meet for two hours, once per week.

A similar schedule will take shape again in the fall of 2014.

Classes will be held at the Green Technology Training and Enterprise Center in Plain. Alt said he is hopeful that as interest in the program grows, similar classes will be held at other locations within the 12-county Madison College district.

Madison College officials solicited the advice of farmers and financial institution representatives in shaping their new curriculum.

“We all know that farms don’t fail because farmers aren’t working hard, they fail because they’re not good at managing a business,” Zogbaum said. “From the education side it’s not a favorite topic all the time. But our goal is to help them be the best business people they can be.”

The courses offered by Madison College will lead students down the path of developing a business plan for their farm business. Students will then learn methods for using the plan to evaluate their farm’s financial viability and assist in decision making.

Alt said students can take each course sequentially or individual courses depending on their experience and knowledge of operating a farm business.

“Farming is a complicated business,” Zogbaum said. “If you don’t know your cost of production all the way through you really can’t tell if you’re making money. That’s the goal of the courses we set up — to work through it in a way that makes sense for the farmer.”

Alt said farmers have told them they don’t need a diploma or a certificate but instead need just-in-time training to help them manage their farms. Farmers or people interested in starting a farming operation can take the courses they need to help their individual situations.

“The nice thing is it’s easily customizable,” Alt said. “The courses we’re developing are applicable to all sorts of things. This is a new direction for the college.”

Zogbaum will also be developing a fee-for-service program that will allow farmers to receive one-on-one instruction.

Zogbaum said within the structure of the old farm-business and production-management program, if a student needed just one course and left the program, that hurt the statistics that kept the program viable.

“In the new program, if you choose to come in and get a business plan in the business planning course and we never see you again, that would be unfortunate, because we’d like to have you back, but you still get a good value out of that class,” Zogbaum said. “Either way, it doesn’t hurt the program and it helps the student.”

Zogbaum was born and raised in Madison but grew up working on a dairy farm in Richland County and a beef and pork farm in Rock County. His father’s family is from the Lone Rock area, so he said his “heart and soul are right here in this area.”

“I was real excited to have the opportunity to get back in the classroom,” he said. “I had some great colleagues in the system office and I’ll miss each and every one of them. But this opportunity is just too good to pass up.”

Zogbaum worked at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection as a soil and water quality specialist and as a Columbia County Extension agriculture agent before taking the WTCS agriculture director position in 2008.

Each six-week course will cost about $240, and in many cases, scholarship or grant funds are available to cover some of the costs, Alt said.

Zogbaum said he could envision a farmer taking a course every year to help build a strong financial base.

“It would be a great opportunity to sit down with 15 or 20 other farmers and an instructor and look at your balance sheet year after year,” he said. “Why not use the class as a time to close out your books for the year?”

The last full-time employee in Madison College’s old agriculture program retired this year, so Alt said it was important to maintain the position and head the program in a viable direction.

“It’s going to appeal to a lot of people,” he said of the revamped program. “We have lease space at the Green Technology Center in Plain, so that’s where we’re starting, but I can see it spreading very quickly to other parts of the district. I think it has huge potential.”


From “Continuing education a must for Ag producers” – More and more, producers are seeking training to stay knowledgeable in the ever-evolving landscape that is the agriculture industry.

Lakeshore and Moraine Park Technical Colleges have been providing continuing education for adult agricultural producers for nearly 40 years. The Farm Business and Production Management Program provides training to emerging managers and seasoned producers in five different areas of continuing education.

A mainstay in Wisconsin agriculture, the program supports Wisconsin’s largest industry — agriculture. Each year, one of five individual courses is offered. The focus this fall/winter will include transferring the farm assets and management to the next generation, interpersonal skills, employee management and creating a safe farm working environment. The new program starts in late October and runs through the end of June 2014.

The Farm Safety section has been added to the course offering for this year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, recently began dairy farm inspections in Wisconsin. Our goal in teaching farm safety is to assist producers to make sure their farms are safe places to work and see that the dairy would pass an OSHA inspection.

As farms in eastern Wisconsin have grown so have the number of employees on these operations. When I started my career as a dairy herdsman in western Pennsylvania, farm employment was one of the least desirable jobs. Today, the work is not nearly as long and physical as it once was.

In fact, these positions are extremely complex and require professional staff with computer skills, mechanical ability, an understanding of livestock physiology, skills with people management, and a full understanding of business management.

In the future, opportunities in agriculture will certainly attract some of the best minds. These jobs range from $30,000 to over $75,000 per year. How many jobs in eastern Wisconsin pay in that range? Our youth will not have to leave their homes to seek great employment opportunities outside of the state.

Participants in the programs range in age from 18 to the late 50s with an average age of 30. Both men and women participate. Enrolling students are employees on large dairies, many are the sons and daughters of the owners of their businesses, some are from Hispanic backgrounds and some are agriculture business professionals. The average size dairy operation of those participating in the program is just over 300 cows and 500 acres.

Because the program is delivered in a variety of methods, participants tend to stay involved for many years. With the rapid change in technology, continuing education becomes a must if an agricultural company is to remain viable from one generation to another. The discussion groups meet at several venues in rural communities.

Farm tours are also part of the way the program is conducted. The classroom sessions are discussion-based and focus on the challenges faced on today’s farms. Classes meet 10 times through the winter months or about every other week at the Boltonville Fire Station, Regional DRR office in Plymouth, Moraine Park Campus in Fond du Lac and the Pizza Ranch in Waupun. The class time is a combination of lecture, discussion, problem solving and application of what has been delivered.

Enrolled students also can attend the cutting-edge seminar series. The Progressive Operators series include daylong seminars held at Lakeshore Technical College and are sponsored by the LTC Farm Business Program and the eastern Wisconsin Extension Service. The 2014 program will be titled “Would you work for you?”

Topics for the Dec. 6 program include business place culture, delegation, empowerment, the importance of standardizing procedures and employee training. Also on the first day, an immigration attorney will share the latest information related to congressional legislation and work visas. The Jan. 31 program will entertain human resource issues such as motivating, retaining and facilitating good communication in your business.

Greg Booher is a Farm Business & Production Management instructor at Lakeshore Technical College working in many counties in eastcentral Wisconsin. Contact him at (920) 960-0551 or emailhim at



From “FVTC dedicates expanded agriculture building” – Fox Valley Technical College dedicated an expanded agriculture facility Tuesday.

Officials say the Service Motor Company Agriculture Center has been upgraded with state-of-the-art equipment and offers the state’s only precision agriculture program that teaches how to use GPS technology to optimize farm production.

The expanded facility was funded in part by a public referendum passed last year.

“Agriculture is really the legacy industry in the state of Wisconsin. It’s been around forever. And we intend to be a part of maintaining and growing that, quite frankly, for the future,” Mike Cattelino, Associate Dean of Manufacturing and Agriculture Technologies, said.

Officials at Fox Valley Tech say enrollment is skyrocketing. It’s up 87 percent from 2009 to 2012.

From “From referendum to reality” – These are heady times at Fox Valley Technical College, as finishing touches are being put on two major projects authorized in a 2012 referendum.

By a 2-1 margin, voters approved a $66.5 million referendum that called for the construction of three new facilities and the expansion of two existing buildings.

The college will host a media event Wednesday at its Appleton campus to unveil the $11.9 million Health Simulation and Technology Center.

The focus this week was a naming rights agreement with Service Motor Co. of Dale for the agriculture center, which received a $3.5 million expansion from the referendum. The facility is almost completed. An open house for both facilities is set for Oct. 1.

Nearly 2,800 square feet of classrooms and computer labs were added for agribusiness courses. Existing spaces were renovated into labs for hands-on learning.

Dustin Korth, a 20-year-old agribusiness and science technology student from Waldo, likes the flexibility of the new spaces.

“This is beautiful … the new classrooms are 10 times better than they were before,” Korth said. “It’s nice to have more room to accommodate more students. Like last year, packing 28 students into some rooms with four rows of tables was not comfortable at all.”

The agriculture industry is not just alive and well in Wisconsin, but flourishing, said Jim Sommer, president of Service Motor Co. The increased demand for agriculture programs — which has grown at FVTC by 87 percent since 2008 — is why the company continues its 30-plus year relationship with the college.

The equipment dealer solidified its ties to FVTC even further by donating $1.1 million for naming rights to the newly expanded agriculture center, now known as the Service Motor Co. Agriculture Center at Fox Valley Technical College.

The gift is a combination of student scholarships, equipment donations and financial support, Sommer said.

The need for skilled workers in precision agriculture, agricultural power and agribusiness will increase as technology advances, Sommer said.

“We know there’s going to be a growing need. Over the next 10 to 20 years, we’ll need employees,” Sommer said. “By providing financial support, we’re hoping to ensure quality graduates.”

The new Health Simulation and Technology Center will be a hub for the college’s medical-related programs. The three-story building features a virtual hospital, classrooms, a computer lab and physical therapy suites.

The facility will provide students with experience in real-world situations.

Bob Sternhagen, human patient simulation coordinator, said every major institution that trains medical professionals has a simulation lab.

“That’s the beauty of simulation: students can mess up, they can make mistakes and nobody gets harmed,” Sternhagen said.

Students also will learn how to work with professionals in other areas, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, medical assistants, nurses and occupational therapy assistants.

“This is patient care as a cooperative type of event because whatever a police officer does on the scene of an auto crash will impact what a paramedic or EMT does, which will impact what an ER doctor does … it may mean the difference between a patient not surviving or surviving with a poor outcome,” Sternhagen said.

Officials invited members of the Fox Valley Healthcare Alliance to tour the facility earlier this week. Education consultant Jen Meyer represented ThedaCare, and she was impressed.

“It’s unreal,” Meyer said. “This is such a valuable asset for our community. Not only will it provide an amazing opportunity for area students, but for our existing health care workforce as well.”

From “Service Motor Co. given naming rights to FVTC training center” – A long-time partnership between Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton and Service Motor Company, a Case IH dealership with six locations in eastern Wisconsin, has just gotten stronger. Last week, the school granted SMC naming rights to its recently expanded agriculture training center after a recent $1.1 million gift in the form of scholarships, equipment and financial support.

Company officials said forming another partnership with FVTC made sense–especially since the college passed a $66.5 million public referendum in April of 2012, which included construction of the new 2,800 square foot training center.

“Great education requires the latest technologies,” said SMC President Jim Sommer. “Our support of the college exemplifies its vital role in developing a skilled workforce built on efficiency and innovation.”

SMC is a fifth-generation family owned and operated company that specializes in the sales and service of agricultural, construction, and lawn and garden equipment. In 2010, the company teamed up with Case IH to pledged $15 million in training equipment to FVTC over 10 years. The college uses that equipment to prepare learners in agri-business programs, along with agriculture outdoor power equipment, farm operation, natural resources and horticulture.

“Service Motor Company’s support helps us improve farm management systems in soils, field production, harvesting and more,” notes Mike Cattlelino, an associate dean at FVTC.

Cattlelino adds that over the past five years, 99-percent of the school’s agriculture program graduates earn jobs within six months after graduation.

From “From referendum to reality” – by Jen Zettel -These are heady times at Fox Valley Technical College, as finishing touches are being put on two major projects authorized in a 2012 referendum.

By a 2-1 margin, voters approved a $66.5 million referendum that called for the construction of three new facilities and the expansion of two existing buildings.

The college will host a media event Wednesday at its Appleton campus to unveil the $11.9 million Health Simulation and Technology Center.

The focus this week was a naming rights agreement with Service Motor Co. of Dale for the agriculture center, which received a $3.5 million expansion from the referendum. The facility is almost completed. An open house for both facilities is set for Oct. 1.

Nearly 2,800 square feet of classrooms and computer labs were added for agribusiness courses. Existing spaces were renovated into labs for hands-on learning.

Dustin Korth, a 20-year-old agribusiness and science technology student from Waldo, likes the flexibility of the new spaces.

“This is beautiful … the new classrooms are 10 times better than they were before,” Korth said. “It’s nice to have more room to accommodate more students. Like last year, packing 28 students into some rooms with four rows of tables was not comfortable at all.”

The agriculture industry is not just alive and well in Wisconsin, but flourishing, said Jim Sommer, president of Service Motor Co. The increased demand for agriculture programs — which has grown at FVTC by 87 percent since 2008 — is why the company continues its 30-plus year relationship with the college.

The equipment dealer solidified its ties to FVTC even further by donating $1.1 million for naming rights to the newly expanded agriculture center, now known as the Service Motor Co. Agriculture Center at Fox Valley Technical College.

The gift is a combination of student scholarships, equipment donations and financial support, Sommer said.

The need for skilled workers in precision agriculture, agricultural power and agribusiness will increase as technology advances, Sommer said.

“We know there’s going to be a growing need. Over the next 10 to 20 years, we’ll need employees,” Sommer said. “By providing financial support, we’re hoping to ensure quality graduates.”

The new Health Simulation and Technology Center will be a hub for the college’s medical-related programs. The three-story building features a virtual hospital, classrooms, a computer lab and physical therapy suites.

The facility will provide students with experience in real-world situations.

Bob Sternhagen, human patient simulation coordinator, said every major institution that trains medical professionals has a simulation lab.

“That’s the beauty of simulation: students can mess up, they can make mistakes and nobody gets harmed,” Sternhagen said.

Students also will learn how to work with professionals in other areas, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, medical assistants, nurses and occupational therapy assistants.

“This is patient care as a cooperative type of event because whatever a police officer does on the scene of an auto crash will impact what a paramedic or EMT does, which will impact what an ER doctor does … it may mean the difference between a patient not surviving or surviving with a poor outcome,” Sternhagen said.

Officials invited members of the Fox Valley Healthcare Alliance to tour the facility earlier this week. Education consultant Jen Meyer represented ThedaCare, and she was impressed.

“It’s unreal,” Meyer said. “This is such a valuable asset for our community. Not only will it provide an amazing opportunity for area students, but for our existing health care workforce as well.”


From “Fox Valley Tech to offer Precision Ag Curriculum” – The board of trustees at Appleton’s Fox Valley Technical College has approved a new Precision Agriculture program which aims to train the next generation of agribusiness and agronomy professionals to be ready for the workforce. Teachers at the school’s agriculture center say it will be a one of a kind program in the state.

Precision agriculture takes data collected from industry equipment and generates prescribed maps for fields through the use of GPS technology and related software. This innovative method of farming results in better tilling, planting, and harvesting due to variable rate applications. Each soil and topographic makeup on any given parcel of land is unique, and precision agriculture pinpoints these distinctions to optimize the growing experience for stakeholders of production agriculture.

“Precision agriculture is the 21st Century management tool for production Ag,” says Mike Cattelino, associate dean of FVTC’s Manufacturing and Agriculture Technologies division. “This technology enables agriculture professionals to become better micro-managers of their own soil.”

Service Motor Company, a nearby Case IH dealership, is helping to supply the school with the necessary equipment to teach the program.

The Agriculture Center is currently undergoing an expansion due to the passage of the April 2012 public referendum, which advanced several facility-related projects for the college. That project is expected to be finished in time for students this fall to experience the added learning labs.

Photo of webcam

Check out the farm cam for live, real-time previews of the agriculture programs
(credit: NTC).

Wisconsin leads the nation in dairy production, so naturally agriculture remains one of the many important areas of study offered around our 16 technical colleges. Advancing technology and global competition make a hands-on, real-world technical college education that much more vital to success in the agriculture industry.

You can go to any of our colleges’ websites to learn about their agriculture programs, and there are some very unique ones among them, but Northcentral Technical College, through their Agriculture Center of Excellence and with the help of several community partners, delivers a particularly interesting way to learn about their programs. NTC’s website offers live camera footage of their farm facilities to demonstrate the kind of hands-on training and education that goes on there. Featuring their programs in Dairy Science (unique to the college), Agri-Business, Agriculture Equipment Technician and Veterinary Science, potential students can view first-hand the technology, the environment, the facilities and more through the live-feed multi-view Farm Cams.

You won’t watch grass grow if you look at the Farm Cams, but you are likely to see the calves being bottle fed, perhaps a robotic milking machine at work, a view of the calf feeder and grazing areas, and much more. Peek into the Farm Cam and you may soon find you’ve piqued a new career interest!

NTC also offers certificates in agriculture-related programs for a path to a career in less time.


“What did the buffalo say to his son when he left for college? Bison.”

The sign for Northcentral Technical College in...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From “Agriculture continues high-tech emphasis” – By Greg Booher, LTC farm business instructor - The term “precision agriculture” has recently entered the American vernacular. The term can be used in regards to many of the new developments in agriculture. Global positioning is literally allowing crop producers to drive their equipment within less than an inch of where planting is desired.

Although the technology is very expensive, the equipment has been able to increase production while at the same time reducing input costs. When the investment in this high-tech equipment is spread over enough acres, the cost per unit of production can drop dramatically. As old equipment reaches the end of its useful life, producers can weigh the decision either to replace the planter or hire a custom operator who has the high-tech equipment and reap the benefits of the newest technology.

The processes of managing herd health and the milking of cows is coming under a metamorphosis. Some early adaptors are already using cloud-based computer technology to find when cows are ready to be bred, when they have a change in rumen health or a spike in their body temperature. In fact, these herd management tools have the ability to catch something wrong with a cow before a human can detect something is wrong or, in some instances, before the cow herself knows she is getting sick.

Robotic milking

Robotic milking has been used by a very few U.S dairymen for almost 15 years. Although only a handful of Wisconsin producers have successfully used robotic milking, European producers have made great strides adopting robotic milking. A major reason why American dairymen have been slow to adopt this technology is due to the cost of the technology in comparison to the cost to manually milking cows. Labor in the U.S. is a lot lower than other countries.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a 1,200-cow Australian dairyman about their labor costs. The Australian government has strict wage and labor controls. The government mandates dairy farm labor will be paid the equivalent of $25 per hour US and their dairy milk price is lower than the average in the United States. Therefore, it is not hard to understand that high-tech labor saving tools will be more quickly adopted where a more rapid payback is possible.

I am currently working on some feasibility studies, but have not found much real-time data to help make a definitive decision comparing conventional parlor milking with employees to robotic milking. Each robot has a price tag of approximately $250,000 and can milk up to only 60 cows per robot. Some initial results have indicated improvement in detecting sick cows, improved reproductive performance, some flexibility in how the herd is managed and in some cases it appears production may improve.

Certainly the labor paid to milk cows is way less but the investment is substantial. Time will tell how bottom line indicators like return on investment will shake out. If you have some interest in studying precision dairy management, give me a call and we can discuss this over a long cup of coffee.

From “Group pitches world-class agriculture complex in Evansville, but questions remain” — By Rob Schultz - EVANSVILLE — A group of business and community leaders from southwestern Wisconsin wants to build a state-of-the-art complex here that will boost agriculture with facilities focusing on education, research, entertainment and promotion of the industry.

Executives of agricultural businesses and a technical college have endorsed a proposal to build a $32 million Wisconsin Ag Education & Innovation Complex on 200 acres on the outskirts of Evansville.

It could include space for Blackhawk Technical College’s enhanced ag department and other schools for all levels of education as well as apprenticeship programs.

It also could include research and retail facilities, and a high-tech agricultural “discovery” center built around models like Disney World’s Epcot and the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry.

The Rock County 4-H Fair is also considering moving there, and other tourist attractions promoting agriculture are being planned.

“People tell us we’re talking about big things, but they all fit together very well and complement each other in a way that we think creates a unique benefit I have not seen anywhere else,” said Kennan Wood, a member of the Southwest Wisconsin Agricultural Group (SWAG), which is behind the project.

SWAG believes the complex could create more than 300 jobs and turn out thousands of qualified ag workers, but it won’t become reality until endorsements are turned into cash.

SWAG will start fundraising efforts soon with a goal of

$25 million. The remaining

$7 million needed to complete the project is expected to come from other sources.

“There is a gap between saying, ‘That’s a great idea and I support it,’ to ‘Let me stroke you a check with six or seven or eight zeroes on it.’ It’s our job to bridge that gap the right way,” said Tom DiFiore, the president of Atlanta-based National Community Development Services, which is helping SWAG sell the project to potential donors on regional, state and national levels.

Leaders of SWAG are optimistic their efforts over the past several months will help them raise enough money to get the project started as early as next year. They are also bracing for the possibility of starting in two years — or not at all — if fundraising efforts don’t go well.

“Is it a slam dunk? Absolutely not. Is it doable? Yes, with the right strategies,” DiFiore said.

Questions about focus

What constitutes “the right strategies” is up for debate.

SWAG officials are keen on creating a place for tourists to learn about agriculture and the kind of jobs one can find in the industry.

They believe Evansville is the perfect site because it’s in farm country and the acreage will include corn fields and other crops for research that can be part of the tour.

They also want visitors to learn that, like manufacturing, the ag industry is no longer dark, dirty and dangerous. They want to make a trip to the complex fun and unforgettable for everybody.

“We have to get rid of that old stereotype that haunts agriculture,” said SWAG official John Morning, who hatched the idea for the complex.

But the entertainment features could keep organizers from raising the money they need, two local business executives said.

SWAG officials hope for a few big corporations with deep pockets to get the fundraising campaign off to a fast start with major pledges of more than $1 million.

Its best selling point is that the gifts would be more of an investment than a donation, DiFiore added.

John Deere & Co. is looking at the proposal, Morning said. So is Madison-based BouMatic, which is a global manufacturer and supplier of milking systems and dairy farm equipment, and Kuhn Manufacturing in Brodhead.

All three companies like the project because it has the potential to turn out more skilled-trade workers and others who are desperately needed to fill key roles in agri-businesses across the country.

BouMatic President Bob Luna said if schools at the complex train and educate students on the value of working on a farm, BouMatic will profit because “it provides people who will go out and want to sell our products, people who want to provide technical support for our products, and people who want to open dealerships.”

Luna also said the research and education phases of the complex would help potential farmers learn about the technological advances that will make their operations more profitable.

“They will recognize they don’t have to have 5,000 cows to make money, that the small family farm is still a viable option because technology helps them make money,” Luna added. “But they have to be properly educated in all those channels.”

Questions about scope

Luna said SWAG needs to build the complex in the right sequence and put its focus initially on raising money for education and research. That way, he said, the project can get started with much less than $25 million.

“If they do that, I think that what they have has a lot of merit,” he said. “If the scope is too wide, you’ll never get the ball rolling on this.”

Paul Jadin, president of the Madison Region Economic Partnership, formerly known as Thrive, has given SWAG officials the same advice.

“It’s getting a little too diverse and a little too large,” Jadin said. “They need to go back and make sure they are trying to be who they intended to be all along.”

Jadin said his economic development group believes the project has the potential to have a national and, perhaps, global impact on the agricultural industry if it keeps its focus on establishing strong educational and research facilities.

It also would have an opportunity to apply for federal funding, and he said his group would help with such grant requests.

Blackhawk Technical College’s pledge to move its ag programs to the complex once SWAG raises the needed money is the project’s most positive development so far.

Ag classes would move to Evansville from the college’s Monroe campus, and expand to include classes where students could learn how to install and repair GPS systems and other technologies that are used in modern farm equipment, Blackhawk president Tom Eckert said.

He also said the school could split its diesel program and create an ag repair class for combines and other machinery. Another possibility is to create a place at the complex to demonstrate new technology to farmers and help them learn about it.

Eckert said SWAG has a dream that’s within its reach.

“Combining information with education and experimentation — it all seems to be the right combination and the right location,” he said.


From “FVTC unveils 1st of its kind ag program” – APPLETON – A new program at Fox Valley Technical College aims to make farming as precise as possible and the school says the program is the first of its kind in the state.

This field of soybeans was planted by Fox Valley Tech Students.  It’s a jumping off point for the school’s new program: Precision Agriculture.

“Optimize yield and decrease what it takes to grow the crops,” said Instructor Jason Fischer.

Fischer said precision ag encompasses a whole host of 21st-century farming techniques.  That includes self-driving planting equipment, tracking crop yield and the use of GPS and GIS systems in the fields.

“Completing maps that tell the farmer where were the high yields on the field and where were the low yields on the field and then make management decisions out of it,” explained Fischer.

What makes precision ag different is that instead of treating a field as one big piece of land it treats it section by section.

“So we’re gonna treat by the acre or even by the square foot differently across the field,” explained Fischer.

One example is fertilizer.

“Instead of putting the same rate of fertilizer across the field it puts more fertilizer where the plants need it and less fertilizer in areas of the field that do not need it,” said Fischer.

Mike Cattelino is associate dean of the manufacturing and agriculture technologies division.  He told us the college was able to start this new program thanks, in part, to a structural expansion of the agriculture department.

“Expansion started here in March and we’re scheduled to be ready for business in mid to late August,” said Cattelino.

Cattelino told us it’s important that Fox Valley Tech is the first school in Wisconsin with this program.

“The demand for precision ag really came from our business partners looking for people to fill the demand for precision ag specialists,” explained Cattelino, which means there should be jobs for students after graduation.

The precision ag program will start this fall.  It’s a year long program — covering planting to harvest, as well as the mechanic and business aspects of precision ag.

From “Cultivating career options: LTC provides agricultural education opportunities to women” – MANITOWOC — Traditionally speaking, farming may be considered a man’s profession. These days, however, women are proving they can milk cows, pick rocks and get the job done just as well as any man.

“It’s not just a man’s world anymore, there’s so many more opportunities, said Sheryl Nehls, instructor in dairy herd management at Lakeshore Technical College. “It’s not as much physical anymore, not that they can’t do that.”

LTC offers two programs in the field of agriculture — dairy herd management and, farm business and production management. Typically, the later program attracts established farm owners and operators, according to Nehls.

Each year, roughly a third of the class is made up of females, Nehls said. Organizations such as FFA have opened the doors for women, she said.

“Women are becoming that essential part of (the industry) as well,” said Terrilynn Hastreiter, LTC farm business and dairy herd management instructor. “They’re entering the industry strong. I think a lot of them are going to go back to that family farm and work with mom and dad, or at least dad, or whoever owns it at the time.”

What draws them in varies, but Nehls said there is one thing in particular that usually catches female students.

“By in large, they like working with cattle and our program focuses on that,” she noted.

Some of her female students have gone on to work with fresh cows, meaning those that have recently given birth to a calf.

“That’s the maternal aspect of the women maybe that appeals to them. There are so many niches to specialize in,” Nehls added.

On the farm

To get hands-on experience, students involved in the dairy herd management program, participate in going to site farms on Wednesdays during their last semester. At farms, like Soaring Eagle Dairy in Newton, students gain one-on-one knowledge from the owner or a herds manager and learn new skills, along with seeing firsthand how the farm utilizes technology. Last year, 12 farms participated and up to 18 students are able to participate at a time. Students rotate through the farms and spend a minimum of fours a week at each.

“We don’t have a farm facility on campus so we use the farms in the area,” Nehls explained., adding that LTC may be the only college nationwide to utilize site farms.

“I went to Madison for four years and sat in a classroom to learn about cows,” she joked.

In addition to the site farms, students take part in an internship program. The program is seven days a week for nine months and roughly 21 hours a week. That’s in addition to 30 hours of classroom time, including farm tours twice a week for dairy lab, and studying.

“It gives them a taste of the industry and what it’s really like for the time commitment,” Nehls said.

Lessons learned through opportunities like the site farms and internships are invaluable.

Know your neighbor

“Networking is going to be the No. 1,” Hastreiter said. “By getting out there and talking to individuals they’re going to learn what not to do and to do.”

It may also lead to new opportunities.

“Females are stepping up and taking those manager roles,” Hastreiter said. “Twenty years ago, you probably wouldn’t have seen that. I think it’s phenomenal. Women have proven that they can go through the program and they do succeed.”

“Every student is so different and that’s what makes the industry so interesting is because there are so many viewpoints,” Hastreiter said.

The creation of new forms of technology also have aided in streamlining certain aspects of farming.

“We’ve made the job so that it doesn’t have to encompass their whole life,” Nehls said. “I think a lot of women have seen that you can still have time to raise a family. … The technology really was the key to that.”

Beyond the classroom

Staying on top of the changes is important to the LTC instructors.

“It’s something we need to do as instructors to keep up with our teaching,” Hastreiter said. “It’s not just going back to the farm anymore, it’s specializing.”

The young people entering the workforce is about the same, Hastreiter said, but the opportunities have increased as technology has opened more doors, including genomic testing. Service technicians who understand not only the equipment, but how it functions on the farm are in demand as well.

“We’re taking that computer savvy individual and mixing it with the dairy savvy, “ Hastrieter said. “Technology is going to be implemented in every farm of every size eventually. … We learn from each other. Hearing ideas gets my brain going. It’s really learning from others.”

“The way we do things is just so drastically different,” said Nehls who grew up on a farm in Dodge County with holsteins, jerseys and Swiss. “We now design things for cows, not people.”

When not teaching in the summers, Nehls enjoys traveling to other farms to learn things she can bring back to the classroom. Four years ago, she visited an LTC graduate who was employed at a dairy farm with 4,000 cows in New Mexico to see how heat stress is handled in that area.

“No matter where you go, you can learn and tie that back into the industry,” she said.

“It’s not just a lifestyle, it’s a career,” Nehls added. It was her mother who urged her to check out an open position at LTC and she’s now been teaching for 32 years.

“I originally had my heart set on becoming a dairy agent … I’m fortunate that I can show them (female students) as a role model that there are no barriers.”

From “Farmland prices booming across region” –Agricultural land prices are booming in the Coulee Region and across the nation, prompting some experts to worry that farm expansion could be creating an agricultural bubble.

West-central Wisconsin sold more agricultural acreage than any other part of the state in 2012, for an average of $3,246 an acre. Most land was purchased for continued farm use.

Crop prices are driving up land prices, said Dennis Deitelhoff, a farm business production management instructor with Western Technical College.

Some farmers are expanding, trying to make the most of crop prices while the getting is good.

But if crop prices sputter and farmland loan rates rise, farmers could find themselves in the midst of a bust similar to the housing collapse.

“I think that land values will correct,” Deitelhoff said. “That’s just natural economics.”

Nationally, farmer-held debt is expected to reach $277.4 billion this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — more than $60 billion more than 2007.

For farmers looking to cash out, current land prices have them in line for some sweet deals. But the high values carry risk for expanding farmers looking down the road.

Locally, Deitelhoff believes that expansion has been managed well.

“Most of the people making these land purchases are making them because they can,” he said. “The lion’s share are being made by those who have the wherewithal to do it.”

More than 20,000 acres of farmland in the west-central region, which includes La Crosse, Jackson, Trempealeau, and Buffalo counties, were sold for continued agricultural purposes in 2011, according to Department of Agriculture statistics.

That’s almost double the amount sold for the same purpose in 2009.

Purchasing escalated despite rising prices. Since 2007, average prices per acre have jumped $500. In addition to crop prices, sand mining and development demand have continued to buoy land values.

Farmers looking to cash out are in line to reap the profits of high values. However, current prices can make it difficult for aspiring land owners to break into farming.

Perhaps it makes sense that some new landowners have more interest in finances than farming; investors are buying land and then renting it to farmers, using rent to reap profits.

In November, a division of the Swiss bank UBS purchased 9,800 acres in Grant County for $68 million dollars.

While international players haven’t entered the La Crosse area, local investors have begun to take an interest in farmland.

Teresa Gutenberger, a senior appraiser with Badgerland Financial in Sparta, said that such owners, while uncommon, have begun to snap up area farmland.

Prices vary across state, nation

While the west-central region sold the most agricultural acreage in the state, its prices ranked in the middle of the pack. The state average for 2012 was $3,602 per acre.

“Location is an important determinant of value,” the report said.

The east-central region, which includes Fox Cities and Green Bay, had the highest average land prices at $5,228 per acre. The north-central region, stretching north from Clark and Marathon counties, had the lowest average prices, only $2,176 per acre.

The report cited increased competition for land use as the major factor influencing values.

Dairy farmers haven’t benefited from the increase, Dietelhoff said. Their prices haven’t kept pace with crops.

Cropland value jumped 7.1 percent in the state from 2011 to 2012, while pasture land value inched up 1.9 percent, according to USDA statistics.

Wisconsin’s growth lags behind the nation and rest of the Midwest.

Farm real estate value, which projects the value of a farm’s land and buildings, rose 7.4 percent, below the national average of 10.4 percent.

Minnesota saw a 20.9 percent jump; Iowa’s was even steeper, at 22.8 percent.


From “NTC Agriculture Center for Excellence making future bright for Ag” – Located just north of Wausau on Highway K, the Northcentral Technical College Agriculture Center for Excellence sits on 110 acres of land. It opened up in 2011. From the outside, it resembles your typical farm, but walk inside and you’ll find that something sets it apart from most. “The biggest difference here is because it’s a school but otherwise the rest of it is pretty much, we try to keep it as close to a regular family farm is what we can,” says Dan Radtke, a herdsman.

There are barns, pastures, and even equipment and let’s not forget livestock. There are 36 milking cows, 3 dry cows, 28 bred heifers, 18 yearling heifers, and 9 calves. “The need for Agriculture is always going to be there, whether it’s directly related to Agriculture through the production side of it or through the feed mills and cooperatives on that side of it,” says Katie Mihlbauer, the Ag Sciences Development Manager.

That’s why this center was built. Dozens of students enroll each year in four programs offered through NTC. They are Vet Science, Dairy Science, Agribusiness, and an Ag Equipment Technician program. “There’s a big variety of classroom followed up by hands on and that’s kind of the basis of the program and the whole idea to having this whole facility is that they get that hole hands on training that so much of them desire and that they need,” she says.

Students get to spend time with cattle, vaccinating and dehorning them, they even get to learn about the animals. “The biggest thing with the cattle is you have to listen to what they’re telling you, not everybody understands that part of it. See how this cow lies at an angle in this stall? She’s lying at an angle in this stall because there’s a wooden brisket board here and when she gets up she lunges ahead and she hits that brisket board so she tries to lay so she doesn’t hit the board,” says Radtke.

Students also get to learn some of the latest and greatest farming technology out there, including a robotic milker, robotic feeder, and even farm equipment with GPS. “The biggest challenge we have at the college is not to stay the same but to always have the vision to look ahead of what next is coming and anticipate so we can have the students ready when the technology is here,” he says.

But no matter how technology changes, or the challenges the Agricultural industry faces, one thing is certain. “People need to eat, and so the need for Agriculture is always going to be there. What scale it’s on, the education and the skills need to be there and they need to be taught,” says Mihlbauer.

View video from


From “Group fundraising for ag events, education center in Evansville” – EVANSVILLE — A private group hopes to build a regional agricultural events and education center in Evansville that also could host the Rock County 4-H Fair and Blackhawk Technical College agriculture courses.

Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group last year paid $2.17 million for 217 acres at the southeastern corner of Highway 14 and County M on Evansville’s east side.

If SWAG can raise at least $25 million, it plans to build an agricultural education and innovation complex. It would focus on educating people about and engaging them in agriculture and promoting and protecting the industry.

“The ag industry has relied on people who don’t understand the ag industry to tell the story for years and years and years,” said Kevin Klahn, vice president of the group’s board. “It’s time for us to be proactive and tell our story … in a positive way and help people understand.”

Board members of the group met with The Gazette to share their vision.

Ag complex

About 40 acres would be used for commercial development, and 80 to 100 acres would be dedicated to agriculture activities. The rest would remain working farmland for test plots and future growth.

Commercial development could include a retail store, restaurants or a hotel.

“It’s likely to be businesses that complement the project, but we don’t know specifically,” said board member John Morning, an Evansville developer with a history in agriculture.

SWAG sees potential to showcase Wisconsin products or feature menus of Wisconsin food.

The commercial development could generate more than 300 jobs, said Kennan Wood, of Wood Communications Group, which was hired by the agriculture group to help with the project. Commercial developments could increase the city’s tax base by $30 million to $35 million, he said.

That doesn’t take into account the regional effect of visitors spending money during their trips, sales tax and hotel taxes, Morning said.

The project hinges on a fundraising feasibility study, measuring whether enough money could be raised to move ahead. The study is expected to be done in spring, and if everything moves along, groundbreaking could be sometime in 2014. The hope is to get financial help from agribusinesses and agriculture associations across the state.

The complex would include:

– A 40,000-square-foot agriculture discovery center providing a high-tech, hands-on, interactive learning experience. It would include all aspects of agriculture in Wisconsin and showcase industry advancements and innovations. The center would operate year-round and charge an entrance fee.

Wood said the group conservatively estimates 150,000 visitors in the first year, increasing to 216,000 by the third year.

“We think that that’s very doable given the region we’re in,” Wood said.

The group would market aggressively to schools within a 100-mile radius, and Wisconsin has nothing like it, Wood said.

“We think it’s really important that ag steps up and tells its story, gets kids excited about it and helps the next generation of ag leaders get engaged,” he said.

They envision a Chicago family headed to Wisconsin Dells or north for skiing but stopping at the complex to explore for a few hours, said Klahn, who runs Klondike Farms, a cash grain and custom farming operation in Brooklyn.

– A 20,000-square-foot agriculture education campus of classrooms and labs for grades K-12 and youth organizations. Blackhawk Tech has committed to an additional 9,000 square feet for its programs.

Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group believes there’s a strong need for agriculture education facilities, Wood said, which was proven in talks with Blackhawk Tech, the Evansville School District, a charter school and others.

Technology could be used to deliver curriculum and distance learning to the rest of the state and the Midwest, he said.

Local businesses have said they need corporate training facilities, Wood said, “so we think we could build in that type of capacity in this particular area and help those businesses train current workers, but also new workers.”

– An agriculture expo area, including a 45,000-square-foot exhibition hall and possibly, in phases, a grandstand, amphitheater/stage, dedicated equestrian facility, camping, midway area, livestock barns, outdoor demonstration and show areas and demonstration gardens. The facilities would be a year-round resource for youth organizations in the Midwest and help develop the next generation of agricultural leaders, Wood said.

The group’s feasibility study highlights a need for equestrian facilities.

“We think that’s a need we can fill easily that fits into our mission,” Wood said.

The complex wouldn’t include an operating farm, but it could include a birthing barn.

The group has talked with local leaders about moving the Rock County 4-H Fair to the complex, but group members said their plans don’t hinge on the fair moving to Evansville.

“This is about us providing an opportunity,” Wood said. “It’s up to them whether or not they want to move.”

The complex has to be self-supporting. The discovery center would provide daily revenue, and the group hopes the expo area would host 200 to 300 events annually, Wood said.

“I think it would be huge if they can pull this off,” UW-Extension Agent Jim Stute said.

Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group sees the dwindling public support for agricultural education, he said. That includes UW-Extension and FFA programs, he said.

“If they had a place where they could host this kind of work—basically youth education in agriculture—and have private support for it, they feel they can enhance educational opportunities for the youth,” he said.

Target groups

Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group started three years ago to help ensure the future of agriculture as a Wisconsin economic engine and cultural touchstone. It is a not-for-profit organization.

The group has completed a feasibility study with Vierbicher Associates and a business plan with Baker Tilly. It bought the land, developed alliances with area groups and now is in the middle of a fundraising feasibility study.

The project’s success depends on a strong vision, year-round operations and the ability to raise at least $25 million up front, board members said.

The group has three target audiences:

– Young leaders: Funding for youth programs is dropping, as is the number of ag activities, despite rising 4-H memberships. Group members said that’s an area they need to hit head-on.

– Workers: They see an agriculture skills gap increasing over the next five to 10 years, and they want to help provide the agriculture education that will be critical for the ag workforce of the future.

– General public: Less than 10 percent of Wisconsin residents are directly connected to agriculture. That number is high compared to the 2 percent across the country.

“We view that as a challenge as we go forward in trying to produce more food with less resources,” Wood said.

Klahn said there’s nothing in the project for board members other than satisfaction.

“I envision driving by this in 10 years and being proud of myself for being involved in the project,” he said. “There’s no financial gain or benefit to be had. It’s the opposite.”

Fairgrounds move?

No decisions have been made, but the fair board has been talking with Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group about moving the Rock County 4-H Fair to the Evansville center if the project moves ahead, fair board president Rob McConnell said.

“It looks like an opportunity for us,” he said.

The county owns the fairgrounds in Janesville, and the private Rock County Fair Association runs the fair.

The agriculture group has given updates on its project to the Rock County Board Agriculture and Extension Education Committee, which oversees the fairgrounds. Committee member Al Sweeney said the presentation was “quite impressive,” but it has a lot of hurdles to jump.

“We certainly can’t predict anything right now. There’s a big mountain to climb for the SWAG group,” he said referring to fundraising.

The fair board is interested in the Evansville site, so if the fair moved, the county would have to decide what to do with the fairgrounds. That topic has not yet been discussed, Stute said.

The fairgrounds property is zoned residential. If the fair moved, it would be “highly unlikely” that it would ever return because the city likely wouldn’t allow it, Sweeney said.

While the fair is a major user of the grounds, it is “a hard-working venue” for everything from educational programs, a curling club, weddings, gun shows, auctions and car shows, Stute said.

The Evansville site would be attractive to the fair board because it would be much larger than the cramped, 18-acre site in Janesville, he said. The location of the fair always has been contentious, he said, noting people say it’s difficult to get to the fairgrounds and it’s a countywide fair, not the Janesville fair.

“Evansville’s not that much farther away,” he said.

BTC programs

The project’s location is especially appealing to Blackhawk Technical College, President Tom Eckert said.

“The thing we like most about the whole center and concept is that its location is ideally suited for us between Rock and Green counties,” he said.

The college could move its one-year agribusiness program and its farm business and production management program, which is a special program for working farmers, from its Monroe campus to Evansville, he said. Those programs serve 30 to 35 students.

BTC would provide an instructor and classroom and office space, he said.

“We’ve committed to the fact that if they are successful in raising the money needed to put this center together, that we would certainly like to be a part of it,” he said.

With local and state board approvals, BTC could spend up to $1.5 million for a 9,000-square-foot facility, he said. BTC can borrow up to $1.5 million for a project without going to referendum.

Eckert said he didn’t want to get too speculative, but he said BTC’s presence could grow if everything comes together. BTC would consider moving its horticultural and turf industries program to the Evansville center, he said. There’s also the possibility of adding new programming.

He noted a need for “precision agriculture—the use of high-level technology in agriculture.”

Area farmers already use GPS-guided equipment to maximize resources such as fertilizers, he said.

“It’s here now, and we see that as becoming increasingly more complex and efficient,” he said.

People could learn how to drive tractors with advanced technology in the fields next to classrooms, he said.

But without funding for the whole complex, it won’t happen, Morning said.

So far, the group is encouraged. Nobody they’ve talked with has said the complex would be a bad idea, Klahn said.

“Everybody’s been extremely supportive,” he said. “It’s just that question mark of whether we’ll have enough funds for it.”


From “Vincent High School launches urban ag program” – Shamika Suggs said she never used to like science.

But now, the 16-year-old Milwaukee student aspires to become a veterinarian.

“In regular science, we’re reading out of a book, writing notes,” Suggs said. “Now, we’re doing science ourselves – actual experiments.”

Suggs is a member of the inaugural class of a new urban agricultural sciences program at Harold S. Vincent High School – the largest school program of its kind in Wisconsin, and the only one in Milwaukee.

Agriculture programs are making a comeback in Wisconsin schools as educators tap into such expanding career fields as renewable energy. In the past three years, eight school districts have added agricultural science programs with a licensed teacher and their own Future Farmers of America charters, according to Jeff Hicken, agriculture and natural resources education consultant for the Department of Public Instruction.

Vincent’s program features aspects of the growing urban farming movement, including outdoor beehives, greenhouses and an aquaponics room.

“If there’s one thing I want people to take away, it’s that it’s not cows and sows and plows,” said Kyle Slick, Vincent’s new agricultural sciences teacher. The program has 216 students in its first year and will offer courses in introduction to urban agriculture, biotechnology, biofuels, veterinary science, landscape design and urban gardening.

“What I want my students to do is to have postsecondary aspirations,” Slick said. “By the time they’re seniors, I want them to have ideas of specific ideas of what careers they want and how to get to those careers.”

Vincent, set on a 90-acre plot of land on Milwaukee’s northwest side, was built in the 1970s with a focus on agriculture. Slick, a first-year teacher, is the first agricultural instructor Milwaukee Public Schools has hired in more than three decades to help get Vincent back to its roots with a modern focus.

Slick said he hopes to expand the program by adding one discipline each year to its lineup of mini-enterprises – plants, food science, animal production.

“We want this to be the focus of the school – the agricultural high school of Milwaukee,” Slick said.

Outside support

Community support is nurturing the Vincent program. Urban farming pioneers Growing Power and Sweet Water Organics are partners in the program, and city funding helped get it off the ground. Mayor Tom Barrett and representatives of FaB Milwaukee, a regional network for the food and beverage industry, spoke at the program’s open house last week.

Barrett connected the program at Vincent to a city initiative to convert foreclosed lots into garden plots for urban farming.

“If we can find a way as a community to scale this up and make it financially feasible, we’ve hit a grand slam,” Barrett said.

Other partners, including Milwaukee Area Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-River Falls, aim to streamline the transition from high school to college for agricultural sciences students at Vincent by offering more programs directly linked to the disciplines students are learning.

“Our goal is to button this up so we have a food chain from Vincent to MATC to UWM,” MATC President Michael Burke said. “We want to create pathways to local universities, like UWM’s school of public health.”

Hicken, of the DPI, said the growth of ag programs around the state is market driven. In addition to new programs in Wisconsin schools, Hicken said, 40 existing programs have expanded.

“A lot of what has been driving this lately is the job markets out there,” Hicken said.

About 354,000 jobs in Wisconsin – 10% of the workforce – come from its $59 billion-dollar agriculture industry, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Paul Larsen, chair of the Wisconsin Agricultural Education and Workforce Development Council, has taught agricultural education at Freedom High School for the past 26 years. His classroom helped serve as a model for the recent developments at Vincent – a step in the right direction, according to Larsen.

“We try to get students aware and excited about these careers in agriculture, because we’re going to need them very soon,” he said.

From “Economic development study group to provide update Thursday” – Business, labor, community and academic leaders will get a briefing Thursday in Madison about a study in progress that will look at how well prepared Wisconsin is to meet the needs of businesses for skilled employees in coming years.

“The study is concentrating very heavily on the question of supply and demand, looking at major industry clusters, like agriculture and food production, manufacturing, etc., but is also looking very hard at the concept of skill clusters. Not just what kinds of skills are needed, but what capacity do we have to make sure those skill sets are transferable from one sector to another?” said Jim Wood, president of Wood Communications Group, Madison, and strategic counsel to Competitive Wisconsin.

Wood said the study is expected to be presented by about Labor Day. It will be the subject of three summits to be held this fall.

He said the effort stems from the 2010 “Be Bold Wisconsin” study that examined the state’s competitive position and urged a new economic development strategy.

“Workforce development is no longer a spectator sport. Everybody from parents to kids to teachers needs to be paying very close attention to this,” Wood said.

The briefing will be hosted by Madison Area Technical College, UW-Madison, UW Colleges, UW-Extension and Competitive Wisconsin. It will start at 9 a.m. at the Madison College West Campus, 302 S. Gammon Road. It’s one of about a dozen such meetings being held around the state.

The $300,000 study is being funded by grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Bradley Foundation, and corporate donations.

From “Marathon Farm Tech Committee Distributes Show’s Profits” – The executive committee members of the 2011 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days show in Marathon County announced that the event’s profits went to local non-profit organizations that served food at the show, as well as some other special projects being planned for the area.

Committee Chairman Keith Langenhahn said that $192,000 was left after the show’s expenses were all covered. He said nine local groups shared $92,000; and that the remaining funds were donated to the Northcentral Technical College Agriculture Center of Excellence for capital projects, which includes a horse barn at the county fairgrounds and to a special FTD scholarships fund. Another $20,000 will be given back to Marathon County as repayment of seed money originally provided.

Mike Wildeck, who served as the Executive Secretary to the shows in 2011 and 1996, adds that it’s great to see that the show was a financial success.

“The proceeds resulting from the show will fund some terrific local projects and educational scholarships, but the leadership development that occurred may have an even greater impact,” he said.

Last year’s show was held at Seehafer Acres, just north of Marshfield. The event was planned with the help of 21 committees, 1,500 volunteers, dozens of sponsoring businesses and organizations.

From “Wausau West students share stories from apprenticeships” – More than 60 high school juniors and seniors are working in part-time positions in the Wausau area through Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program. I’ve written a number of articles about the YA program for the paper in the past year, but for this article, two current YAs have agreed to share their experiences, in their own words.

Morgan Zernicke,
Wausau West senior

I’ve been in the Youth Apprenticeship program for two years. My first year, I worked at Zernicke Farm, doing field work, barn chores and feeding calves. Currently, I’m working at Marathon Feed, where I provide customer service and do anything I am asked to do. I always wanted to go into the agricultural field, but my job at Marathon Feed has made me think more about what I really want to do for my future career. I’ve made the choice to stay in the agri-business area. I’ve been accepted to Northcentral Technical College this fall. I will graduate with an associate degree in Dairy Science Agri-business and hope to work in Marathon or Lincoln County after graduation. The YA program has helped me discover that a career in agriculture is a good fit for me.

Michaela Ketchum,
 Wausau West senior

Not many students could say their senior year has been as victorious as mine has been. As a full-time student at Wausau West High School working as a certified nursing assistant at Kindred Transitional Care, I have strived better to be not only a family member and a student, but a friend to many new patients that I care about deeply. The Youth Apprenticeship program has taken me down numerous exciting and new roads that have helped direct my future. Without this program, I would never have been so eager to plan my future as a registered nurse. While being a CNA, I have had so many opportunities to understand how essential the health field is and what struggles are truly out there. The Youth Apprenticeship program is such an important milestone for a student’s life and can even help them to find the key to their future.

If you’d like to connect with a student looking for an apprenticeship or want to learn more about the YA program, contact your local high school YA coordinator or Donna Schulz at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau at

From “NTC goes green” – Northcentral Technical College is going green. Or, at least its farm is.

“Sometimes we want to be free of WPS power,” Director of Facilities Rob Elliot said.

That’s why NTC partnered with Warner Electric to install three wind turbines at their agricultural center. Combined with the already placed solar panels, during a sunny, windy day they are expected to carry the farm’s full electrical load.

“At peak demand we use about 38 kilowatts here at the farm, the wind turbines will produce about 27 kilowatts,” Elliot said.

The energy produced from the turbines will power lights, classrooms, and technology.

“There will be times we are pulling off the grid from WPS, buying power. But, there will be times we will be selling power back,” Elliot said.

But, it’s not just about saving energy. It is also a teaching tool.

“It gives students practical equipment to work with so they can tip them down, see the motor, the brakes and can learn the technology,” Elliot said.

Scott Story is a first year student. Even before the turbines were up and running, story and his class were on site, learning.

“Now-a-days were learning how to find ways to create energy with using gasses and stuff like that,” Story said.

But, not everyone is as excited. NTC officials say they did have one complaint. A nearby residence worried about how much noise the energy savers would make.

“These generate less noise than the ones you see on a farm on the highway. Actually, traffic going by will be louder than these turbines,” Elliot explained.

School officials say all three turbines will be producing energy by next week, making this farm a little greener.

View WAOW video

From “Education down on the farm” – Being somewhat of a self-proclaimed history buff I thought I would share with you some facts about the history of agricultural education.

Why farm producers seek out knowledge is no different today than it was in 1862 when The Morrill Act established the land-grant university system to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts, and other practical professions. The Extension Service was formally started in 1914, with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act. It established the partnership between the agricultural colleges (state funding), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (federal funding) to provide for cooperative agricultural extension education. To this day, the University of Wisconsin Extension Service continues this State, Federal and county government partnership to provide agricultural research and development to the agriculture community throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin and some other states also provide the agricultural community with an additional source of agricultural education through the Wisconsin Technical College system. The Wisconsin Technical College system has now been providing technical training for 100 years to Wisconsin’s residents.

Wisconsin was the first state to pass a law supporting vocational, technical and adult education in 1911. The law ensured that state aid would be provided to foster continuing education, trade and evening schools. Now offering over 300 programs in fields as diverse as Agriculture, Mechanical Design Technology, Renewable Energies and Fashion Marketing; the colleges have helped nearly half of all Wisconsin adults build their futures through occupational, technical and/or liberal arts education.

The Wisconsin Technical College System has offered the Farm Business and Production Management Program for nearly 50 years throughout rural Wisconsin. Lakeshore Technical College, based in Cleveland, Wis., provides agriculture producers and agribusiness professionals’ continuing education opportunities in Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Ozaukee counties and has been partnering with Moraine Park school district since 2003.

Enough of the history lesson. How has Ag Education changed over the last 150 years since the establishment of the Morrill Act? I immensely enjoy seeing photos from the very early years when literally hundreds of farmers would attend on-farm demonstrations. Just since 1964, Wisconsin farm numbers have gone from 138,000 to just over 75,000 in 2011. Obviously, with the reduction in farm numbers and in recent years, the advent of computers and the internet, the training methods used to deliver agriculture training have also changed.

What hasn’t changed is how producers like to learn and how they learn best. The photos from the turn of the century illustrate producers attending seminars where “demonstrations and discussion groups” were well attended. A century later Ag Educators still rely on these time tested approaches but today’s audience includes a demographic that our forefathers could not have imagined. One third of the continuing education clients served through Lakeshore Technical College’s Farm Business Program are employees on large farms. The average age of these non-traditional students is about 35 years of age and 80 percent of these served employees are employed on large family-owned dairy farms. A decade ago, nearly all my clients were owner/operators of smaller family run operations.

Although the student demographics may be changing, the reason agriculture producers and agribusiness personnel seek out continuing education has not changed. Whether the student is an employee on a state of the art 3,000-cow dairy or they are the owner/operator of a 50-cow organic dairy operation, they are seeking the same things in 2012 as they did in 1900. Farmers are looking for ways to make money, stay ahead of their competition, find ways to do things easier and in general, capture a higher quality of life.

Professional agriculture employees can inquire about the Lakeshore-Moraine Park Farm Business Programs and activities by contacting Greg Booher, instructor at 920-960-0551 or

From “FdL business is part of emerging indoor gardening market” – No matter what the season, Heather Ulrichsen has fresh herbs, lettuce and peppers.

What started as a winter hobby turned into a business opportunity. She and her partner, Richard Manser, own Rational Solutions for Farming, 416 N. Main St., Suite 1. Their store and website,, sell everything needed to start and maintain indoor and hydroponics gardens.

Ulrichsen said gardening setups can be as large or small as the gardener wants. This time of year, indoor gardening helps start seeds for spring planting. Indoor gardens work well year-round, too, she said.

Hydroponic gardening isn’t new, but it’s an emerging market. Indoor gardening appeals to growers who want fresh produce, flowers or plants year-round. In light of product recalls and safety concerns, more Americans are growing their own food, she said.

It also holds potential for residents with limited outdoor growing space, particularly those in apartments or urban homeowners with small yards, she said.

Getting started

Ulrichsen said she started using hydroponics in 2009 when she and Manser had an organic farm near Hillsboro, Wis. She wanted something to do during the winter, so she started growing plants indoors and used them for freezing, canning and eating fresh. Some of those jars now sit on display at the store.

Since it went so well and because the small farm was struggling to compete with larger operations in the organic market, she looked at hydroponics as a business.

They eventually quit the farm and moved to Fond du Lac, where Ulrichsen had lived as a child when her mother served as a Methodist minister in North Fond du Lac. Ulrichsen said they chose Fond du Lac not only because she has ties to the area, but also because it’s everything she wants as a resident and entrepreneur — it has a more rural setting, but it’s only an hour’s drive from larger cities.

Rational Solutions for Farming opened Oct. 15, 2010, and has served a diverse customer base, from individuals to organizations, including Moraine Park Technical College’s culinary arts program, she said.

How it works

At first blush, Ulrichsen’s hydroponic gardening looks and sounds like something out of “Star Trek.” There are multi-colored lights, canvases and tents, tubes and fans, thermometers and numerous containers with plants in various stages of growth. In one corner, tiny strawberry plants peek through the soil. In the other, a sprawling cucumber seems to be plotting to takeover its neighborhood. Pepper plants reach for the light as small fruits hide beneath lush leaves.

On more than one occasion, she’s stopped to pluck a lettuce leaf for her sandwich or some herbs for cooking, she said.

“It really does wonders psychologically. It’s your own little oasis. You can shut out all the winter stuff going on outside,” she said.

The miniature jungles and technology may intimidate customers looking for a small setup, but Ulrichsen says indoor gardening doesn’t have to be large or complicated.

It requires lighting and some kind of shelter, whether it’s a tent or canvas. She said the lights mimic the sun’s rays, and the canvas is essential to direct the light to the plants.

“If you were to just stick a light in a room, you’re not going to get good results. You’re just lighting your room. It’s a glorified light bulb at that point,” she said.

In another kind of hydroponics system, plants sit in a circular container. The roots hold clay pebbles, which are cleaner than soil. Ulrichsen said she waters the pebbles, and the plants pull moisture and nutrients from the clay.

Indoor gardening doesn’t require special seeds or plants, she added.

“You’re kind of playing God a little bit,” she said. “You control the light, the temperature, how much water they get.”

Pests are a possibility, but they can be controlled with all-natural pesticides. Ulrichsen said she uses a chrysanthemum extract that’s safe for plants and people.

Grow your own

MPTC’s culinary arts program started indoor gardening last fall, said Culinary Arts Instructor Ron Speich. He said Rational Solutions for Farming donated two LED lights and provided information to help them get started.

MPTC now has not only an indoor garden but also an aquaponic system that combines a fish tank with growing plants. The fish’s droppings create a fertilized water for the plants. Ulrichsen said she hopes to sell aquaponics systems in the future.

Speich said students and staff wanted to use more homegrown ingredients instead of buying them. Since graduates will likely become chefs, they need to understand where their food comes from, how safe it is and how to find the freshest ingredients.

The plants are flourishing, he said. The basil is three feet high. When the pepper plants hit five feet, it was time for trimming.

“I think in the future you’re going to see more and more of it,” he said.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 166 other followers

%d bloggers like this: