Appreciating farmers

Secretary Romanski visits dairy farms to deliver care packages

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WALDO, Wis. — Farming is hard work. But when that work is recognized by others, it can make a big difference.

On May 30, six farmers in Sheboygan County were shown appreciation when they received a visit from Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Randy Romanski. He came bearing gifts and lent an ear to learn about their farms and issues they might be facing.

“I was glad to be part of this event,” Romanski said. “It highlighted how important it is for us to be connected with our neighbors, and how those relationships can create a support network within our community. I always enjoy hearing from farmers about their operations, what they’re most proud of, and how we at the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection can help connect the dots to resources that may support their farm goals.”

May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and as part of awareness efforts, the Sheboygan County Farm Bureau hosted Romanski in conjunction with the Farm Neighbors Care campaign. This campaign was started by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation to bring awareness about farmers’ mental health and the struggles farmers face.

Through an anonymous online nomination form, community members nominated local farmers to receive a care package which included a lunch bag, snacks and a Culver’s gift card.

Nicole Laack is the chair of the Sheboygan County Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Agriculturist program.

“The packages are a way to say thank you for what you’re doing, we recognize your hard work, we are here as a resource and appreciate that you’re a part of our ag community,” Laack said. “It was a very good day.”

Thirty-five individuals or couples were nominated to receive packages.

“That’s an outstanding number,” Laack said. “Last year was our first year doing this, and we only had 12 nominations. We were very excited to have 35 in our second year.”

Laack said over 90% of the farmers nominated were dairy farmers.

Laack gives credit to the county’s district coordinator, Becky Salm, and the promotion education committee chair, Kathy Salm, for encouraging the county to get started on this program.

“It’s not something every county has to do, but we saw it as a good opportunity to get out in our community and connect with our farmers,” Laack said.

Five of the six farms Romanski and Farm Bureau committee members visited May 30 were dairy farms.

“The visits highlighted a good snapshot of the diversity of agriculture in Sheboygan County,” Romanski said. “It’s an example of how all types and sizes of agriculture have an opportunity to be successful in Wisconsin.”

Dan Mullikin and his family milk 500 cows and farm 1,200 acres near Waldo.

“We were a little surprised or humbled when we found out we had been nominated to receive a care package,” Mullikin said. “We weren’t planning on it, and all the sudden, there it was. It was neat to meet with Secretary Romanski and have him tour our facilities. He’s very down to earth and is a super nice guy.”

Mullikin farms with his wife, Shelly, and their three adult children, Cody, Jessica and Brett.

“Everybody needs to eat and realize their food doesn’t come from the grocery store — that somebody is actually working hard to produce safe and enjoyable products for them to consume,” Mullikin said.

Recognizing that farming can be an isolating career, the Farm Neighbors Care campaign stresses the importance of checking in on friends, neighbors and family members to gauge how they are doing and offer support and a listening ear.

“I think now more than ever, we hear a lot on social media and in the media in general about mental health awareness,” Laack said. “We all know the number of farmers is declining each year. If we can get out there and recognize the people who are still dedicated to doing this hard work of feeding the world, it goes a long way.”

Laack said meaningful conversations took place with farmers that day.

“It was a very exciting opportunity for our county and probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people who received a visit from Secretary Romanski,” Laack said. “They were able to share their farm story, how they got where they are, and their successes and struggles. More importantly, they were able to bring issues happening in our backyard to Secretary Romanski’s attention.”

Romanski said a variety of topics came up throughout the day, ranging from farmer mental wellness, farmland preservation, milk prices and educating and training the next generation.

Dairy farmer Bill Schultz said he was glad that Romanski came.

“I think it’s really good for anybody who works with us or for us to get out of the office and get inside the barn by the cows and maybe get their shoes a little dirty,” Schultz said. “It’s very helpful to us for them to see it on a day-to-day level.”

Schultz and Yvonne Preder milk between 75-80 cows and farm about 400 acres on Lyn-Vale Farms near Waldo with Schultz’s brother, Ron, and his cousin’s son, Brandon Schultz.

“We’re in the registered business and do a lot of merchandising,” Schultz said. “We focus on Red and White genetics — that’s been our niche — and we sell show calves all over the country and Canada.”

Schultz and Preder said the visit from Romanski was inspiring.

“When you have someone of that caliber drive in the yard and have the opportunity to speak with someone at that level, it’s a nice pat on the back,” Preder said. “You know somebody cares. It’s a refreshing feeling of moving on and knowing we had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman of that sort.”

Schultz and Preder milk in a tiestall barn. All their cows have names, and their family trees are noted on the signs above their stalls.

“We wanted to make sure Secretary Romanski understood there is still a place for the small, traditional, red-barn kind of dairy farmers,” Preder said.

One of the issues Schultz and Preder are facing involves a new electric line that would go through their property along with another gas line.

“Maybe we can change it to some other location because, at the present time, it looks like it’s going to be going right through a lot of our tillage fields,” Preder said.

Schultz said they are concerned about potential stray voltage issues as the lines would be located within a couple hundred yards of their dairy barn.

A lunch break at Gibbsville Implement that day gave the county Farm Bureau board and promotion and education committee a chance to converse with Romanski as well.

Laack said the support shown to local dairy farmers left an impact on the community

“The weather this spring has been trying on a lot of people, and this was a dose of positivity,” Laack said. “It was a little pick-me-up to help farmers realize people do understand the struggles farmers are facing, and they want to help and be there as a support system for our farmers — even if it’s just in a small way like this.”

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