MONROE (WKOW) — The outlook on farming in Wisconsin is pretty grim — so farmers are becoming creative to survive.
We last talked with a local dairy farmer Dan Wegmueller in 2019, just before the peak farm bankruptcies took their toll on the farming industry.
We followed up with Wegmueller about the creative way his farming is thriving during these difficult times.
“I haven’t experienced this part of Wisconsin before, the rolling fields and pastures. It’s gorgeous,” Jill Wilson said.
Jill, her husband Pete Wilson and their seven kids are from Michigan and decided to vacation at Mueller’s Dairy Farm and The Dairy Farm Stay” in Monroe.
“It’s peaceful. I’ve been impressed with the fact that there’s not a lot of noise, and not as much smell as I would have anticipated on a dairy farm,” Pete Wilson said.
Cows are no longer the sole meal ticket on this dairy farm.
“Without question, the biggest moneymaker for us will be agritourism,” said Dan Wegmueller, owner of Wegmueller’s Dairy Farm and The Dairy Farm Stay.
In 2018, Dan and his wife Ashley decided to combine agriculture and tourism. Attracting guests from across the United State from places like New York, New Jersey, Washington, DC, California, Florida, Texas, Illinois (mainly Chicago) and Missouri.
Dan has also had visitors from around the globe from places like Britain, Switzerland, Australia, Russia, Rwanda, Ecuador, Canada, India, China and Japan.
By opening up their farm and a house to visitors. Dan says they’re bringing in more income.
“In 2023, we will generate more revenue from agritourism than from actual agriculture, which, as far as I’m concerned, says more about the state of agriculture,” Wegmueller said.
The outlook of farming is dismal in Wisconsin which led the nation in farm bankruptcies last year.
Chapter 12 Farm Bankruptcies by State in 2021 were Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 26, Kansas 19, Iowa 17, and North Carolina 12 according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Experts like Veronica Nigh, Senior Economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, say that’s because of the number of dairy farms.
“Wisconsin by a large margin has the largest number of farms in the United States. In 2021, there were almost 30,000 dairy farms in the US and Wisconsin had almost 7000 of those, but what we’ve been seeing in the dairy sector is a significant contraction in the number of operations, even though the amount of milk that’s being produced, and the number of cows that are being milked has stayed about the same or even increased,” Nigh said. “We’ve seen a contraction in the number of farms. So you’re really seeing that reflected in that bankruptcy data as the number of dairies contracts nationwide.”
Dan says farms are at a point where they have to adapt or get absorbed.
“You’re seeing small farms like this that are burning through generations of equity just to survive,” Wegmueller said.
To stay profitable, families like the Wilsons spend a few days on the farm- doing things like feeding baby calves and learning how to milk a cow. Even Wilson’s 10-year-old daughter Louisa has tried milking a cow.
“It was really squishy,” Louisa said. “It was really interesting.”
Visitors also walked away with a greater appreciation for their food.
“To really understand that milk is just not something that comes from the store and there is a ton of work involved in that,” Jill Wilson said.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s underappreciated. People just go to the store or whatever, expecting prices to be cheap. And it’s difficult to make a living farming,” Pete Wilson said.
While the extra income from agritourism helps, Dan says it’s also made farming fun again.
“When we can make kids appreciate where their food is coming from, it reminds me of why I went into this profession in the first place,” Wegmueller said.