The 4th of July is one of the most celebrated holidays in America. While you’re celebrating the history of our country with family and friends, it’s also a great time to think about Wisconsin’s agricultural roots and the advancements that have been made over many generations. Agriculture has been through many changes and has been very important since our country was founded in 1776.
The amount of careers related to agriculture has greatly declined over the years in the U.S. In 1800, about 83% of jobs were in agriculture. By 1850, agriculture careers had dropped to 55%. Wisconsin in 1850 however, had 90% of the population living on a farm and produced over 400,000 pounds of cheese. In the U.S. today, about 2% of the population is directly involved with production agriculture, but there are many more jobs that are “related” to agriculture. That’s a very notable drop, but there have been a number of technological advancements that have come along the way. Machinery has made jobs able to be done with fewer people and less manual labor.
Years ago, farmers like my grandpa used horses for all their field work. Today, as you drive around Dalton you will probably see Amish farmers in their fields also using horses. I can’t imagine how labor intensive farming was for people like my grandpa because we have seen incredible advancements in the efficiency and comfort of the farm equipment I use today. The gas and diesel engine was such an improvement from the steam-powered tractors of the early 1900’s. Making production of food so much easier and efficient, so much more could be done in a day. Rubber tires were introduced to agriculture in the mid 1930’s which made riding the equipment much more comfortable.
Today, many farmers utilize GPS systems in their tractors to assist with all sorts of tasks ranging from planting to controlling weeds and insects to harvesting. Some tractors even have auto-steer capabilities. As you drive around Green Lake County, make sure to admire how straight the rows of corn and soybeans are. This GPS based technology means farmers, like me, are able to save seed, use fewer chemicals to control weeds and insects all while increasing our yields.
My cows wear collars with a transponder, that acts like a FitBit, to detect activity for breeding and rumination (cud chewing) and gives me an idea of the cow’s overall health. I get alerts sent to my smartphone when a cow is sick or needs to be bred so I can act quickly to give the correct cow the care she needs.
Additionally, advancements have been made in animal genetics. A cow today looks a lot different from the dairy cows of 30+ years ago. Today’s cows have stronger, more correct legs and udders as well as many great health traits, all of which helps them to be healthier and more comfortable while making milk.
Wisconsin has some interesting agricultural history too. Wisconsin wasn’t always America’s Dairyland. Farming in Wisconsin started nearly 3,000 years ago, by the Woodland Tradition people, from 500 BCE to 1250. Their replacement, the Indians, farmed year-round from 1250 to 1600. Immigrants from Europe brought wheat and other crops. Wheat became a very important part of Wisconsin’s agriculture. However, in the 1900s, Green Lake County’s wheat got infested with insects and many farmers switched to the dairy business. Who would have known, back in the early 60’s Lester Schwartz, the famous artist from Green Lake, built a 12-cow milking parlor, possibly one of the first built in the county. Lester’s intention was to make yogurt on his farm to sell to grocery stores, but he never got that far. He milked around 100 cows for roughly 8-10 years. Back then, he was a man way ahead of the times!
Agriculture is super important and should be celebrated for this. It can be celebrated and supported in many ways, from farmers markets to corn mazes.
The Green Lake county fair is coming up on August 2-5, and it is another great way to support agriculture, check out all the fair animals. You will see dairy and beef cattle, sheep and lambs, poultry and rabbits. Also, food products and woodworking. Speaking of food, don’t forget to stop by the Green Lake County Farm Bureau Food stand and get a burger and pie or ice cream – or many of the other great foods we sell.
So, as you throw that steak or burger on the grill or prepare the vegetables, this 4th of July, think about the farmer who planted or raised and cared for your food. Why? Because his or her livelihood is to produce nutritious, safe food for all to enjoy. As a matter of fact, today’s farmer feeds 155 people versus 19 people in 1950.
Have a happy and safe 4th of July. Thanks for supporting agriculture in Wisconsin.
Pete Badtke is a dairy farmer from Ripon, Wisconsin where he milks 90 cows and runs about 300 acres of land. Pete started farming in 1987. He has been married for 16 years to his wife Lori and has 2 daughters, Kasie (13) and Sarah (12). Pete currently serves as director on Green Lake County Farm Bureau board and as chairman of Calvary Lutheran Church in Princeton.