Saving the Family Farm: Passing the Operation on to the Next Generation

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For Wisconsin's dairy farmers, farming isn't just a job, it's a way of life. For many farming families, like the Prahl family of Granite Vu Farm, LLC. near Nutterville, it's the only life they've known. "Bob, my husband's, great-grandfather homesteaded it in 1879. We have a thing that says it's on lease from the Lord, because we've been very blessed for the last 134 years to keep it in the family," said Mary Jo Prahl.

Mary Jo's son, Ryan, and his wife are in the process of taking over the operation. Mary Jo said, "It's very exciting to see that and see them succeed. I think Ryan's first word was "tractor," it wasn't mom and dad, but we also encouraged him to not be on the farm, we pushed him out the door to do other things, look at other things but he always came back." Ryan said, "It's way harder than you think because I loved being here." He added, "We've slowly been purchasing more of the business, taking on more ownership and eventually we're going to swallow a bigger pill to take all of the ownership but it's been a slow transition and understanding they want us to succeed and we don't want to leave them hanging."

But, fewer and fewer family farms are even being passed on. The number of dairy farms in the state of Wisconsin has been steadily declining for decades. Nationwide, about 60% of all farmers are 55 or older and that number is rising. All signs that more and more kids raised on farms are saying "no thanks" to the challenges of sustaining the family business.

Duane and Diane Blaubach of Marathon County have two sons, Christopher and Brandon, who love to farm just as much as their parents do. Christopher said, "I grew up on this farm, so being here is all I want to do, because it's what I know, what I love." His brother, Brandon, added, "This farm means pretty much everything to me, I've been doing this since I was crawling."

Both Duane and Diane say it would be great if their sons could take over the family operation one day. "It would be awesome to see them carry it on because you've worked so hard and you've done this so many years and you've grown so much," said Diane. But, the realities facing today's small farms, make it a tough proposition. "The way the economy is and milk prices and everything else and all the variables with farming it's hard to say if it would happen," said Christopher. Diane added, "I was born and raised on a farm and had to see my dad's farm go. Seeing my husband saddened to lose his family farm, like my dad, would be very devastating to me and I know how much passion my sons have for it and the dream they have to take it over, it would be very heartbreaking."

It's the struggle thousands of Wisconsin farmers are dealing with today, but, no matter the challenges, farmers will fight to see their way of life on the small family farm continue. "It has been a good life for our family and I wouldn't change it," said Diane. Ryan Prahl said, "There's no better way to raise a family."

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