DEEP BENCH: America’s Dairyland at the Crossroads

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 5:25 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - In 1930, Wisconsin had about 167,000 dairy farms. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, only 6,618 remain. You’re talking more than 100,000 fewer dairy farms in 91 years.

UW-Madison predicts only 2,000 will be left come 2040.

“America’s Dairyland at the Crossroads” airs tonight on FOX WZAW at 8:00 commercial-free. It takes a look at the crisis for our dairy farmers, especially in Marathon and Clark Counties.

A collaboration between Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Milwaukee PBS applied for, and was given, a grant from PBS Frontline’s local journalism initiative back in 2019. Milwaukee PBS met with the Journal Sentinel.

The creators of the special joined us on the Deep Bench on NewsChannel 7 at 4 for a special sneak peak.

“We decided that what was important to the state of Wisconsin,” said producer Maryann Lazarski, “is dairy.”

Rick Barrett is the Journal Sentinel reporter and narrator of the special. He’s been reporting on the dairy industry for better than 20 years.

“Over that amount of time I’ve gotten to know a lot of farmers in Marathon County and Clark County,” said Barrett. “It still is the hub of dairy farming in Wisconsin.”

Barrett said he would go so far as to say maybe even the hub of the country.

“When you get to know some of these farmers, you can’t help but be struck by the determination, the passion and the energy they put into their work.”

The documentary was originally set to air in 2020, but the pandemic hit causing a few hurdles.

“By far it’s the most challenging project I’ve ever been a part of. This really forced us to be creative as storytellers.”

Doing the special reinforced what Barrett already knew about our state’s dairy farmers.

“Incredibly resilient. They just keep coming back because they love it. They love what they do. It’s not only their livelihood, it’s where they live, it’s where they grew up, it’s their community.”

You can learn more about the behind-the-scenes from the interview with Dale Ryman. Be sure to tune in tonight to watch the special. You can also watch it online by clicking here.

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