Agriculture remains America's most important industry
Agriculture has evolved over the years but it remains America's most important industry.
Alice in Dairyland Rochelle Ripp highlighted some of the ways agriculture has changed when she spoke at the second annual Columbus Agri-Business banquet Tuesday night, March 19.
The sold-out event drew 200 people interested in celebrating National Agriculture Day.
As Wisconsin's official agricultural ambassador, Alice travels around the state promoting agriculture in schools and at events.
Ripp told the crowd, "My farm (at Lodi) has evolved over the years just as agriculture has evolved. Our farm has gone from a dairy operation to a beef farm and now is back to dairy with my family custom raising dairy heifers."
She said agriculture has also evolved, beginning with pioneer farmers who raised one cow to provide their dairy needs to today's average of 100 cows on a Wisconsin dairy farm.
Alice in Dairyland points out that while farms have increased in size, they still remain family farms. Instead of one farm producing food for just a few people, today's farmer produces enough food in a year to feed 155 people.
Technology has played a role in the increase in efficiency on farms. She points out that, in dairy for instance, farmers no longer milk by hand. She said some farmers use milking machines, others milk cows in a milking parlor that takes on all kinds of forms including rotary parlors that are like a giant merry-go-round for cows.
The newest technology includes the use of robots to milk cows.
Ripp says farmers understand that they need to use technology such as GPS, smart phones, and modern equipment to succeed in the business just as others use technology in manufacturing plants and in personal lives.
She says, "I always knew where my food comes from but as I travel around the state I've learned that not everyone knows even the basics - things like milk comes from a cow or cereal comes from grain grown by farmers."
Ripp adds, "While I mention all kinds of statistics about today's agriculture, what I really want them to take home with them is an appreciation for agriculture and for the farmers who produce their food and many other goods they use daily."
ROLE AS ALICE
Regarding her job as Alice in Dairyland she said her partners give her the tools needed to deliver her message.
Those include the broach she wears on the sash that identifies her as Alice in Dairyland. The broach is made of gem stones mined in Wisconsin.
While she wears a crown for some events, she usually doesn't wear it because it confuses people about her role. She says, "I'm not a princess - I'm a farm girl and I'm proud of it."
Another tool is the vehicle she drives. Ripp has proudly named her SUV "Cornelius" because the bright-colored vehicle highlights the benefits of ethanol. She says that provides an opportunity to promote bio-fuels while she fuels up at state gas stations.
When it's cold she wears a mink stole provided by the Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders. That provides an opportunity to point out that Wisconsin is the country's number one mink producer.
This also leads to questions about raising animals just for their fur and she points out that early in Wisconsin's history, fur trade was the most important industry.
Ripp said when she visited mink farms she saw that mink raisers care for their animals in much the same way that dairymen care for their cows.
Last summer she visited a mink farm and saw that the farmer had a sprinkler system set up to keep his animals comfortable just as dairy farmers do for their cows.
The current Alice in Dairyland also talked about Wisconsin's other major commodities including potatoes, cranberries, vegetables and more.
She points out that when she visits schools she usually needs to inform the teachers as well. She brings math, geography and history into her presentation.
Using "smart board" technology she talks about technology on today's farms. Showing a video of wheat harvest she points out that the combine can harvest enough wheat in nine seconds to make 90 loaves of bread.
The Lodi native concludes, "So you see, my job is to tell our story in the most positive way I can. I invite all of you to do the same. Talk with people you meet in the grocery store who have questions about food. Talk to foodies who misunderstand how food is raised. Communicate about agriculture with your Facebook friends. And, if you are one of those farmers who has invited visitors to tour your farm, I thank you."
The Columbus Agri-Business dinner was sponsored by numerous area businesses including gold sponsors Didion Milling, Farmers and merchants Union Bank, Mid-State Equipment, Duffy Grain, Vita Plus, United Wisconsin Grain Producers, Farmers Implement and Attorney Lan Waddell.
The members of the FFA assisted the staff of Kestrel Ridge serve the dinner. The agri-business committee presented the organization a check for $625 to help the FFA carry out their activities.
As Master of Ceremonies of the event, Erin Jones talked about the importance of recognizing area farmers at an event such as this. She concluded the program with her list of the top 10 reasons to thank a farmer.