Alice in Dairyland selection process showcases Brown County agriculture

Dan Hansen

GREEN BAY – Known around the world as the home of the Green Bay Packers, most people tend to think of Brown County as primarily urban.

Alice finalists toured the 1,800-cow Wayside Dairy where they learned about best herd management practices to produce the highest quality milk and crops

However, agriculture is a vital part of the county’s rich history and vibrant economy. The county is home to family-owned dairy farms, food processors and a variety of agriculture-related businesses that create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic activity each year.

The success of Brown County’s agricultural industries seldom headline the television news or make the front page of local newspapers. That all changed – at least for several weeks this spring – as Brown County hosted various events as part of the program to select Wisconsin 70th Alice in Dairyland.

Reporters followed this year’s six Alice finalists and Ann O’Leary, the 69th Alice in Dairyland, as they visited farms and other agri-business during the final days leading up to the selection of the new Alice.

They learned that Brown County has 1,000 farms – more than 86 percent of which are owned by individuals or families – and is among the top 10 Wisconsin counties for total numbers of dairy cows, total value of agricultural products sold, and total value of livestock and milk.

Alice ag tours

Brown County has 1,000 farms of varying sizes, including smaller operations with traditional red barns.

Wayside Dairy near Greenleaf, operated by the fifth and sixth generations of the Natzke family, hosted the Alice finalists.

After a major barn fire 16 years ago, the family built a new facility where they milk 1,800 cows three times a day in a 28-parallel  parlor. The farm also has 2,700 crops acres of alfalfa, corn and wheat, and incorporates cover crops and no-till planting in its farming practices.

Schreiber Foods’ new home office in Green Bay was another stop on their tour. Starting as a small process cheese producer in 1945, the company has grown to be a global leader in producing yogurt, along with natural, process and cream cheese. It now employs over 7,000 people at locations across North America, Europe, South America and Asia.

Belmark has four plants in DePere that produce pouches, labels and cartons used in the food industry. Touring the production floors, the Alice candidates learned about the important customer services and safety and sanitation practices that have made the company an industry leader.

JBS in Green Bay has grown from a small-family-owned business into one of the world’s leading providers of quality meat protein, leather and co-products. The Alice finalists learned that the Green Bay processing facility has been a part of the local community for 57 years; its diverse workforce comprises more than 1,200 people.

Greenleaf Landscaping is a multi-generational family landscape contracting firm that focuses on providing residents of Northeast Wisconsin with beautiful, functional landscape solutions. On their tour, the candidates learned about some of the science behind turf grass, and saw how education and artistic creativity blend while maximizing the use of Wisconsin products.

Winfield United of Green Bay is a Land O’Lakes company that provides crop inputs to retailers and growers across North America. The Alice candidates learned how the company utilizes cutting-edge technology to maximize crop yield potential and input efficiency. The company has adopted the SUSTAN model that also minimized impact on the environment.

Visiting Greenleaf Landscaping, the Alice candidates learned some of the science behind turf grass and how education and artistic creativity work together.

Ag processing

A key reason for the abundance of dairy farms in Brown County is their close proximity to dairy processing plants. The county is number seven in the state in milk production and has 194 dairy farms that produce 2,900 gallons of milk per cow each year.

Seventeen plants process dairy products in Brown County. The processing of milk into various dairy products accounts for $1.8 billion annually. Various meat and bakery products are also produced in the county.

According to the Brown County UW-Extension office, every dollar of ag processed products sold generates an additional 43 cents of activity in other parts of the economy. Agricultural processing accounts for more than 14,200 jobs in the county.

Agriculture also  provides more than 17,000 jobs for people in Brown County, comprising 9.3 percent of the total workforce.

“Every job in agriculture generates an additional 1.26 jobs within the county,” noted Liz Binversie, the county’s Extension agricultural educator.

Land stewards

Despite the increase in industrial and residential development, farms still comprise over half of Brown County’s land base.

According to Binversie, Brown County farmers own and manage 181,197 acres, or 53.4 percent, of the county’s land. This includes cropland, rangeland, pasture, tree farms and farm forests.

“As stewards of the land, farmers use conservation practices, such as crop rotation, nutrient management and integrated pest management to protect environmental resources and provide wildlife habitat,” she said.

Brown County sales of Christmas trees, woody ornamentals, perennials and annual plants, fruits and vegetables, sod and other horticultural products total $6.3 million. 

Nicole Nohl, director of the county’s Alice in Dairyland Steering Committee, also stressed the importance of agriculture to Brown County. 

“The Alice in Dairyland monthly visits brought awareness to the importance of agriculture to our community’s future,” she said. “Every chance we have to educate the public on where our food comes from, will aid in creating a stronger community.”