Through long Extension career, Carl Duley has helped farmers, brewers, winemakers

Jan Shepel
At an “Ales for ALS” event at Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater, Minn., Carl Duley, seated center, is joined by his wife Cindy, left, Jerry Clark and his wife Karen along with former Minnesota Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, center back, whose father died of ALS and former NBA player Chris Engler, left, who has been diagnosed with ALS.

Extension agents are beloved by many farmers and business people in the counties where they live and work – none more so than Carl Duley in Buffalo County.

He began working at the county’s offices in the early 1980s and continues to plan programs and work with farmers today despite the diagnosis of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. In recent months friends have helped remodel his home to accommodate a motorized wheelchair. But Carl has continued to work and hopes to be able to plan and attend one more summer field day before he retires.

Tim Rehbein was a county extension agent in neighboring Vernon County “back in the old Extension days – when there was an agent in every county,” he said. The two agents got to know each other and became friends, helping farmers with projects on traditional farms and some that involved transitioning out of tobacco production. At one time growing tobacco was huge in the Viroqua area – the crop was often called the “mortgage lifter” in several regions of the state. But as that industry faded, farmers were looking for other enterprises and niche commodities.

Big success story

Carl asked to come along on a bus trip Rehbein had planned to visit grape growers in Michigan and the two started working together on more local projects after that. One of Carl’s big success stories, in terms of helping farmers transition to new or additional enterprises, is Danzinger Vineyards ( Rehbein relates how he and Carl had worked with the Danzinger family for years on their dairy farm’s operations, but now were helping Melvin and David Danzinger with a vineyard and winemaking enterprise that they wanted to take up in their “retirement.”

That retirement enterprise began in 2003 and now encompasses 18 acres with 8,000 vines overlooking the Mississippi River. Dave, left, manages the winery while brother, Mel, once in charge of the crop program at their former dairy farm is now the vineyard manager.

That retirement enterprise began in 2003 and now encompasses 18 acres with 8,000 vines overlooking the Mississippi River. Dave, who had earned a Masters Degree in Agriculture Education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, spent 30 years managing Danzinger and Sons farm and now is manager of the winery. Melvin, who earned a Bachelors Degree in agronomy at UW-River Falls was in charge of the crop program at the dairy farm and is now the vineyard manager.

David’s sons Matt and Pat now operate the 600-cow dairy farm while Mel and Dave handle the vineyard and winery business. Rehbein said he and Carl worked with the family throughout the whole process of getting that business going.

MORE: Wisconsin winery: Danzinger Vineyards in Alma

Mel Danzinger told us that the family envisioned the winery and vineyard as “something to keep us out of their hair” referring to his nephews who took over the dairy farm. “We were also looking for something that went from the ground to the consumer, without middlemen or distributor and this is one of the few things where we can do that,” he said, in a telephone interview.

One of Carl Duley's big success stories, in terms of helping farmers transition to new or additional enterprises, is Danzinger Vineyards of Alma, WI.

Finding alternative farm enterprises for farmers in the area has been a passion for Carl but it’s difficult in Buffalo County with the rough terrain, Danzinger said. The county has low population density and only 50 percent of the land in the county is tillable, he added. But customers for the winery come from all over the river valley, including Rochester, Minnesota.

Danzinger said Carl is really good at knowing what programs are available and where grants are available. He and Rehbein found a grant to take a group to Michigan to learn from that state’s well-developed vineyard and wine business sector. The Danzingers came home and decided they would never be able to grow the French grapes that are at home in Michigan, because of the softer climate provided by Lake Michigan, but they are able to grow all the cold-hardy varieties that were developed in Minnesota. Their first vines are now 20 years old.

In a good year they produce 40,000 to 50,000 bottles of wine. Some years, it’s a lot less. Last year was a bumper crop with 74 tons of grapes coming off their vines. “We had to scramble to find homes for it. It’s a lot more than we needed,” he says.

They also had almost more than they could handle when their boutique winery played host to its first wedding. There were 400 guests. After that they decided to limit to 200 the number of wedding guests at one event. They host five to seven weddings each year.

In addition to having Carl’s help on starting the winery, Danzinger made several trips with Carl traveling to hurricane-ravaged states in the South, where the men were part of a contingent of volunteers helping people clean up and repair their homes. “Carl’s one of those selfless people, community oriented. If you’ve got a problem he wants to help you with it. He’s one of those rare people you’d like to have around.”

Those trips, when they camped out in churches and worked all day were “good brotherhood,” says Danzinger. “It feels good to give back.”

Ales as well

Helping to get a successful winery started wasn’t Carl’s only foray into the niche production of “potent potables” as they call them on Jeopardy. Rehbein remembers that in a meeting in the early 2000’s Carl said that farmers in their area should look at production of hops and malting barley because it would be a good fit for the growing microbrewery industry. “He thought it would be a good next step for alternative crops in our area,” Rehbein said.

In those very beginning years, Rehbein said, he handled the hops program and Carl worked on the malting barley side – another ingredient that is essential to making beer. Once Rehbein left his post with Extension, Carl took over both program areas. “Malting barley has a few supply chain and processing restrictions,” Rehbein told us, “but growing hops has really taken off.

Buffalo County Extension agent Carl Duley lifts a glass of ale. Duley continues to plan programs and work with farmers today despite the diagnosis of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“I remember Carl saying that what this industry needs is a growers’ association with oversight for growing, processing and pelletizing,” Rehbein said. They found that in Randy Earnest who has put up a hop yard, built a harvesting system and facilities for processing the crop and turning it into pellets. “What he has done was exactly what Carl talked about 10 or 15 years ago,” he said. “And it has led to the creation of the Wisconsin Hop Exchange cooperative. Carl’s goal for that group has been accomplished.”

That group is committed to providing high quality, locally sourced hops to brewers who valued the local production of hops that provide high quality, fair prices and the ability to support the farmers who grow them. The concept of the co-op is to provide a link between small-scale growers – on the German model – and brewers who see the value of sourcing those hops from these “artisanal” growers. According to the co-op’s website, the additional goal of this model is to build a more stable supply chain and allow its economic effects to ripple through local communities.

Part of helping get that program off the ground involved the “tough job” of meeting with local and regional brew masters, including Bo Belanger at South Shore Brewery in Ashland and Washburn (on Lake Superior’s south shore.) “Carl has worked closely with them,” says Rehbein “and it’s the completion of a circle of programming.”

Locally grown hops

Historically, Wisconsin was a leading producer of hops and barley, Bo Belanger told us. “We should be able to do this.” It became more apparent that something needed to be done when local brewers were hit with a “perfect storm” of conditions in the commodity world that pointed out the importance of sourcing ingredients locally. Brewers like him were determined to find a way to supply what they needed to keep their brews going, but they needed help to find farmers who wanted to try growing these niche crops. “We didn’t know any farmers,” he said.

“That’s when we found Carl and he found the farmers. We also needed help on how to get information and he found that for us,” Belanger said. With that as a start, Belanger says he has now been growing hops for 14 years.

It’s a crop that can’t really be picked by hand and Carl helped Belanger and others in the co-op make connections to commercial machinery. “We found brewers from Colorado to New York who were going through this too. Without Carl and Tim we wouldn’t have known how to make those connections or find the information,” he added.

Hop production became even more important as brewers began making more “hop-forward” beers, like IPA (India Pale Ales), and consumers liked them, he said. The Wisconsin Hop Exchange’s website now lists 28 different hop varieties that are grown locally and are known for certain characteristics.

Because local brewers recognized the value of Wisconsin-grown hops, they invested seed money into the cooperative, which at first was called the Midwest Hops and Barley Cooperative and is now called the Wisconsin Hops and Barley Co-op. “The fun part is there’s no middleman,” he said with a laugh.

“Through the course of running a business you meet special people and Carl is one of them,” Belanger said. “Carl has become a really close friend.”

Ag agent in best sense

Rehbein said that Carl continued to work as the “ag agent of old if you will”, working with farmers and community members while he was also tightly involved in the program areas like the growing of grapes, hops and barley for those budding industries. In addition, he was also very active in his church and volunteered for many years as an Emergency Medical Technician for Alma.

Often, when hurricanes decimated Southern states, Carl would round up a van-load of volunteers and go South to help for a week or two at a time. “He was like the energizer bunny,” Rehbein said.

David Kammel worked for decades as state UW-Extension livestock specialist. He was a specialist who was called in by county agents to help farmers work through projects on ventilation, building construction or farm layout issues when they needed expert advice. “Carl and I started at about the same time and I worked with him for 30-odd years,” Kammel told us.

“Carl is what I would call a model Extension agent,” he said. “He’s a good example of how Extension and the Wisconsin Idea have worked at the farm level. You deal with real-world problems and see how Extension can help in some way,” Kammel said. “He weeded out ideas and we thought about it as a team. He is a good agent.”

One example of this characteristic playing out, Kammel said, was when a late-season snowstorm with wet, heavy snow hit Western Wisconsin and collapsed many barns on the farms that Carl worked with. “Carl realized there was perhaps not enough engineering done when these farm buildings were built, because they are exempt from it. I’m not a structural engineer but I brought in a colleague who is. We looked at situations on the farms and tried to get at why these collapses happened. We came to the conclusion that there were no codes for these buildings but also concluded that it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be better engineered,” Kammel said.

Carl brought the research on the problem to all Extension personnel across the state, Kammel recalls. “It was a great project. The research turned into a couple of papers and consultation with the Wisconsin Post Frame Builders Association. In some of these barn collapses there were problems with no bracing being installed or bracing that had been removed.”

Kammel recalls that Carl also talked to the insurance industry on behalf of farmers to try to get them reduced insurance rates if they had their buildings better engineered to avoid catastrophic collapses and losses.

Dairy and poultry farmer Joe Bragger has a soft spot for Carl, having worked with him on many ideas and projects.

Made all of us a better person

Dairy and poultry farmer Joe Bragger has a soft spot for Carl, having worked with him on many ideas and projects. He praised Carl’s work for facilitating local planning efforts when the frac sand mining furor hit western Wisconsin. “I can’t express enough the work he did facilitating land use planning during that sand mining time. He helped us work through those issues with civil discussion. It was a big issue around here.”

(Now that issue is gone – poof, says Bragger, as the need for the sand disappeared or companies moved on to Texas deposits of the special sand. Some of the companies that mined sand in the area have gone bankrupt, he adds.)

At the time, the issue of frac sand mining pitted neighbors against neighbors and even family members against each other when companies came to the area to mine the special sand deposits that could be used in petroleum production. “Carl always said that the time to do planning is not in a crisis and I have always remembered that,” Bragger said. “He has always had such an open mind to try new things.”

Bragger has produced test plots on his farm of 300 different barley varieties to see how they would perform as part of Carl’s quest to restart barley production in the state. “Barley for malting is a different specialized crop because it has to be able to sprout after harvest and you have to be careful of the protein and toxin levels in it.”

At one point Bragger and the Buffalo County Malting Barley Society produced 10 to 20 percent of the malted barley that went into one of the best-known Wisconsin brews.

Another specialty crop that Bragger worked with Carl on was hemp. Bragger has an interest in growing hemp for the fiber and Carl has helped him with seed selection. “In the county we have tried canola, flax, sunflowers and Carl helped us with statistical analysis. He’s a great mentor and motivator. Carl thinks of the new ideas, the new opportunities for us.”

Bragger has 395 dairy cows on three different farms in the Independence area. They are in different locations because the topography at his home farm prevents him from adding on there. When Bragger was growing up, there were 800 dairy farms in the county and now there are 76 left. “Carl is the person who looked for other opportunities for farmers who were no longer milking cows.”

Bragger said it has been nice having someone like Carl who wasn’t from the area, but who put down roots and stayed in Buffalo County. “It sure was nice having someone whose been here and seen all these changes. He coached volleyball, volunteered as an EMT, taught management classes for farmers.

“Carl made all of us a better person. I’ll follow him anywhere,” Bragger said.


Carl was diagnosed with ALS about a year-and-a-half ago and the disease has now progressed to the point where he has to use a motorized scooter to get around. He joked to Rehbein that he had never spent as much on a car as he did on the scooter, which is specially designed for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous baseball player who had it.

The rare neurological disease affects motor neurons, the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. The disease is progressive, meaning it gets worse over time. There is no cure or treatment to reverse its progression.

Ales for ALS

Rehbein said one of the fundraising efforts for ALS research dovetails amazingly well with the hops program that he and Carl got involved in. When they were first looking into what it would take to get hops re-started in Wisconsin, they visited farms in Washington state, near Yakima. One farm family there, Rehbein remembers, has a genetic predisposition to ALS and the owners of that farm initiated “Ales for ALS” to raise money for research.

Hundreds of local brewers in the United States, and around the world, are involved in the program to fund research at a non-profit biotech company that has the sole goal of finding a treatment or cure for the disease. Since 2013, over $5 million has been raised for ALS research through “Ales for ALS.” Brewers from 47 states and six countries have participated, brewing delicious beers while raising awareness of ALS. (For more see the website

“It was a natural fit for some of the brewers we have here to be part of it,” says Rehbein. “We met the family, the hop-growing farmers who started it.”

Now fundraisers that include Carl are bringing together the brewers he helped get started with locally grown hops and research into the disease that he has.