Wisconsin agriculture secretary to retire next month

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Associate Editor
Ben Brancel

MADISON - The head of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will step down next month after seven years on the job.

Gov. Scott Walker's office issued a news release July 20 saying Ben Brancel will retire from the agency on Aug. 13.

“Ben has served with distinction as a state representative and speaker of the State Assembly, as DATCP secretary under both our administration and Governor Tommy Thompson’s administration, and as a leader of a number of agricultural organizations in our state," Walker said in a statement. "His leadership and counsel on agriculture and trade issues have been invaluable to me, and I thank him for his service and dedication to the people of Wisconsin. We wish Ben and his wife, Gail, all the very best as they begin this new and exciting chapter.”

In a letter released by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DACTP) Brancel said he gave much thought to when it would be the right time to retire. 

"I came to the conclusion that there always will be unfinished business to be done, but now is the time to return to my family's farm full-time in Marquette County as we plan for our first ever production sale," said Brancel in the letter. "My son and daughter-in-law are now the sixth generation to farm the land. My first job was a farmer, and my last job will be a farmer." 

Brancel became interested in public service when he was in high school on a national 4-H trip where he met his congressman, Melvin Laird. 

Brancel served in the state Assembly from 1986 to 1997. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed him DACTP secretary in 1997.

In 2001, Brancel started as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. In 2009, he became the state liaison for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UW-Madison. 

Walker appointed Brancel as secretary of DATCP in January 2011 and again in 2015. 

"It has been my pleasure to serve as Secretary," said Brancel. "I especially want to thank Governor Walker for the privilege to serve in his cabinet. I am grateful that I was able to be part of this administration, serving farmers, protecting consumers and supporting businesses."

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte said Farm Bureau members owe Brancel a "debt of gratitude" for the support he has given to Wisconsin farmers throughout his career. During his career, Brancel helped enact Wisconsin's use value assessment law, which taxes farmland at the value of its use as opposed to its market value, Holte explained. Additionally, he also updated Wisconsin's right to farm and trespass law. 

"Whether it is statewide, nationally or internationally, Secretary Brancel does a notable job representing Wisconsin farmers. Secretary Brancel understands our agricultural and rural communities because he is first a farmer," Holte said in a statement. "He understands the trials and tribulations our farmers face daily and that has always been reflected in his work.

Wisconsin Farmer's Union President Darin Von Ruden got to know Brancel when working on milk pricing issues in the mid-1990s, when Brancel was serving as state representative. 

"Throughout his decades of service, he has always put Wisconsin agriculture first. He has traveled countless miles to meetings around the state, listening to farmers and creating an open dialogue on the issues that matter to rural Wisconsinites," Von Ruden said in a statement. "We (Farmers Union) would like to wish Ben and his family all the best as he returns to the family farm.”

Brancel said he was "humbled by the great opportunities" he had in his three decades of service. 

"My work has taken me around the world, something I never would have imagined when I was young working in my barnyard," Brancel said. "I have always said that in agriculture, we are a family. Thank you for letting me be a part of it."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.