Grassland, opportunity and Badger football

Bob Panzer
Bob Panzer

This past spring has been one of shock and awe in Wisconsin. Rapid changes have been set in motion within dairy marketing and processing. Lots of blame has been tossed around but not a whole lot of direction has been set forth by our leaders within government or business.

Old timers in my neighborhood would say this is normal and that Mother Nature will end up sifting out the industry. Mother Nature will bring drought, floods, frost, excess heat and other poor growing conditions that will shorten feed supplies and reduce production.

This spring’s shock and awe also brings opportunities. Sometimes we have to look long and hard for the opportunities that are down the road. The land clearing of Scotland and the genocide via starvation practiced in Ireland in the 1840’s harmed large numbers of people causing great destruction to the rural economy and rural cultural of Scotland and Ireland.

Many suffered, many felt pain and agony, and great losses of life and harm resulted. Thousands were lucky to escape and move on and find opportunities in new lands. Uncertainty and fear was replaced in the years after the destruction. It was not any easy journey but the individuals that made the steps in the journey reached out and searched out for new activities and opportunities to build new lives for themselves and their families.

In Wisconsin, we benefited from the arrival of new immigrants from Scotland and Ireland. The new talent contributed greatly to improving our lives.

A few years back I was at a Badger football game at UW-Madison. It was a beautiful Saturday for a game and the Badgers were playing great. I soon got started talking with the fan next to me and found that he was a fellow UW grad and that he was in the publishing business.

We got around to exchanging some thoughts and discovered that both of us had a strong interest in rural Wisconsin. We then formally exchanged business cards and I found that he had been the publisher of the magazine Rural Enterprise. The magazine had been the result of the farm economic crisis of the 1980’s.

Karl Ohm was the fan sitting next to me and he shared his experiences of publishing the magazine and of other magazines he has published and edited in his career. Rural Enterprise was a magazine that offered ideas to farmers and others that had experienced the shock and awe of the 1980’s farm crisis.

Mr. Ohm had featured ideas of alternative enterprises, alternative marketing ideas, marketing tips, and new concepts on how to make a living while staying a part of rural America. The magazine was launched in 1986 and ceased publication in 1992. When the Badger football game was over my conversation ended with a promise by Mr. Ohm that he would send me a full set of the Rural Enterprise and in a few months I did get a large package from Mr. Ohm with the complete set of the Rural Enterprise.

What opportunities exist for those that want to continue to live and work in rural Wisconsin but face challenges of staying active in the production of milk? I do not know the answers but encourage those impacted to not give up and to look for alternatives. I know the journey is not easy. Mr. Ohm’s sharing of his thoughts on a magazine that ran its course in a 6-year journey demonstrates that challenges exist in all industries. The 6-year run also demonstrates that if things improve enough in the market place that interest in alternatives soon fades.

I reviewed the past issues of the Rural Enterprise magazine. Opportunities that were presented over the years included: bed and breakfast operations, pick your own fruit, home based businesses, improving farmer market experiences, getting tourists to buy your products, dried flowers, sponsoring corn roasts, exotic animals, Christmas trees, farm raised fish, and successfully borrowing funds to launch a new business. Like any changes in life there are challenges and opportunities.

I encourage you to use sound decision-making when looking at making changes in your farm operation. Emotions often drive changes. Our leaders often use emotion to drive their own agendas. The recent blame game is a great example of how little amounts of facts have been bent, diluted, and manipulated for gain and of little value in moving towards solutions to the dairy industry challenges.

Bob Panzer lives and farms in Chippewa County, WI. He serves as a Land Manager for Pifer's Auction and Realty, Eau Claire, WI. He may be contacted at