Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wisconsin Dells - say what?...

We have family and friends who have habitually (and of their own volition) frequented the Wisconsin Dells. But they have never, I suggest, been there on the (possibly) coldest night of then year.

Well, this speaker-for-hire is about to, I think. Tomorrow I address the WI Corn/Soy Conference in...well, somewhere 5.5 hours from Chrisman.

And oddly enough, I'm OK with it.

Wisconsin has become the crossroads (or collision location) for many trends in rural America.
  1. Immigration - what do you think is keeping small dairies alive here? Talk to people in Appleton about Hispanic workers.
  2. Ethanol - despite variable corn production, the state has built several ethanol plants that consitute a huge boon to corn growers and a definite challenge to their vaunted dairy industry.
  3. Technology - what do robot milkers mean to the picturesque WI dairy farms?
  4. Tourism - good Lord, this place is beautiful. No wonder most of Chicago decamps to Door County every summer.
  5. Hunting - these people take their deer seriously. And often. As a non-gun owner, I feel like a visitor from another planet.
  6. Community - the strong yeoman ethic pervades the speech and alliances of rural Wisconsin. I am torn between the respect for the individual and the group in these debates.
  7. Outsourcing - talk to people about manufacturing jobs leaving. My take is they cannot equate the service industry with the same moral value. This will be their undoing, I fear.
The agricultural world could do worse than watch the folks in Wisconsin solve these challenges. They are people with values and purpose and a deeply shared identity (Go Packers!). If they can't make the transition to the next phase of agriculture with kindness and equanimity, I suspect few others will.

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