At 70+ miles per hour, Wisconsin’s welcome signs are but a blur to motorists. The signs are as iconic to Wisconsin as beer, cheese, and the Green Bay Packers. But did you know? They measure 10 feet tall by 11 feet wide and contain three massive logs depicting the pillars of Wisconsin’s economy, Recreation, on the left; Industry, across the top; and Agriculture, on the right. The design is unchanged over the last 50-60+ years, even with the advent of modern branding.
Almost 25 of the signs exist across Wisconsin and most are located at shared borders with Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan or near travel centers for visitors to enjoy, photograph, and post on social media. St. Croix County has three welcome signs – along eastbound I-94 in Hudson, eastbound State Highway 64/35 just across the St. Croix Crossing bridge in the Town of St. Joseph, and at the bottom of the Houlton Hill near the historic Lift Bridge, also in St. Joe. The Houlton sign affords walkers, runners, and bicyclists the opportunity for photo opp’s at a more leisurely pace since the Lift Bridge opened as a recreational amenity.
Wisconsin’s ag agency says agriculture is a big economic driver, contributing almost $105 billion (with a “b”) to the state’s economy. And, there’s more to Wisconsin than milk and cheese. Snap beans, cranberries, ginseng, mink pelts, dry whey, milk goats, and corn silage all rank Number One in the U.S.
June is dairy month. For dairy farmers, so are the other 11 months. It’s an around-the-clock operation, filled with science, technology, and innovation. Wisconsin is home to over 7,000 dairy farms, more than any other state, and 1.28 million cows. That’s over 14 cows for every resident of St. Croix County. Before 600+ varieties and 3.36 billion pounds of cheese can be produced, there’s a four-legged, brown-eyed beauty involved. She’d be a top draft choice in professional sports, based on pedigree alone. This is important when deciding on Asiago, Gorgonzola, aged cheddar, or Gouda at a grocery store.
Despite several tough years, there’s a place for the dairy industry in all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Grandpa and grandma and their parents may look back romantically when they talk about a big, 40-head farm. Dairies have gone the way of bigger just like manufacturers or software development businesses.
Challenges are ahead for dairy operators and among them is land and environmental stewardship. Livelihoods depend on it. A Google source says a mature dairy cow weighing 1,400 pounds may generate around 14 gallons of waste per day. Spreading and on-site storage create long-term troubles. A nice size dairy may have 1,200 or 1,400 cows, so a guesstimation on waste can easily be calculated. Enough said. It’s time to address the problem.
Gaining traction around the globe are technologies like anaerobic digesters and biogas digesters and spin-off products like renewable natural gas (RNG). Large systems process dairy waste and convert it to a couple of byproducts, a dry fertilizer and pipeline quality RNG. Dairies, wastewater treatment plants, and landfills are all good sources for capturing RNG. Best of all, greenhouse gas reductions are possible – all from dairies and those brown-eyed beauties.
Going back to the welcome signs, let’s keep agriculture top of mind. St. Croix County’s branding tagline is Innovation Through Cooperation. There’s a role for county government and dairies to find solutions. It will involve innovation and cooperation. Meanwhile, here’s to milk and cheese and ice cream. Make it a double scoop of innovation and cooperation.