Dale Beaty, the new Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation chief administrative officer, grew up on a small dairy farm.
In seventh grade, he moved away from home to begin his first job working as a milker and farmhand. He graduated from Hills-boro High School, then put a lot of miles between himself and Vernon County — including a career in the military and a degree in agricultural economics from UW-Madison.
Beaty learned a lot. “As a U.S. Army officer and Battery Commander, I was responsible for every aspect of the 110 soldiers’ lives in my care, from making sure they had adequate housing and food, to leading and managing their physical fitness training, specific job training, and training their warfighting skills,” he says. “As a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, I learned mission accomplishment is paramount and that failure to accomplish the mission is never an option because there are always ways to adapt, improvise, and overcome all obstacles to get the job done.”
Now, Beaty has the chance to use what he learned as an advocate for Wisconsin farmers.
Q: What is the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and what is your position?
A: The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation is a nonprofit agriculture association of, by, and for its farmer and agriculturist members. We are the state’s largest general farm organization representing farms of all sizes, commodities and management styles. Unlike most businesses and nonprofit associations, Farm Bureau has a bottom-up organizational structure – not top down. Thus, the power, and most significant leadership of our organization, is vested in our county Farm Bureaus. Our members belong to one of 61 county Farm Bureaus in the state. The members in each county elect a board of directors, people with a direct stake in farming and/or the broad field of agriculture, to plan and conduct local activities and to represent their interest.
As chief administrative officer (CAO), I am responsible for implementing the policies established by our state board of directors, managing the 26 members of our awesome staff team, and carrying out the day-to-day operations of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and its subsidiary organizations.
Q: From your point of view, how’s the future of farming in Wisconsin look?
A: The future of farming in Wisconsin has never been brighter. Our farmer members are always looking for ways to improve how they farm and the food they grow. By using new technologies, farmers are now able to produce more with less. That’s a good thing not just for farmers but for everyone because it allows farmers to earn a successful living and for you to conveniently pick up food at the grocery store. Because our farmer members consistently produce safe and healthy food for you, you aren’t required to be a hunter and gatherer to survive.
Q: You have worked in training and leadership development for the Farm Bureau for several years. What exactly have you trained people to do?
A: Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked in a number of different training capacities within our organization. I’ve managed and conducted training with our Young Farmer and Agriculturist (YFA) state committee and program. Our YFA members are between the ages of 18 and 35. I’ve done the same with our Collegiate Farm Bureau members at UW-Madison, Platteville and River Falls. I manage and lead our Leadership Institute training program, which is a yearlong graduate level leadership development class limited to 15 of our members each year. I conduct training for our state staff, newly hired Rural Mutual Insurance Co. agents, and our county Farm Bureau leaders.
Q: Is it harder to make it as a farmer today than it was 30 or 40 years ago?
A: For those looking to begin their career in farming, it’s definitely harder to have the financial resources available to get started. The price of land, buildings, equipment, fuel and many other farm inputs keep rising. It’s a difficult proposition for someone who has a direct family connection to take over and maintain the ownership of a farm. It’s an even harder proposition for those who want to begin farming from scratch.
In my grandfather’s time, you could literally work yourself to success on the farm. Hard work and persistence was all you needed to make it. That’s not the case anymore. In addition to working hard, today’s farmers must be able to run a successful business. They must be skilled in financial and employee management. The equipment they use is highly advanced, so they must be willing to learn and adapt quickly to ever- changing and improving technologies. Many of today’s farmers are more involved in the marketing of their crops and animals. Plus, they must be constantly aware of the tax, regulations and other policies government imposes on them at the local, state and national levels.
With all that being said, technology and economies of scale have made it easier to be a farmer. In the past, farming was very labor intensive and hard on the human body. New equipment and building designs have helped reduce the impact on a farmer’s back, knees and hips. Many new safety features help save farmers from injury and death.
Many people decry large farms; however, larger farms support more family members. In fact, about 97 percent of Wisconsin’s farms are family-owned. More family members involved in the farm means there is an opportunity to get away from the farm to attend a child’s sporting event or to actually take a vacation. In some instances, becoming bigger has allowed farmers to dramatically improve their quality of life.
Q: Has the Internet changed the agriculture industry significantly?
A: The Internet has dramatically changed farming. In the past, the availability of new knowledge and how that new knowledge was disseminated to farmers was limited and cumbersome. Now, new knowledge is at a farmer’s fingertips with just a few clicks or swipes on a computer screen. It’s also had a dramatic effect on how farmers and farming is portrayed to the public. Some farmers are very proactive and creative in telling their story and building relationships with people well beyond the boundaries of their farm by effectively using social media. For example, Carrie Mess, aka “Dairy Carrie” is a Farm Bureau member who does an awesome job of helping others understand how she and her husband, Patrick, dairy farm via her blog and social media pages.
Q: What is your perfect day off?
A: My perfect day off is relaxing with family around a table of food prepared with love.
Q: You were an Army Ranger. What’s the most interesting place you’ve been to?
A: I served in the Army during the Cold War, so I never served in combat. I was stationed in Germany (West Germany at the time) and Hawaii.
I have a passion for people and history, so I really enjoyed the people and history of Germany and all of Europe. I was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in the center of the island of Oahu. Pearl Harbor was just down the road about 20 minutes away. Also, I could be on a sandy beach with a tropical breeze blowing across my face within 10 minutes with pineapple and sugarcane fields along the way to the beach. It was a magical place.