Continuing the good fight

Von Ruden re-elected as Wisconsin Farmers Union president


WESTBY, Wis. — Darin Von Ruden is continuing his work as president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union while he and his son continue to live out the transition plan of the family’s dairy farm near Westby. 

While the organization continues to address concerns about the upcoming farm bill, it is also focusing on concentrations in agriculture and fair trade as well as growing memberships.

All the work is done with family farming in mind.

“I just believe in the true value of family farming,” Von Ruden said. “Whether it’s dairy farming, crop farming or whatever, it fits our values.”

The biggest project for the organization right now is the purchase of its new office building in Chippewa Falls. The site will serve as the organization’s new headquarters. The 45,000-square-foot building will serve a much wider purpose as well. The first floor will feature restaurants that promote farm-to-table dining and areas for vendors.

The second floor will be the office space and a large gathering area for educational purposes and meetings. This will also be available to the community since Chippewa Falls does not currently have any space available with a capacity of more than 100 people.

The third floor will consist of apartments and a bed and breakfast.

Von Ruden said the building is a way to diversify the organization’s business model and keep a steady income stream.

“I put a commitment on being a farmer, but now my son owns the farm,” Von Ruden said. “So hopefully with a good business model here, we can build this to be a profit center for this organization, too, one that the next generation of Farmers Union members can have something to be proud of.”

Membership of the organization grew last year and now numbers about 2,000 family memberships. Von Ruden said the boost came in part because partnerships were formed that focus on local food programs and also work to help minorities and disadvantaged individuals.

As president, Von Ruden is concerned about the continued concentration trends that are resulting in the declining number of dairy farms. With 2024 being an election year, the Wisconsin Farmers Union is working to improve the dairy program. Von Ruden would like to see a farm bill passed so that people in the dairy industry know what they are dealing with.

“Looking at the 2024 farm bill is certainly front and center for us,” Von Ruden said. “We’re seeing some renewed enthusiasm. We’ve got another nine months to work on it, so can we get a growth management plan into it too?”

He also said the organization does not favor the make allowance processes that are being considered in the Federal Milk Marketing Order hearing process. While he understands that processors’ costs are going up, so are the farmers’. Historically, Von Ruden said whenever the processors have seen a make share increase, the farmers continue to receive a smaller share of the consumer’s dollar.

The organization is also lobbying for a competition title in the farm bill that leads to more than six or seven companies buying meat and ensuring there are at least 30 processors for dairy.

Von Ruden said he believes it is important to work in partnership with other organizations to get legislation passed. Wisconsin Farmers Union has a history of collaboration with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and currently works with Marbleseed and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 

“I like to build bridges,” Von Ruden said. “Let’s work together on those issues we have in common, get those accomplished and then move on.”

At the end of the day, the challenges and concerns hit home for Von Ruden, as he remains on his family farm supporting his son and hopes his parents’ legacy will continue.

“We’re working on those farm issues that are going to be hopefully improving the economic viability of rural communities and farms,” Von Ruden said. “That’s why I’m still here; because I love it.”


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