I heard the news that United States Agriculture Secretary Vilsack was going to be in Wisconsin, and they were looking for a dairy farm location to host his visit. Nick Levendofsky, the government relations director at Wisconsin Farmers Union, suggested our farm would be a perfect location when he was asked by staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Vilsack needed a place to talk about the Dairy Margin Coverage program. Nick asked me if we signed up. Absolutely, we did. We talked about how the program has been expanded to allow dairy farmers to better protect their operations. This is an important safety-net program and will help us get through another year and get additional assistance through the new Supplemental DMC.
I was excited to receive a call on Sunday afternoon from Juan, the advance lead for Vilsack. He requested a visit to our farm to check if it would be a good fit for a stop on the way. Vilsack would be in Bloomer earlier in the day and then proceed to Chicago.
Juan mentioned he was an early riser and wanted to come Monday at 8 a.m. But in the back of my head, I was thinking that is when I start to feed calves.
When he arrived and looked into our tour barn, buildings and the dairy barn, he got excited. I told him we could move out the antique truck, collector cars and the camper we had tucked into the barn for the winter. The shed has heat and room for seating. We had a few cow-spotted picnic tables for when I have tours for visitors to wait. He was texting and taking photos. He looked at the robots, and while we were walking around, we waved to Anna. Then that sealed the deal.
“Would Anna be willing to talk to Secretary Vilsack about her role on the farm, and why she chose to come back to the farm?”
Tuesday, Juan texted me at 7 a.m. telling me they’d like to move forward with the event at our farm. He gave me instructions of what he would like to see in the tour barn and that the security detail were in the Madison area and would like to stop out to do a 10- to 15-minute tour.
As soon as we heard the news, I called Duane and Anna, and we started on Juan’s list of requests; more signage, a tractor here and one there, more tables and a flag. We have a United States flag but not one for Wisconsin. It was a whirl wind after that.
Jonathan and Russell, the security detail, showed up, and I gave them a quick tour around. Jonathan asked questions and then mentioned they already had a lot of information on us.
Wednesday, Juan came by again, making sure we had a handle on his list. He took more photos and gave me an itinerary and then he was off.
The press started arriving shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday, and Vilsack arrived around 2:30. We greeted him outside our dairy barn and did a brief introduction and then toured the robot room. Anna explained to the press and Vilsack about how the robots milk our cows. We then had a talking session in front of the cows. Vilsack asked Anna why she wanted to be involved in the farm. She told her story, and I started to cry. It was the first time I heard her say why she wanted to farm with us.
Eventually, we walked over to the tour shed where there was an audience of over 20 stakeholders from many areas of the dairy industry. Vilsack took and answered questions. He touched on many of the programs USDA is working on. Many of the people thanked him for the programs that are helping their farms and dairy organizations.
The day was a blur; it went so fast, but the take away that I got from the whole event was that dairy farm organizations need to work together to come up with a solution and then come forth to present to the USDA. It doesn’t make sense for the USDA to come up with programs that are not able to meet the needs of farmers in different parts of the country. The rest of the 99% of the population doesn›t know what we do, how we do it, and how we need to fix it. Different types of dairy farms, and of all sizes, need to start the talk about solutions to fix the problems we all face. We, the dairy farmers of the United States, need to work together.
    Tina Hinchley, and her husband,  Duane, daughter Anna, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  The Hinchley’s have been hosting farm tour for over 25 years.