INDEPENDENCE, Wis. – From the pages of the New York Times to the edge of his manure pit and from his back-40 to Washington, D.C., it’s anybody’s guess where to find Joe Bragger.

“The next adventure is a little bit of Farm Bureau,” he said of his December election as Wisconsin Farm Bureau president.

He’s is excited about all the possibilities Farm Bureau has to lead the nation’s farmers to better markets and new technology, he said. And he’s excited he’s going to be a part of it all.

Joe Bragger’s story starts with his parents coming to the United States from Switzerland, each of them one of 12 children looking for more opportunities in America. His mom worked as a housekeeper for the Watkins family in Winona, Minnesota. His dad worked for a Swiss immigrant in Buffalo County, Wisconsin. After they met and married, the couple started their own dairy farm in the town of Montana in the county.

When Bragger was 21 years old his dad died in a tractor accident. Until that time Joe Bragger’s chores centered around fieldwork but his father’s death forced him to quickly learn to milk cows. He and his mother kept the farm going until his younger brother, Dan Bragger, finished college and joined them. At that time the barn was in poor shape; the choice was to fix it or quit. The family decided to keep going; a freestall barn and parlor were built.

The Bragger family currently milks 356 cows on three farms, raises 400 brown trout, and plants 1,400 acres of crops for feed plus soybeans for a cash crop. Joe Bragger’s wife, Noel Bragger, has a Pilgrim’s Pride pullet barn with 62,000 birds; Dan Bragger and his wife, Mary Bragger, have two broiler barns.

Along with that Joe Bragger is always experimenting with new ideas and new crops such as beer barley, canola and flax. This past year he tried hemp with the hope of building a fiber industry.

“It’s always nice to try something different and new,” he said.

Bragger likes his enterprises working together, he said, each giving a unique aspect to the operation. The main Bragger Family Dairy farm has all the feed and the calves as well as the main milking string, which are milked three times each day.

When cows are at less than an 80-pound-per-day milking threshold, they are moved to a second barn with a compost-bedding-pack barn. There they are milked two times each day.

Heifers are milked in a third facility with 59 tiestalls, which gives them a chance to mature without competition from older cows. Each of the three farms has its own manager.

Pit manure is pumped onto fields by a custom applicator who has the equipment to move manure 300 feet up a bluff to ridge ground. That results in less compaction in the fields, less wear on local roads and less dust on the driveway. Chicken manure is used on fields that are too far away for pumping, giving Bragger flexibility in using all his nutrients.

Fish are raised in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and a local sportsman’s club that owns the fish. The fish are used for stocking streams, although Bragger has no need of them on his farm. He has a good supply of natural-growing brook trout from his healthy stream water.

Cover crops are used to help keep the water clean.

“I’m green, I’m sold,” he said.

After a heavy rain he could see significant soil loss in his soybean field where he terminated his rye, he said. But another area of the field where he left the rye living held the soil.

Trying to manage the farm as well as work for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau will be a challenge that Bragger said he’s willing to tackle.

“As Noel says, we’re going to take this one day, one week at a time,” he said.

During his time leading the organization, Bragger will send a caution to himself.

“I want to be a real farmer,” he said. “If I’m not a real farmer, pretty quick you forget. I think it’s important that I continue farming and being involved 100 percent and not become removed from what’s going on. It’s one thing to talk about the guy who can’t pay his bills; it’s another thing to be the guy who can’t pay his bills.”

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To be continued …

LeeAnne Bulman writes about agriculture from her farm overlooking the beautiful Danuser Valley on Wisconsin’s west coast. When not writing she helps her husband on their small grain and beef farm.