Marathon County Can’t Succeed If Agriculture Fails

Written by Brad Karger

I didn’t grow up in a farming family, but my dad worked for the Great Northern Railroad, and as a result, we lived in some agricultural communities.

Here in Marathon County, we enjoy a mix of urban and rural life. Sometimes, however, those of us who live in the urban center lose track of the “big picture” and how important agriculture and agribusiness are to the success of our County.

The Marathon County Partnership for Progressive Agriculture (PPA) is a nonprofit organization that helps raise awareness about the importance of agriculture and agribusiness in Marathon County. The PPA has put together this powerful 4-minute video I invite you watch.

In case you missed these poignant facts in the video, let me point out:

  • Agriculture and agribusiness provide 11,755 jobs in Marathon County.
  • Agriculture and agribusiness account for $2.7 billion dollars in economic activity in Marathon County.
  • 48% of the land in Marathon County is farmland.

I can’t tell you how many planning meetings I’ve attended where someone chimes in and says:

 “We need to preserve the rural landscape of Marathon County.”

When prodded to give more specifics, respondents will often say that dairy agriculture is an important part of our heritage, and they prefer compact urban development to residential and commercial sprawl. But what they often miss is:

Agriculture is a business — and a hard business to be successful in at that! 

With 30 years of experience in listening to the County’s experts in agriculture, I’ve learned that dairy prices rise and fall often in 3-year cycles driven by supply and demand and complicated by a Federal farm bill that introduces price supports on a 5-year cycle.

Dairy is our dominate agricultural industry, but we produce more than milk — products like ginseng, maple syrup, Christmas trees, potatoes, and other vegetables are produced in Marathon County, too!

Lonely Oak Farm in Milladore is a vendor at the Wausau Winter Market. Formerly located on River Drive, the winter market now takes place at the Boys & Girls Club of the Wausau Area at 1710 N. Second Street in Wausau. The winter market runs through the last weekend in April. In May, the vendors will head back outside to River Drive to begin the summer Farmers’ Market.

Marathon County leaders have long recognized the importance of agriculture to our economy and rural communities. We’ve understood the continual need for these businesses to shift practices to stay competitive.

Here are just a few of the things that Marathon County has done to support the agricultural industry:

    • The County provided North Central Technical College with a $1 million grant in 2010 to develop the “Agriculture Center of Excellence” located on County Highway K. That program addresses the educational needs of industry entrants, preparing them in herd management, animal nutrition, crop management, farm equipment, business technology, and finance. Check out their upcoming Agriculture classes on Tractor Safety and Maintenance, Gardening for Beginners, and more. NTC_logo


    • Marathon County University of Wisconsin–Extension is a partnership of Marathon County and the University of Wisconsin to share technical expertise, research, and knowledge with producers. “The Wisconsin Idea” is to extend the resources of the public university to every corner of our State. Marathon County’s University of Wisconsin–Extension has had a faculty position dedicated to agriculture going back to the beginning of the County, and we are currently in the process of adding another with a horticulture emphasis.uwex-logo
    • Marathon County and Lincoln County (along with the Central Wisconsin River Graziers Network) have a history of working together to provide technical and educational assistance to farmers to implement a managed grazing approach to dairy farming. This strategy is not for everyone, but it’s been successful in many cases in reducing the cost of production and increasing profitability for producers. Their Heart of Wisconsin 24th Annual Winter Grazing Conference will take place on Thursday, March 8, 2018 (get the Registration Form here).Lincoln_County_logo



Marathon County has a long history of leveraging partnerships to support the agricultural economy because it believes that our County cannot realize its potential if agriculture fails. Unsure about that?

Well, try this:

Close your eyes and form a picture in your mind of Marathon County succeeding… Not minimum success or just getting by, but Marathon County being outrageously successful and achieving the best that anyone could hope for.

Now add to that picture the failure of agriculture, the lost economic activity, lost jobs, and the lost vitality of our rural communities.

You can’t integrate the two pictures, can you? I didn’t think so.

That’s because success in Marathon County can only go so far unless the agricultural industry succeeds.

Marathon County is an urban–rural mix, and unless both sides of the equation are successful, we will not succeed as a County. {Tweet this.}

If YOU want to support agriculture in Marathon County, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Buy locally grown foods available at one of Marathon County’s farmers’ markets, or purchase a farm share of organic vegetables from a Community Supported Agriculture vendor like Stony Acres Farm in Athens or Lonely Oak Farm in Milladore, where you place your food dollar directly in the hands of a local family farm that puts together a box of their vegetables for you each week. Local producers who sell directly to the consumer cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food.
Tony Schultz and son Riley, of Stoney Acres Farm in Athens, with County Administrator Brad Karger. Tony helps to organize the Wausau Winter Market, which draws hundreds of people each week.
  • Become a member of the Partnership for Progressive Agriculture (PPA) and be part of an organization formed for the specific purpose of supporting agriculture in Marathon County.
  • Attend the June Dairy Breakfast or visit the Ag Adventure Tent at the Wisconsin Valley Fair in August.
  • Encourage young people to explore a career in agriculture. Exciting jobs in food science, veterinary medicine, horticulture, equipment operation and repair, food packaging, and agribusiness management abound — some of which involve owning or managing farms and others of which operate businesses like insurance and lending that exist to support farms. The career coaches at Northcentral Technical College could be a great resource in learning what opportunities exist.
  • Be more aware of the foods you eat. This tiny act alone allows you to make informed and healthful choices — and during that process, you just might discover that locally grown food tastes and looks better! You can learn about Slow Food Marathon County in Katie Rosenberg’s article “Changing the World One Bite at a Time.”


Thanks for supporting agriculture and agribusiness in Marathon County!

Brad Karger - Marathon County AdministratorBrad Karger

Marathon County Administrator

In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $165 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday.  Email Brad Karger.

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