FENNIMORE, Wis. — Wisconsin’s agriculture secretary put the weight of a growing world on the backs of about 20 students Monday morning during a visit to Southwest Wisconsin Technical College.
“In your lifetime, there’s going to be another 2 billion mouths to feed,” Ben Brancel said. “Everybody tells me China will produce more, and they will, but they will never keep up with their population.”
The prediction came during a visit that included discussions about agriculture industry trends, land prices and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
Faculty members were quick to point out the technical college is expanding, too.
Spokeswoman Sue Reukauf said Southwest Tech is expanding its offerings in agriculture with the hope of at least doubling the program’s student body to more than 300 people. This will be driven by an expansion of the specialty programs available.
For example, the school’s farm business program currently focuses on dairy, she said. But under the expansion beginning this fall, the school will offer farm business specialties in livestock, crop and agriculture mechanics as well.
“It’s been a huge undertaking by this ag department,” Reukauf said. “They have put in thousands of hours working on it.”
Brancel said he appreciated learning about the school’s expansion and meeting with students, some of whom already are in business.
“It was a great opportunity for us to learn and a great chance for businesses to question us, share with us and give guidance to us,” Brancel said. “It’s a two-way street at each one of these locations we go to.”
Student Austin Williamson, 21, asked about the challenges and competitiveness of land rental for crop farmers starting out in the industry without name recognition.
“Getting in from time to time can be lucky,” Brancel said. “Getting in when corn is selling at eight bucks is not always lucky. It can be a curse.”
He suggested good communication is important with a landlord and can go a long way in building relationships. Patience, too, is key.
“My suggestion to you is be patient and watch and don’t just sit back and do nothing,” Brancel said. “Make sure you’re studying the marketplace and all of the other costs that are involved, and then you can establish a rental you think you can work with and find someone who’s willing to rent at that rate to help you be successful.”
Brancel also discussed drones and their use in agriculture. He said several state and federal agencies are working together “to start looking at drone practices.” Wisconsin legislators passed a bill this session that would prohibit flying drones over prisons.
“It’s a technology that’s wonderful but can be misused,” Brancel said, noting issues in other states in which drones flew over prisons to deliver contraband.
Derek Dachelet, dean of industry, trades and agriculture at Southwest Tech, said the school would like to train students to use drones but has run into regulatory issues.
“We’re struggling with compliance in order to educate people on how to use this technology,” Dachelet said. “It’s not going to stop. it’s so important and powerful.”
Lancaster resident and Southwest Tech student Winston Zenz, 21, said drones will be a helpful addition to the industry.
“I liked the drones aspect, because where I’m from … we have 16,000 acres and I have to do all the scouting,” Zenz said. “Hopefully something can progress more to make it easier for people to use drones.”