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A teachable moment

Agriculture.com Staff 01/11/2011 @ 10:53am

By Jim Kneiszel

As the lights come back up, a gathering of about 20 area school administrators and school board members quietly contemplate a 10-minute promotional video outlining the massive dairy operation owned by John Pagel near Green Bay, Wisconsin.

After seeing many professionals—agronomists, herd managers, and equipment operators—go about their business on Wisconsin’s largest family-owned dairy farm, one school official expresses deep regret that his high school’s agricultural education program has eroded over the past decade. Learning that one in four jobs in his Kewaunee County are in ag-related fields, he pledges to restore ag education.

That kind of awakening about modern agriculture is just what Pagel is aiming for when he decided his education efforts would match staggering milk output at his expanding farm.

At Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, many notable agribusiness stories are emerging, including a recent ramp up from 1,500 to 4,600 cows being milked three times daily on a 72-place rotating parlor and a new $3.2 million methane gas digester that produces enough power to light the nearby village of Kewaunee.

But to Pagel, those stories don’t gain traction if his neighbors, the local community, and consumers don’t fully understand their significance. To build public acceptance for his large-scale farm and to promote agriculture careers, Pagel welcomes thousands of visitors to take a peek inside his operation.

When he expanded his offices recently, Pagel also added a multimedia education facility. The nearly 6,000-square-foot center includes areas to view and photograph the milking parlor, a reception room with a scale model of the operation (shown above), a 60-seat multimedia theater, and a place to prepare and serve refreshments. He also installed an elevator to the second-floor to accommodate elderly or disabled visitors.

Pagel can’t point to a monetary payback on his $100,000 investment in the education center and more than $20,000 to produce the promotional film. But with the 4,000 to 6,000 visitors who came through in 2009 (his first year with the facility), Pagel believes he’s spreading a lot of good will for farming.

“For too long, too many people have been removed from agriculture,’’ Pagel says. “In general, farming is still respected, but large-scale agriculture gets a bad rap. We’re trying to get people out here to show them how the farm operates, how we take care of the people and animals, and how big is not bad.’’

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