15 minutes with Wisconsin farmer, Doug Rebout

Wisconsin farmer and advocate works with elected officials.

In south-central Wisconsin, Doug Rebout farms 4,000 acres with his brothers, Dan and David. The Rebouts grow corn, soybeans, winter wheat, and alfalfa. They raise Holstein and cross-bred steers and custom-raise heifers for neighbors, yet they sold their dairy cattle this year.

It’s not only on the farm where Rebout puts in hard work and expresses his dedication to agriculture. Healso spends hours in boardrooms (now gone virtual) as a member of government task forces. His goal is to ensure farmers’ voices are heard in the development of policy and accessibility of resources.

SF: How did you come to the decision to sell your dairy cows?

DR: One of the main reasons was we were just tired of milking cows. We had a hired man for the past nine years who took a job somewhere else; we either had to find someone to hire who wouldn’t mind the long hours or sell the cows. Help is hard to find, and no one on our farm really had that love of cows like my father, Roger, did when he was in charge. Instead of trying to hire someone new, we asked ourselves why we should even continue doing something we didn’t love. We love working with animals and still have our barns full, but we love the crop work even more.

SF: How are you walking the walk of soil health?

DR: We plant soybeans all no-till and at 7.5-inch spacing. We use no-till drills in wheat, and we’ve been strip-tilling our corn for over 20 years. When we first started strip-tilling, no one in the area knew anything about it, but it’s gradually getting more popular. I’ve always said that just because it works on our farm doesn’t mean that’s what everyone should do because every farm is a little different. However, we want to be a good example to others, to share what we’re doing and why. It goes both ways. We learn a lot from other farmers and hopefully they learn from us.

SF: What do you think will change about farming in the next  five to 10 years?

DR: I think farmers are going to become more efficient because of technology in both equipment and seed. It seems like a lot of new technology in the past was more useful for the bigger farms, but it’s working its way down to even the smallest farms. I see farmers reducing their inputs, especially here in Wisconsin, where we deal with groundwater issues. I also think we’ll see a lot more farmers implementing practices to deal with the impacts of climate change. 

SF: What organizations do you advise when you’re not working on the farm?

DR: I was recently appointed to the Wisconsin Department of Ag Trade and Consumer Protection and the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. We have three subcommittees that look at everything climate-related, from environments like inner cities to farmland. I’m part of the land subcommittee, and we help evaluate different practices like cover crops, no-till, and minimum-till. Then we try to figure out how to promote those on Wisconsin farms.

SF: Why do you spend your time on task forces and committees?

DR: Specifically in the climate change task force, the legislature is looking into policies that will encourage farmers to do better for the environment. A couple of other farmers and I advise and give feedback on how to educate or create incentives because it isn’t easy for farmers to make big changes, especially if it will cost money and mean changing equipment.

I’m always eager to get involved and spend time with elected officials who are getting policies to work for all stakeholders. What legislators are doing at their levels impacts what we’re doing on the farm, so why not have a voice in it? I really enjoy it and just like how, in the way I didn’t have a passion for the dairy cows on our farm, I do have a passion for doing this, and that drives me.

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