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Retiring county agriculture agent reflects

Dec. 27, 2012 | 0 comments

Matt Glewen’s nearly 32 years as the Extension Service agriculture agent in Calumet County could be viewed as a series of episodes of several years each — reflections of major changes on farms in the county and beyond.

A native of the Dotyville area in neighboring Fond du Lac County, Glewen was selected as Calumet County’s agricultural agent shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

He succeeded Dick LaCroix, who moved to the private sector in dairy and agricultural sector roles.

Glewen will have had the longest tenure as the agriculture agent in the county when he officially retires on January 3, surpassing the 28 years that Orrin W. Meyer served (1945 to 1973).

On January 4, Glewen will glide into a new role as general manager of Wisconsin’s Farm Technology Days (FTD) — a position to which he was named in an announcement made on Dec. 17. He will succeed the retiring Ron Schuler, who will manage the 2013 show in Barron County.

When Glewen arrived in Calumet County in 1981 with a title of "dairy and livestock agent" (changed to agriculture agent after 1988), the county had more than 700 dairy farms with nearly 400 of them enrolled in the Dairy Herd Improvement Association milk testing program.

He said that having 50 percent of a county’s dairy farms in the program was considered "a milestone achievement" at the time.

(In 1982, Calumet County had 31,200 dairy cows with an annual average milk production of 13,200 pounds per cow for a total production of nearly 412 million pounds of milk in the county for the year. In 2011, the county had 29,500 dairy cows, 23,900 pounds of milk on average per cow, and milk production of just over 705 million pounds for the year.)

As he approached retirement from the Extension Service position, Glewen pointed to a full file of about 50 folders of dairy ration balancing plans that he developed for farmers in the county.

There was a huge demand for that service in the 1980s — one that the Extension Service could handle because it was equipped with computers and data provided by state level specialists, he recalls. "But I haven’t done a ration for least 10 years."

One of the activities of Extension Service agriculture agents is to work with organizations in the county.

During the 1980s, Calumet County formed a still very active Forage Council and a Dairy Promotion Committee, (formerly an activity of the county Farm Bureau chapter) which has conducted 27 "Sundae on a Dairy Farm" events on a Sunday in June.

During the 1980s, a number of farm-related organizations in the county also went into eclipse.

"A real change in my first 15 years" was the emergence of private sector sources to provide nutrition plans for livestock, crop consulting, and veterinarians who added consulting to their service in addition to handling calls for livestock treatment, Glewen pointed out.

This reduced the demand on the Extension Service for production-related services, especially in the east central part of Wisconsin, and took the Extension Service in new directions, he indicated.

During the 1980s, the Extension Service also fostered the infra-red testing of forages in order to determine feed value and a price linked to the quality.

Glewen recalls how he and his Manitowoc County colleague Scott Hendrickson crawled onto loads of hay brought to auctions at the Equity Livestock Cooperative in Reedsville to take core samples from the hay bales for conducting the infra-red test.

The latter half of the 1980s was what Glewen described as an ugly period for agriculture. An economic crisis arose from a combination of land devaluation and very high interest rates.

Targeted UWEX Programs

Another phase in the dairy sector came in the 1990s with the building of free-stall barns, the installation of milking parlors, milking herd expansions, and the hiring of employees, including a number of Hispanics.

To deal with those changes, Glewen explained, the Extension Service developed its AgVenture program, which addressed strategic planning, management of employees, and milk marketing.

Glewen estimates that about 70 dairy farmers in Calumet County participated in the AgVenture program over a period of three years.

He notes that they or other members of their families account for a significant number of just under 150 dairy farms operating in the county today.

Another Extension Service program in Wisconsin during the 1990s was MilkMoney, which involved a team approach, typically led by the agricultural or dairy agent, for dairy farmers wanting to improve milk quality and volume by getting input from all of the parties involved in the farm operation.

That program was coordinated through the Extension Service’s DairyTeam, which was created in the mid-1990s and is composed of county agents with strong skills in the dairy sector.

Glewen was a long-time member of both the DairyTeam and the similar financial and risk management team of agents.

As to what’s ahead for the Extension Service in dairy-related services, the emphasis has definitely switched from basic production practices to such fine-tuning matters as dairy cow comfort, achieving top returns on inputs, employee training, Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections, and compliance with new environmental regulations, Glewen stated.

The environmental regulations, designed to protect and improve water quality, involve such items as whole farm nutrient management planning and restrictions on the timing and places for applying manure.

Glewen noted that these were not topics that received much attention early in his tenure.

Glewen also mentioned "the local controversial issues" such as the establishment of dairy operations with several thousand cows and the installation of wind turbines that arose in Calumet and other counties.

He said the proper role of an Extension Service agent in those scenarios, also including the environmental issues, is to facilitate discussions designed to lead to solutions.

Mentoring New Agents

During about half of the past decade, the Extension Service selected Glewen for a part-time state-wide role with the title of "agriculture program area liaison."

It involved the mentoring of new county or regional agriculture agents — about 25 to 30 during that period.

As a group, those new agents came with great variations in their background and in their strengths and weaknesses, Glewen observed.

He worked with them on time management, how to set priorities amid a multiple and varied set of tasks, and on linkage with the Extension Service’s resource team (reduced by about one-half during Glewen’s tenure) in the state or beyond if necessary.

From the Extension Service’s vantage point, it is crucial that its agents "be visible and credible in the county" quite quickly, Glewen remarked.

He found that the new agents were "eager to learn," noted that they "took suggestions well," and described the group as containing "many good people."

Those jobs "are more complex than it seems to the people on the outside," Glewen stated. "There’s a lot of scrutiny" today regarding the value of the investment in the agents, he added.

Part of the salary of Extension Service agents is paid by the county governments. Glewen views that as a good practice because it involves accountability and puts agents on alert as they realize they do not have a long grace period.

Another challenge for the Extension Service has been a greater and more rapid turnover in some of its positions. Related somewhat to that phenomenon was Glewen’s 18-month appointment as the agency’s interim regional director.

With Glewen gone on many days for those duties, Calumet County hired Bryce Larson, who had completed a career as an adult agriculture program instructor at Lakeshore Technical College, as a part-time agriculture educator focusing mainly on crop production and soil fertility and conservation.

Larson is also retiring on January 3.

FTD Outlook

Glewen believes his varied set of experiences provided him with a good background to take over as general manager for Farm Technology Days — an annual event that moves from county to county and is the biggest farm show in Wisconsin.

When Calumet County hosted that event in 1993, then called Farm Progress Days, Glewen was the executive secretary of the county’s organizing committee.

Glewen’s approach to organization and leadership is to "get stuff done by having people work on one project at one time."

He is also experienced in working on situations where groups or individuals were in conflict.

For Glewen, who was one of five finalists among more than 40 applicants for the FTD position, the timing for retirement from one role and taking on another couldn’t have been better.

He said his acquaintance with both the veteran and relatively new Extension Service agents should serve him well in that new role but acknowledged that he has to brush up on the needs, challenges, and wishes of the 600 or more commercial exhibitors who provide most of the financing for FTD and who need to be satisfied that their time and investment are worthwhile.

The host counties for the next three FTDs are set but there is a long-range overhanging question on whether FTD should be staged at a permanent site for reasons such as being more accommodating to the major exhibitors and being less vulnerable to weather interruptions that have occurred on one or more days at some of the FTD shows.

Glewen hopes to get the question of having a permanent site resolved within one or two years.

Having FTD move from county to county provides some neat things to the three-day summer event but that’s not necessarily convenient for many of the large exhibitors, Glewen realizes.

So far, he added, the move from county to county has been working because enough counties have been applying to undertake the hosting role.

One-on-One Role Treasured

Throughout his tenure in Calumet County, "the part of my role that I’ve always enjoyed the most was working with farmers one-on-one on their farms," Glewen stated. "I have always enjoyed their ingenuity and ability to use the resources available to them to be successful."

"I always admired and respected their ability to deal with incredible risks like it was no big deal," Glewen commented. "I always felt like I learned as much or more than the producer I was working with."

Glewen, his wife Shan, and their now adult sons Will and Dan operated a hobby farm on which they raised large-frame Hampshire sheep for 25 years.

They sold about 30 to 40 head per year — one half at major national sales in Ohio and Missouri, a few at smaller sales in Wisconsin, and the remainder in direct sales (some for meat) at the farm.

In the sheep circle, Glewen became well-known judging sheep at county fairs around Wisconsin — something he still does. He also judged sheep one year at the Michigan State Fair.

The sheep-raising enterprise was a vehicle for providing his sons with responsibility and with an opportunity to develop a good work ethic.

Glewen also emphasized that, for him, there was lots of enjoyment and satisfaction in doing something physical to provide a balance with and as something different from the major part of his working time at a desk and computer.

The Glewens intend to continue living in Calumet County as he takes on his role as general manager for Farm Technology Days. He will be part-time until the completion of the 2013 FTD. His new e-mail address will be matthew.glewen@uwex.edu.

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