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Lessons learned on the road

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 18 May 2010
Jeff Mueller and Tim and Kristy Paiser

Combining a passion for travel and the dairy industry, Ken Natzke arranges trips for dairymen to see what farming is like in other parts of the country and world.

He has taken 10 trips to Michigan, six to California, hosted two groups from Ireland and is now planning his first trip abroad to the Emerald Isle.

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“I’m 78 years old. This is something that I can do, and I have a little knowledge about putting a trip together,” Natzke says.

“If it’s not facilitated by somebody, most people probably wouldn’t go.”

He began arranging trips when his children were in FFA and wanted to attend the Washington Leadership Conference. In order to get them from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., he helped arranged multiple schools to share a charter bus.

It was while he worked for Germania in the early ’90s that he discovered farmers in Wisconsin might have something to learn from their neighbors to the east and arranged a trip for them to Michigan.

Lately he’s been taking an annual trip to California in conjunction with the World Ag Expo held each February.

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The trips are focused around dairy and agriculture. Time is spent on farms and visiting with agricultural people.

“There are so many interesting things to see in agriculture,” Natzke says.

Dave Morris agrees. He has traveled to California and Michigan with Natzke. Morris goes to see other dairies and how they operate in different parts of the country. He learns about the different rules and regulations they must follow compared to his farm in Hartland, Wisconsin.

“Dairy is definitely global. There are many different ways to take care of cows, house cows and milk cows – and it can work any which way you do it,” Morris says.

While on the tours he picked up different management styles and philosophies from the dairymen he visited.

He also took comfort in hearing that everyone has challenges and then it didn’t make his own struggles seem as daunting.

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“More people should really (travel),” Morris says. “Some people get buried in their own situation, but when you see other people’s problems, successes and opportunities, it can be uplifting for yourself.”

He says it especially helped this past year to hear that other dairymen were also having a tough time with the economy.

Because the tour wasn’t solely focused on dairy, he learned a lot about fruits, vegetables and irrigation. He says there was plenty of time to talk to the farmers at every stop and questions were encouraged.

Linda Olson of Pulaski, Wisconsin, found the variety of agricultural commodities in California to be interesting.

“Experiencing the culture and diversification of the industry was what I liked best. I was able to see a different way of life,” she says.

Most of the trips have around 40 participants, with the highest attendance at 68. They are typically dairy producers, albeit some are retired and taking advantage of time now to travel. People have come from Florida, Connecticut, New York and all over the Midwest to join him.

Mainly focused on agriculture, the trips also include a little scenery.

For this reason, Jeff Mueller of Shawano, Wisconsin, found it to be a “reasonable vacation.” He’s a custom harvester and has taken some of his clients with him on the trip to California.

Aside from dairies, tour stops on his last trip to California included a night in San Francisco, an orange packing plant, World Ag Expo, Hilmar Cheese Factory, San Luis Reservoir, Salinas Valley, a winery and a day in Monterey Bay.

“It was an excellent tour, very inexpensive but the accommodations were very good,” Mueller says.

For Ed Heil of Marshfield, Wisconsin, says the trip was a chance to escape. “When you’re tied on the farm, you don’t get to get away very often,” he says.

He liked having the trip completely arranged for him. “You usually have to know somebody to get into these places,” he says. With Natzke’s help, he had the chance to visit dairies and talk with other farmers.

Natzke enjoys spending time with the great people he meets along the way. “They are all very cooperative, always on time and eager to meet new people too,” he says.

As people became more acquainted with one another on the trips, lasting friendships were formed. At a reunion this summer, 44 of 60 participants came together to see each other again.

Natzke says there’s a lot that can be gained from visiting other agriculture entities, be it new ideas and skills, confidence or lifelong friendship. PD

PHOTO : Left to right, Jeff Mueller and Tim and Kristy Paiser stand in front of the San Luis Reservoir in Merced County, California. Mueller has been on three trips organized by Ken Natzke to visit California. Photo courtesy of Ken Natzke.

Karen Lee
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