Chances are you have already come in contact with the work of one of Wisconsin’s seven agricultural marketing boards. If you’ve ever eyed a package of Wisconsin cranberries, traveled to a festival in Wisconsin cherry country or been wowed by a display of Wisconsin cheeses – those are all likely the result of work funded and managed by Wisconsin farmers who grow and produce those products.
Strength in Numbers
Agricultural marketing boards direct industry-specific efforts for research, education and promotion. Wisconsin has state marketing orders for seven farm products: cherries, corn, cranberries, ginseng, milk, potatoes and soybeans.
“They choose to form boards because, as a group, they can accomplish far more than they could as individual producers,” says Stacie Ashby, market orders interim program coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The board receives funds by collecting an assessment on the production or sale of farm products. The assessment is a tiny percentage of total product value. For example, the Wisconsin Cranberry Board collects 10 cents for every barrel (or 100 pounds) of cranberries sold by Wisconsin producers. That dime is less than one percent of the total barrel value, but all those dimes add up to provide $300,000 to $400,000 annually for research, education and promotion specific to Wisconsin cranberries. Agricultural marketing board members are elected to three-year terms.
“Each board of directors runs that marketing order,” Ashby says. They manage the marketing order and the funds collected from the sale of the products under that order, allowing those closest to each commodity to determine where the funds are most needed.
“The boards are often working on long-range projects specific to their industry,” Ashby says. DATCP supervises the board elections and makes sure each board operates in compliance with state law.
The Message of Cheese
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) is the largest agricultural marketing board. Farmers contribute a flat rate of ten cents per hundred pounds of milk to the board. “Since 90 percent of Wisconsin milk goes into the making of cheese, that is where most of our promotional efforts are focused,” says Patrick Geoghegan, WMMB senior vice president, corporate communications.
Promotional efforts include the WMMB Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown, started in 2012. Consumers nationwide send in original grilled cheese recipes; and the winner receives a $15,000 prize.
WMMB partners with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research and the University of Wisconsin-Extension to offer the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program. The program provides specialized training and certifies graduates as Master Cheesemakers who can add the “Master’s Mark” to product labels and marketing materials. Almost half of specialty cheese sold in the U.S. carries the Wisconsin seal, which thanks to the work of the board helps make Wisconsin cheese recognized worldwide.
Tom Hack, Ginseng Board of Wisconsin international marketing director, says the ginseng marketing order helps support Wisconsin’s international reputation. Wisconsin grows nearly all the cultivated ginseng in the U.S.; 70 percent is exported to Asia.
“The marketing order funds ongoing research to improve the quality of ginseng seed and help us manage crop disease issues,” Hack says.
The ginseng marketing order has another positive impact, Hack adds. Trademarked “Wisconsin Ginseng” commands a premium in the international marketplace, creating financial incentive for false product claims about ginseng not grown here. The Wisconsin Ginseng marketing order has controls requiring both registered producers and dealers to record the amount and destination of product shipments; these records can help identify false product claims.
“We are very fortunate to have the marketing order,” Hack says.