Just as today, Wisconsin farmers in the early 1900s desired better cattle. Dairy farmers wanted their cows to produce high-quality milk and more of it. Beef cattle farmers sought desirable herd growth rates and calving ease.
Nearly 75 years ago, the concept of artificial insemination dramatically changed the livestock industry. Known as A.I., the practice gives farmers access to superior genetics without owning the bull.
The practice has a huge economic impact in modern-day Wisconsin, home to several of the nation’s leading genetics companies. The industry employs hundreds of the state’s residents and generates millions of dollars annually in sales of beef and dairy cattle genetics throughout the United States and world.
“Without any doubt, Wisconsin is the biggest hub of the A.I. industry,” says Doug Wilson, chief executive officer of Cooperative Resources International, based in Shawano. A CRI subsidiary includes Genex, one of the nation’s leading genetics cooperatives.
Wisconsin Grown, Internationally Known
Wisconsin’s fame as the epicenter of the dairy industry makes it a logical home for several of the nation’s top bovine genetics companies, Wilson says. Genex, Accelerated Genetics, ABS Global, Alta and Select Sires rank among the industry’s best and maintain either a headquarters or regional office in Wisconsin. A newer genetics business, Jetstream, has opened an office in Madison.
Among the oldest, Accelerated Genetics traces its roots to a Vernon County cooperative that served about 120 farmers in 1941. Today, the Baraboo-based bovine genetics cooperative includes more than 6,000 members and markets to 96 countries worldwide. The cooperative’s homegrown origin and grassroots focus contribute to its success, says Kari Stanek, industry relations coordinator for the cooperative.
“We are a grassroots, customer-focused, member-led organization,” Stanek says. “We listen to our patrons needs, concerns and ideas, and then put that into practice as we continue to grow the cooperative’s products and services offered.”
The roots of the genetics industry trace back to around 1940, when the Cooperative Extension Service brought A.I. technology to farmers, Wilson says. County and multi-county breeding programs formed.
A move from fresh to frozen semen revolutionized the industry in the 1950s, and allowed these businesses to reach a larger market area, Stanek says. Accelerated Genetics made its first international sale in 1957, and now serves nearly 100 countries.
Continued Growth Supports Economy
Over time, the genetics industry boomed and consolidated. In fact, the merger of about 40 organizations formed Genex, which sells beef and dairy genetics throughout the United States and 65 foreign countries, Wilson says. The history of Accelerated Genetics includes some consolidations, too, with the merger of several cooperatives over its nearly 75-year history.
Today, these two leading bovine genetics cooperatives collectively generate more than $200 million in annual revenue from cattle breeding. In addition, Accelerated Genetics and CRI , which includes Genex, employ more than 2,000 people, nearly 870 in Wisconsin. That total increases if sales representatives and independent dealers who market the products are included.
Throughout their history, genetics businesses also diversified as they discovered demands for complementary products and services. For example, ABS Global also markets udder care products. Accelerated Genetics sells breeding supplies and animal health products. CRI subsidiaries provide dairy management record services, conduct research, and manufacture A.I. and embryo transfer consumables.
“Agriculture is important business,” Wilson says. “True, we all say it is a way of life and it always has been and will be. But agribusiness and production agriculture today is a business just like anybody on Main Street.