For more than 130 years, young men and women have been coming to UW-Madison to take the Farm and Industry Short Course (FISC) at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. FISC is a series of lectures and hands-on classes that give young farmers an opportunity to further their careers and learn some of the essentials of agriculture from some of the top instructors in the country.
Jeff Merritt took FISC in 1974. One of his neighbors suggested to him that he get off the farm and pursue an education. Merritt did not want to be off the farm for too long, so he opted to enroll in FISC. It was a decision he did not regret.
“Professors like Dr. Neal Jorgenson and Dr. Dave Wieckert were great teachers,” says Merritt, “and I took my education very seriously.”
Merritt went on to own his own dairy farm and became an important figure in his area’s agricultural community. He served as president of the Dunn County Holstein Breeders and founded the Dunn County Dairy Promotion Committee.
“Twenty-two years later, the committee is still going strong,” he says. “I’m really proud to see that others have joined and have passed on their passion for dairy farming.”
One of the committee’s most important tasks is promoting the annual Dunn County dairy breakfast, which is held at a different farm each year.
“After all these years, we’ve got it down to a routine now,” says Merritt.
Over the years since he took FISC at UW-Madison, Merritt hasn’t had a lot of contact with the university. However, when the need arose, he was always able to get the help he needed through UW-Extension professionals such as agricultural agent Keith Sommerfeld.
The Merritt family was very active in the local 4-H program, showing dairy cattle, beef cattle, and hogs at the county fair for 18 years. He sold his dairy herd in 2014, but still farms crops and beef cattle.
Merritt has advice for young people who are thinking about going into the dairy business.
“If this is what you’re passionate about — if you really want to do this — find a farmer you can work with,” he says, “and then go to a dairy husbandry class or take the Short Course. Then, find yourself a farm to work with. Give it a year or two. Start out small. Keep adding to your herd.”
“Markets go up and down,” Merritt adds. “You’ve got to go where your heart is.”