Truman Graf, esteemed dairy economist, dies at 94

Truman Graf, a go-to figure in the field of agricultural economics and a renowned dairy marketing educator, died on Aug. 7 in Middleton, Wisconsin. He was 94.

Regularly consulted for his knowledge on dairy policy, publicity and trade, Graf witnessed the transformation of farming from hand-milking in the depths of the Great Depression to the establishment of cooperatives that united farmers across the United States.

Graf was born on Sept. 18, 1922 on a small dairy farm near New Holstein, Wisonsin. After graduating from high school, he earned two scholarships to UW-Madison. However, World War II interrupted his studies, and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, proudly earning his “Wings of Gold” and becoming commissioned a Navy Ensign. Graf would continue to serve in the Naval Reserves throughout his professional career.

When the war ended, Truman resumed his studies at UW-Madison, earning a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in agricultural economics. Following graduation, he worked in Madison for several years conducting research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He then was offered, and accepted, a position as a UW-Madison professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics (now the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics) and UW-Extension dairy marketing specialist, with responsibilities for teaching, research and outreach.

Over the course of his career as a faculty member, Truman authored several hundred publications and taught many classes, including a popular dairy marketing class in which hundreds of students learned the details of dairy policy, milk pricing and marketing. He also worked extensively with local, state and national farm and dairy industry groups. His counsel was sought by various governors, U.S. Senators and members of Congress and other government officials on programs to increase dairy and agricultural profitability. For his contributions to the industry, Graf was inducted into the National Dairy Shrine Hall of Fame in 2009.

Graf retired in 1985 after 35 years as a professor and was awarded emeritus professor status. Shortly before retirement, the Department of Agricultural Economics moved into a new building on campus. A fundraising effort was launched to make some improvements to the building. A measure of respect for Truman within the dairy industry was evidenced when dairy firms and cooperatives he had worked with donated sums in excess of six figures in Truman’s name for the renovation, honoring his service.

As he prepared for retirement, Graf summarized his time as an educator at UW-Madison and provided, in retrospective, a maxim for his life’s work:

“My goal in life has been to make a contribution to society which will long outlast my stay on earth. I have attempted to do this through teaching, research, and public service work in my professional field, agricultural economics, and also as a ‘good citizen’ in non-professional related volunteer work. My philosophy of life is that we all owe society far more than it owes us, and I hope to make at least a partial payment on my share of the debt.”

To learn more about Graf’s life, read his full obituary on