Randy Cook, District 1 director of the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency, cleared out his office at the Barron County Government Center on Friday afternoon.
As of this week, he is retired after more than 30 years with Farm Service Agency. Its mission is to equitably serve all farmers, ranchers, and agricultural partners through the delivery of effective, efficient agricultural programs.
For the past 10 years, Cook has overseen District 1, which includes 26 counties in northern Wisconsin.
For the 21 years previous to his district duties, he served as a county executive director—for 3 years in Pierce County, then 9 years in Dunn County and the next 9 years in Barron County.
Prior to that Cook was vocational agriculture teacher at Cameron High School from 1981-1987.
In addition, from 1998-2002, he served as national president of the National Association of State and County Office Employees. That post required trips to Washington, D.C.
Throughout his 30-plus year career, Cook has seen many ups and downs in the agriculture industry. While this is one of those down times, he said farmers are a tough breed who persevere through trying times.
Cook said getting through the lows requires maximum efficiency and knowledge on how to manage debt. He said debt is the partner that must be paid.
He has found technology to be a double-edged sword that has allowed farmers to produce increasingly more milk, crops and beef, which in turn can lead to overproduction and a downturn in prices.
Cook said in the last 10 years crop, milk and beef production has been going off the charts.
As the one-time average of producing 20,000 pounds of milk has increased to 35,000-40,000, farmers have had to deal with overproduction.
He said the same is true with crop production—once 100 bushels of corn per acre was average, but that was increased to 175 bushels per acre in this area and up to 300 bushels per acre in Iowa.
There have been so many changes in technology, which increases efficiency and production. He said genetics has created drought-resistant, insect-resistent products that allow farmers ever-increasing production numbers.
But the increase in production comes with a price. An increase of 20 million acres of corn worldwide has eased demand and lowered prices.
While Clark and Marathon counties have remained the two largest dairies counties throughout his career, the number of farms in those counties has decreased as has occurred in every county in the state.
He said in the past 30 years, dairy farms in Wisconsin have dropped from 11,908 to 8,000.
Barron County is now under 300 dairy farms, around 270 at last check.
He said the odd thing is the number of cows has not decreased in this county and statewide.
While it is ever changing, agriculture is still a very noble and humble profession, he said.
“You will still need to eat, so you will have to look for opportunities for efficiency,” Cook said.
Until a new District 1 director is named, District 4 director Randy Kunsman, who covers western Wisconsin; and District 4 director Tyler Radke, who covers eastern Wisconsin; will cover the northern counties. District 3 director Haley Krohlow covers the southern part of the state.
Wisconsin is one of the top 10 agricultural states in the nation, generating over $83 billion annually in the state’s economy.
While it will likely take him awhile to get used to less travel and more time at home, Cook is not worried about getting bored. He was just elected president of Barron Electric Cooperative’s Board of Directors this spring, and he enjoys hunting and the outdoors.
In addition, he and wife DeeAnn have five grandchildren to whom he is teaching the game of chess. DeeAnn plans to continue working as county clerk and has no plans to retire anytime soon.