Brad Pfaff says he was “extremely humbled and thrilled” to be selected by Gov. Tony Evers as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He took office in January.
The oldest of three children, Pfaff, 51, was born in La Crosse, Wis., and grew up on his family’s 50-cow dairy farm in northern La Crosse County.
“My parents still live on the farm,” Pfaff says. “The farm shaped my values. My mom’s family were farmers, and my father’s family farmed. They’ve been farming in La Crosse County since they came to this country in the 1800s.”
Pfaff says he sees himself in a lot of the young people he meets across the state who live on farms and have a love for agriculture. While growing up on the farm, Pfaff was active in both 4-H and FFA.
“I was chapter president of the Melrose-Mindoro FFA,” he says. “I was on the dairy judging team. I went to the state FFA convention, and I received the State Farmer award.”
After graduating from Melrose-Mindoro High School in 1986, Pfaff received a bachelor’s degree at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in public and environmental administration and a master’s degree from George Mason University in public administration.
Before being appointed ag secretary, Pfaff was the state executive director of the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency and served as national deputy administrator of farm programs. He also served on the La Crosse County Board and worked as a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and as deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse.
Learning from farmers
Since taking office, Pfaff has been busy meeting, listening and talking to farmers across the state.
“I’ve had an opportunity to learn from our family farmers and our residents in our rural communities,” he says. “And that will help me put policies in place that will help our family farmers and residents in our rural communities.
“Wisconsin is a very, very proud state. We also are a state that is made up of extremely hard-working and resilient family farmers. They are experiencing some very challenging economic times right now. But they produce the highest-quality agricultural products from our farm fields and from our dairy cows.”
Pfaff says consumers around the world want the opportunity to enjoy products produced in Wisconsin, such as cheese, cranberries, cherries, ginseng and beef.
“I want to give consumers from around the world the opportunity to enjoy our products,” he says. “I want to be able to open markets — whether they are local, regional, statewide, national or international markets, we have an opportunity to do that.”
Pfaff says DATCP staff can help make that happen. “We’ve got excellent people at DATCP who are representing Wisconsin’s agricultural products around the world,” he says. “We have a team of trade specialists who are working with our partners around the world in order to find those new markets so consumers have the opportunity to enjoy these products.”
Spreading the word
Pfaff says he is working to make sure the governor and policymakers at the state Capitol recognize the importance of what’s happening on Wisconsin farms and in rural communities.
“I think it’s extremely important that everyone recognizes how important agriculture and our farmers are to this state,” Pfaff says. “One out of every nine people that are working in this state have a job that is related to agriculture. That is huge. Agriculture has an $88 billion annual economic impact on this state.
“I want to make sure that our consumers — people who live in our urban areas, people who live in our suburban areas, even those people who live in our rural areas that are not completely familiar with what our farmers do — recognize the importance of that. I want to make sure that our farmers feel their voices are being heard and that they’re being listened to. I think that is extremely important.”
Pfaff says it is imperative that Wisconsin farmers connect with one another.
“Small towns need farmers, and farmers need small towns,” he says. “I want to help build those networks.”
Pfaff says he is learning a lot as he spends time crisscrossing the state, meeting and talking to farmers.
“My mom taught me when I was a boy growing up that you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason — listen twice as much as you speak. I’m trying to do that.”
Pfaff and his wife and children live in Onalaska near La Crosse. He has been married for 27 years and is the father of two high school-age children.