As president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Sue Beitlich works tirelessly to give farmers a voice at both the state and national levels.
Raised on a Brown Swiss dairy farm near Stoddard in Vernon County, Beitlich has spent most of her life farming.
She was elected president of the state organization in 2003.
"Now I devote most of my time to Farmers Union," she says. "I have been a dairy farmer and I can relate to farmers and understand what they are going through." She has three sons and three grandsons.
Beitlich, 54, is the first woman to serve as WFU state president.
"Over the years, Alaska and Michigan Farmers Union had women presidents before I was elected president," she notes, "so I'm not the first woman to be elected a state president, but for a long time I was the lone woman on the National Farmers Union Board."
She is however the first woman to serve on the National Farmers Union Executive Board. Beitlich chairs the Co-op and Education Committee. She also represents NFU at the international level, serving as vice president of the Women's Committee for International Federation of Agriculture Producers which represents more than 600 million farmers worldwide. She also serves on the Farmers Union Enterprise board and is the first woman to do so.
"Women have been a very important part of both the Wisconsin and National Farmers Union," she says. "Over the years, women have served at all levels of leadership within the organization and they've kept the organization together. They are and have been a valued and important part of the organization since it's very beginning.
"On thing that attracted me to Farmers Union was that women have an equal voice. We don't need a woman's auxiliary – we don't have one and we don't need one," Beitlich contends. "We've always had the ability to have equal leadership within the organization."
Janet Nelson of Prairie Farm is a great example. She has served on the WFU board for nearly 30 years and served as WFU vice president for many years.
Now Patty Edelburg, a dairy farmer from Scandanavia, is vice president.
Beitlich rejects the notion that she is a "trail blazer."
I never looked as myself as being the first woman president," she explains. "People came to me and asked me to be president. I never aspired to being president, but it happened."
Under Beitlich's leadership, WFU has flourished.
"As a result, I will be hiring an executive director in 2009 to free up more of my time to devote to being president," she says. "With our headquarters in Chippewa Falls it makes it difficult to get to a lot of things in Madison. And I think it is imiporant that I spend more time with the legislature this session.
In mid-January, Beitlich was excited about having the opportunity to attend the presidential inauguration and witness President Barack Obama's swearing in ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20.
"Our National Farmers Union Board meeting is the week of the inauguration so I'll be able to attend both," she says.