Despite the ongoing consolidation of Wisconsin’s dairy economy, entry-level workers remain in demand. Yet many incoming workers know little or nothing about dairying, and for a large percentage of them speak Spanish as their mother tongue.
Workers from south of the border were already well established in America’s Dairyland by 2008, when University of Wisconsin Extension launched Dairy Partner. Called El Compañero in its Spanish edition, this bilingual, bimonthly publication covers basic topics in dairy and farm management, safety and animal handling.
Trisha Wagner, an Extension outreach program manager, has overseen the publication. Every edition is translated into Spanish and published in a “mirror edition” that devotes two pages to each language.
The free publication is distributed on paper, email and on the Dairy Partner-El Compañero website. Most new subscribers opt to receive copies through email, although about 1,300 paper copies are distributed to around 500 farms. Extension dairy educators also stock the publication in their county offices and distribute copies at meetings.
Some employers keep Dairy Partner-El Compañero in the break room to encourage reading, says Wagner. The newsletter benefits both sides of the dairy business. “For employees, who may or may not have a background in dairy farming, there is information on milk quality, calf care, farm management and safety. Not every farm has the opportunity for that kind of training, verbally or in writing.”
The articles are professionally translated into Spanish, she says.
Articles are written by Extension dairy specialists and educators, and experts at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Madison, Wagner says. “We usually run two or three articles, about 300 to 400 words, covering topics that are relevant to issues facing dairy farm employees.”
Although the focus is farm work and safety, Wagner notes that dairy farm employment can be difficult, tiring and isolating, particularly for people with limited English proficiency.
“We discuss what type of clothing you need, in case you are not familiar with Wisconsin winters,” Wagner says. “We’ve discussed traveling to work in various weathers, what to do if you are stuck on the road in a snowstorm, what should you have in the car in this type of weather.”
The newsletter has also run articles on culture, Wagner says. “We’ve tried to help readers recognize the differences in Wisconsin farm culture for someone from outside the region, who has a different cultural background, and how cultural differences can affect performance on the job.”
For employers, she adds, “The benefit is having a third-party, objective resource to confirm and support the training and instruction they are providing to the employees on how to do their job.”
As the farm economy endures a prolonged spell of low prices, “Farmers are doing what they can to attract and maintain the workforce,” Wagner says. “This is hard work, but it’s very rewarding. You have the opportunity to learn, to apply a range of skills, to work with animals and to work outside. We’re trying to support all of that at a challenging time for our trademark industry.”
David Tenenbaum | University Communications