Agriculture remains a vital part of the economy in nearly every Wisconsin county, whether urban or rural, contributing both jobs and income. The economic impact varies from county to county. In Milwaukee County, agriculture contributes $6 billion to the county’s economy; while in Iron and Forest counties, agriculture contributes $7 million to each county’s economy. Statewide, agriculture is a $59.16 billion industry and provides 353,991 jobs.

A new University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Extension study examined the economic impacts of agriculture at the county level. Researchers found that since 2006, there has been relative stability in overall employment connected to agriculture. In general, Wisconsin agricultural employment patterns have been somewhat buffered from the larger macro economy, and for the recent recession, agriculture actually provided a modest statewide cushion against employment problems.

“This study clearly demonstrates the importance agriculture has on the economy of each county in the state and the state as a whole,” said Ben Brancel, Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Researchers used data from several sources including USDA and a state-of-the-art economic analysis model to measure how dollars earned from the sales of agricultural products ripple through local economies. Their findings include:

  • In 35 Wisconsin counties, agriculture impacts 3,561 or more jobs
  • In 34 Wisconsin counties, agriculture supports more than 14.2 percent of all the jobs in the county
  • In 35 Wisconsin counties, agriculture stimulates more than $615 million in industry sales
  • In 34 Wisconsin counties, the share of total industry sales stimulated by agriculture exceeds 18.4 percent
  • In 35 Wisconsin counties, agriculture contributes more than $177.5 million in total income
  • In 35 Wisconsin counties, the share of total county income contributed by agriculture exceeds 11.6%
  • In 16 Wisconsin counties, agriculture generates more than $25.1 million in state and local government revenue (not including taxes paid for K-12 education)

Two broad conclusions are reached in the study:

  • The counties with the largest impacts of agriculture in raw number of jobs, income and business sales generated tend to be dominated by the state’s urban counties. These are counties with larger populations and city centers with larger food processing firms including Milwaukee, Brown (Green Bay), Dane (Madison) and Outagamie (Appleton) counties.
  • The picture is different when looking at the relative contributions of agriculture to each county’s economy measured in terms of percent of total for that county (e.g. total jobs generated by agriculture as a percent of the county’s total employment). For many of Wisconsin’s rural counties, agriculture’s impacts are more modest in terms of total number of jobs, income or business sales, but as a percentage of the local county economy, agriculture is much larger. In general, these counties are not heavily populated; do not have large city centers; and, are more distant from population centers and interstate transportation infrastructure. Counties where agriculture accounts for a very large share of total economic activity within the economy relative to other sectors include Lafayette, Clark, Richland, Vernon, Buffalo, Marquette, Taylor, Pepin, Oconto, Green and Trempealeau.

This research was done to help agricultural leaders make informed decisions that leverage Wisconsin’s agricultural strengths. The study was made possible because of strong partnerships.

“Partnerships between UW-Extension and the applied research in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW-Madison, UW-River Falls, UW-Platteville and UW-Stevens Point help to create and support a strong and vibrant ag economy,” said Rick Klemme, Dean and Director of UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension. “Programs that have helped dairy and livestock farmers to develop profitable systems, our work with unique and innovative industries such as cranberry, and continued research on integrated pest management in crop production underscore the University’s commitment to develop healthy and safe food systems.”

David Williams, Associate Program Director for UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension and project co-leader, noted, “UW-Extension specialists in the UW’s colleges of agriculture and our local agents also work with multiple stakeholders and interests to protect our valued natural resources which further provides a positive impact on Wisconsin.”

The study, which is an update of previous work using the most recent data available, also provides information about statewide historical trends in Wisconsin farm and food processing employment as well as an updated “clustering analysis” of agricultural subsectors.

About one out of every ten state citizens (10 percent) works in a job related to agriculture. Project co-leader, Steve Deller, UW-Madison professor of agricultural and applied economics and UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension community development specialist said, “These occupations include farmers, farm employees, veterinarians, crop and livestock consultants, feed, fuel and crop input suppliers, machinery and equipment manufacturers and dealers, barn builders and agricultural lenders. It also includes employees in food processing businesses and all of the businesses needed to support the processing of products produced on the farm. Every job in agriculture supports an additional 0.89 jobs elsewhere in Wisconsin.”

You can read the study “The Economic Impacts of Agriculture in Wisconsin Counties” online at http://www.uwex.edu/ces/ag/wisag/ .