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MADISON, Wis. — As dairy farmer, legislator, cooperative executive and teacher, David Ward has seen the dairy industry from many perspectives. While he recently retired as director of government relations and dairy for Cooperative Network, he remains immersed in agriculture.

Ward teaches agricultural policy part-time at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. And he just completed serving on Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0, which worked 14 months to develop several recommendations to retain Wisconsin’s status as a dairy leader.

He was raised on a family dairy farm near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin — a farm established in 1844, four years before Wisconsin became a state. He attended UW-Platteville where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics.

“Two important things happened there,” he said. “I met Jean, my wife, and had Bob Cropp as an adviser.”

Cropp would later become an agricultural and applied-economics professor at UW-Madison. Now professor emeritus, he continues to provide the dairy industry with economic-situation and outlook reports.

Jim Jarvis, who serves on the board of AgCountry Farm Credit Services, said he remembers introducing Ward to UW-Platteville. Jarvis was a sophomore at the university and Ward — a senior at Fort Atkinson High School at the time — was visiting campus. Jarvis gave him a tour of the campus. Later the two would be brothers in the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. They also would serve together on the resolutions, dairy and young-farmer committees of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

After graduating in 1976 from UW-Platteville, Ward returned to his family farm. During college he had served an internship at Tri-State Breeders, which later became Accelerated Genetics. He said the experience taught him a lot about genetics, which he applied as herdsman at his family farm.

“I enjoyed working alongside my dad,” he said. “We formed a sub-S corporation. When we were in the barn I was the boss. Outside the barn dad was boss. But we ran things by each other.”

When he was a sophomore at UW-Platteville a fire destroyed his family’s old barn so it was replaced with a 112-cow freestall barn.

Ward was involved in the Jefferson County Farm Bureau. In 1983 he and his wife, Jean Ward, earned Outstanding Young Agriculturalist awards from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. He has served as president of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau and as a director for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

Jeff Lyon, now general manager of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, said he traveled with Ward in the late 1980s. They traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators about agricultural issues. At the time Ward represented the Jefferson County Farm Bureau and Lyon was in government relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. Ward’s involvement in Farm Bureau led him to serving in the Wisconsin State Legislature, Lyon said.

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Ward was elected in 1992 to the Wisconsin State Assembly. In the state legislature for 14 years, he served on finance, state affairs, agricultural and education committees.

“Dave was a strong leader in legislation and regulatory issues,” Lyon said. “There were several legislators who were farmers at that time and they worked together. That benefited all of us.”

Ward was critical to passage of livestock-siting legislation and continued to follow that legislation throughout the rulemaking process, Lyon said.

Jarvis said, “Dave brought to committees his dairy-industry knowledge and common sense. In the state legislature he was a voice for agriculture. He’s very articulate and is well-respected by farmers and other legislators.”

Respect from legislators helped when Ward — who later worked as government-relations director for Cooperative Network — visited the state capitol to advocate on behalf of cooperatives and dairy farms, Jarvis said.

“He knew the ins and outs of the capitol,” Jarvis said.

Ward said, “My experiences farming and learning from my mistakes taught me valuable lessons such as patience and doing things right the first time.”

Ron Statz, who retired two years ago as general manager of Scenic Central Milk Producers, said, “David knows and understands the dairy industry and never lost touch with his roots — whether as a legislator or at the cooperative.”

Scenic Central didn’t have its own lobbyist and counted on Ward to keep apprised of legislative activities that would affect its dairy-farmer members, Statz said.

Ward served in the legislature until 2006, when he resigned. He then became dairy director for Cooperative Network in Madison. He later became the organization’s director of government relations. Cooperative Network provides legislative and regulatory advocacy for cooperatives and their producer-members.

Ward’s interest in Wisconsin’s agriculture continues. He’s looking forward to teaching a new crop of students at UW-Platteville, serving on agricultural committees and spending more time with his family in northern Wisconsin.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin. Email lgrooms@madison.com to contact her.

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