SPRING GREEN — The Brander family has seen a lifetime of adversity since hosting its first Sauk County Dairy Breakfast in June 2007.
That day, the family hosted nearly 3,000 visitors on its farm along Highway 14 just west of Spring Green.
“It was a beautiful day,” Joni Brander said. “It feels like the biggest wedding reception you’ll ever have in your entire life. You only get to talk to a third of the people you want to talk to. People come to you from all sides asking questions.”
The family is nearly set to host its second dairy breakfast, and the intervening seven years featured a lot of difficult and rewarding experiences.
A year after hosting the event in 2007, the floods of June 2008 wreaked havoc and destruction in Spring Green and communities all over Sauk County. The storms also brought brought devastation and near financial ruin to Brander’s five-generation dairy farm.
The farm was constructing a new dairy facility for its 350 dairy cows, but lost its financing. They lost 50 cows, and had massive bills for medication and veterinarian costs.
“Our loaning institution gave us very little to help us out,” Joni said. “Once that flood hit, they turned their backs on us.”
Overall, the flooding cost them more than $1 million.
“We had to stand in water while we were milking,” Doug Brander said. “Our milking facilities had cows standing in water for two months. Our (workers) were driving through four feet of water to get to the buildings.”
Doug described the area around the milking facility as a “moat.”
The damage also impacted the family directly, as five feet of water inundated the farmstead’s basement and destroyed everything that had been stored there.
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The family didn’t begin to recover financially until August 2012 when it was able to secure new financing through The Peoples Community Bank, where Joni worked for nine years.
For four hard years, Doug said it was local farmer’s co-ops that got them through.
“When you’re farming there are loans you get in the spring to get your crops in and you set up a payment program,” Doug said. “That’s just normal. We never got any help with that for four years. The co-ops we we’re working with helped us and backed us. They were our banker.”
Six years later, the couple said it has moved on and is especially proud of the farm’s heritage and growth since it was first built in the late 1800s by Doug’s great-grandparents.
His grandparents Alton and Edna Brander started to purchase more acreage in the 1930s, but the farm really blossomed under the care of Doug’s parents Frank and Geraldine Brander, who passed away in 2000 and 1999 respectively.
“My dad is the one who established the place,” Doug said. “He took it over in 1956 when he was 19. There was 120 acres here. He brought it up to 1,060.”
In the last 13 years, they’ve added several more buildings, including the new milking parlor that was completed in 2008.
Their son Derek, 27, lives and works full time on the farm. Daughter Chelsea, 24, works as a portfolio analyst for BMO Harris Bank in Sauk City.
Overall, Wisconsin’s dairy industry has improved during the last five years. According to statistics obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin produced 27.6 billion pounds of milk in 2013. Milk per cow also rose to an all-time high of 21,693 pounds.
In a report released by the University of Wisconsin’s Agricultural Outlook Forum, Wisconsin farmers in 2013 generated a record $5.6 billion in milk sales due to a 1.7 percent boost in production and the second-highest recorded average milk price.
There are about 51,000 dairy farms in the nation, with more than 22 percent of them — about 11,500 — located in Wisconsin.