Wisconsin’s longest serving agriculture secretary is about to call it a career. Ben Brancel, who served as the leader of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection non-consecutively for 10 of the past 20 years, announced at the agency’s monthly board meeting on Thursday that he will retire on August 13.
“It has been my pleasure to serve as Secretary,” Brancel wrote in a letter to the board. “I have given this much thought about when is the right time to retire. I came to the conclusion that there always will be unfinished business to be done, but now is the time to return to my family’s farm full-time in Marquette County as we plan for our first ever production sale. My son and daughter-in-law are now the sixth generation to farm the land. My first job was a farmer, and my last job will be a farmer.”
Brancel, who turns 67 later this month, is a fifth-generation beef producer from Endeavor, where he raises Angus beef cattle on a 290-acre farm with help from his wife, Gail. After serving on the Marquette County board of supervisor and local school board, he was elected to serve in the State Assembly’s 42nd district in 1987. Over the following decade, he would rise through the ranks and become Assembly Speaker until 1997 when then-Governor Tommy Thompson tapped him to run the DATCP after Alan Tracy left for another job.
After being replaced by former Governor Scott McCullum in 2001, Brancel was appointed by the George W. Bush Administration to serve as the director of the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency–a post he held until early 2009. He was then hired to serve as the part-time state relations liaison for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, a position funded from donor resources.
Ben returned to DATCP under Gov. Scott Walker’s appointment in 2011; and has been a hands-on secretary who was instrumental in drafting and implementing major legislative policies ranging from non-point source pollution revisions to updating implements of husbandry standards. He also took a personal role in helping dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers find new buyers for their milk this past April when several dairy plants were forced to abruptly drop many of their patrons. And he took part in numerous international trade missions with the goal of spurring new business relationships with customers abroad.
In a statement, Gov. Walker called Brancel a leader who served with distinction.
“His leadership and counsel on agriculture and trade issues have been invaluable to me, and I thank him for his service and dedication to the people of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “We wish Ben and his wife, Gail, all the very best as they begin this new and exciting chapter.”