A Passion For Leadership
At Tauchen Harmony Valley Farm there’s a limestone house built in 1890 that sits between the new dairy barn and the old barn. Inside are many antiques, including an oak kitchen table.
It’s hard to imagine how many family conversations have happened around that table. Herb and Marlys Tauchen bought the 180-acre farm- stead outside Bonduel, Wis., in 1976, moving from a nearby 120-acre farm when their son Alan wanted to start farming full time.
Between the two farms they raised 10 kids, including Gary and his brother Greg.
With a family that big and a dairy to run, conversations were aplenty. In 1996 there were conversations that revolved around expansion, when they built the new barn to go from milking 150 cows in the then 82-stall tiestall barn to 500 cows in a parlor, and again in 2000 when Greg came back to the farm and the second barn was built to grow to 1,000 cows. In 2016 they remodeled the newest barn to go to 1,200 cows.
But sit at that table with Gary, Greg (brother Steve was at his son’s basketball tournament) and their parents and it’s easy to see how conversations could go from managing the dairy to the local high school basket- ball team to agriculture in Wisconsin and trade with China. That’s because the Tauchens are involved in it all.
Their family’s dedication to leadership started with Herb’s dad, Vincent, who was a town clerk. Before Herb and Marlys bought the farm in 1976, Herb worked with the soil conservation service and was integral in some of the early state legislation on land use. When he was on the county board, he helped get a new Huber facility built, and when he was on the Bonduel school board he helped get the middle school built.
All the while, Marlys had a full-time job keeping the family organized, something she’s still doing at nearly 88 years old.
It’s obvious the dedication to community service was passed on from Herb and Marlys to their kids.
Each of the kids were encouraged to participate in 4-H, each with a different animal project. Dairy projects stayed in the herd. While the dairy herd is mostly Holstein, there are quite a few Jerseys and a few Brown Swiss, Ayrshires and crossbreds.
Gary, the oldest sibling, laid the groundwork for the rest of the family. He was a leader as a youth, holding most of his 4-H club leadership positions, then went off to college at the University of Wisconsin- River Falls before returning to the farm. When he got back he became involved in the Wisconsin Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA), where he worked with mentors who would help shape his leadership commitment.
As chair of the DHIA board, Gary worked closely with with Pete Giacomini, CEO of the cooperative. “We were looking at ways to save money for the cooperative by restructuring,” Gary says. “We went to Tom Lyon, who was CEO of 21st Century Genetics, about the concept of a holding cooperative.”
Those conversations led to the creation of Cooperative Resources International (CRI). The new cooperative combined a genetics cooperative (21st Century Genetics, now Genex), and a DHIA cooperative (now called AgSource) into what was then a first- of-its-kind holding cooperative.
Gary’s connection with Tom Lyon, who was then CEO of CRI, led to an opportunity with the World Trade Organization. “He knew that I was interested in trade, and we worked closely together on building CRI.”
Lyon, a lifelong Democrat, had connections within the Clinton administration, which led to Gary becoming an adviser on dairy topics during the 1999 Seattle trade talks. That led to another appointment by Secretary Veneman, under the Bush administration, to the U.S. Technical Advisory Committee for Trade.
After Gary’s appointments to committees in Washington, D.C., he turned his sights to leadership closer to home. He was recruited to run for an open position in his district for the Wisconsin State Assembly.
“I thought I’d run one time and that would be it,” Gary says. He won his first election against five other candidates in 2006, and he has been in the Assembly ever since.
The list of committee appointments and accomplishments is quite long. Today, Gary is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, a position he relishes given his farming background. “I’m glad that I’m the ag chair now with the tough times we are going through,” he says.
When he ran initially, there weren’t many people in the Assembly who were familiar with agriculture, which he says is scary considering the $88-billion contribution agriculture makes to the state’s economy. He’s proud of the work he has done to support agriculture in Wisconsin.
“Representative Tauchen brings dairy producers a common sense approach to current issues. It’s refreshing considering the average person is four-plus generations removed from the farm, and we appreciate his finesse in helping bridge this gap,” says Laurie Fischer, CEO of the American Dairy Coalition. “We look forward to working with him as the Chair of the State Assembly Agriculture Committee.”
Gary lists his top six policy priorities: labor, environment, food safety and animal health, land use, global trade and energy. “There are plenty of others that impact agriculture, but those are the areas where we put most of our emphasis,” he says.
Gary’s passion is in environmental issues, following in his father’s conservation footsteps. “Water is a key issue, it’s Wisconsin’s gold. We have to do better, but we also have to convince people to quit pointing fingers at big ag, and everybody needs to do their part and look at things from a watershed basis.”
With regard to immigration, while Gary remarks that it’s a federal issue, he hopes immigration issues can be resolved. He says while there seems to be movement, he knows how hard it is to get policies passed in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. He’s hopeful a driver’s card bill will get passed in Wisconsin.
Greg Tauchen, Gary’s brother who manages a mix of 20 local and Hispanic employees, sees the need for immigration reform. “The immigrant labor who work on our dairy just want to take care of their families. They’re doing everything right and just want to be left alone.”
Gary says one of his most satisfying accomplishments was his time serving as a founding board member for organizations that have had an impact on the Wisconsin dairy industry: the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, CRI and the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium.
Of course, in tight-knit families, brothers don’t let brothers get too big for their britches. “Gary just wanted to get out of work,” Greg says, which set all those around the table up in laughter. “Well he’s not too far from the truth!” Gary shot back, noting the herd really took off once he started spending less time at the dairy. “I just mow the lawn now,” Gary says, but admits he stays abreast of dairy business.
Greg carved his own leadership path, having just ended a four-year term on the Land O’Lakes board. He had served on the executive com- mittee for 10 years prior to being on the board and continues to serve. He’s held director positions for Pulaski Chase Cooperative, which merged into United Cooperative, since 2003 and has been a county delegate for AgSource.
While Gary makes the two-and- a-half hour trip to Madison on an all-too-regular basis, the dairy keeps moving along. Greg manages employees (Marlys still handles payroll and pays the bills) and Steve, Greg’s and Gary’s brother, handles feeding and machinery.
“Steve has been instrumental in allowing Greg and I to be involved in the leadership things we do,” Gary says. “He keeps everything running on the farm, which gives us the opportunity to be away.”
One hole that might never be filled is the one left by brother Alan, who passed away unexpectedly in December. He managed the crops and cow side of the business. Alan was a leader, having served as one of the youngest town board chairmen. He left four sons, who could be a part of the farm’s future.
This commitment to leadership is something every one of the Tauchens believes is essential to the future of agriculture.
“Everyone has a passion for different things,” Gary says. “But we need people in government who know and understand farming.”