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Produced in partnership with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with support from PBS Frontline and the Pulitzer Center

A Documentary Two Years in the Making

There is no more quintessential image of Wisconsin than a red barn with a herd of cows grazing in a green field against a blue sky. 

The state’s dairy history is an essential part of the state’s culture and economy. All of it is at risk. A confluence of factors are causing many small, family-owned dairy farms to quit, including low milk prices, changing consumer tastes, labor issues and now a pandemic. 

The industry has been the state’s economic engine, generating more than $45 billion a year. But many farmers are at a crossroads of either making big changes or calling it quits. 

Milwaukee PBS has partnered with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to produce “America’s Dairyland at the Crossroads,” an hour-long documentary that takes a deeper look at the continuing crisis and the future for farmers, businesses and communities who rely on the dairy industry to survive. 

PBS NewsHour featured a Milwaukee PBS report (produced by Maryann Lazarski, Scottie Meyers with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Rick Barrett). 

You can watch Judy Woodruff's introduction and the story itself here.

The producers of America's Dairyland: At the Crossroads joined  WSAW NewsChannel 7, Deep Bench host, Dale Ryman to talk about the documentary which raised awareness of the crisis facing dairy farmers in Marathon and Clark Counties. The program aired on the Wausau station November 30.

Jack Uldrich

Global futurist Jack Uldrich says Wisconsin dairy farmers need to do two things to stay in business: diversify their income and invest in technology.

Jim Briggs

Jim Briggs is a dairy farmer in Marathon County who doesn't think Washington pays much attention to small family farmers or cares what they're going through.

Susan and Dennis Roehl

Dennis and Suzie Roehl believe they have to change their dairy practices in order for their children to want to keep the family farm going.

Marty Nigon

Dairy farmer Marty Nigon tries to keep a positive outlook on his industry despite seeing many other dairy families calling it quits.  Nigon and others say what happens on the dairy farm has a big impact on what happens when consumers go to the grocery store.

Shawn Schmitz

Generational farmer Shawn Schmitz speaks to the emotional truth behind leaving the farming community and decisions that had to be made when the farm that has been in the family for generations had to be sold.

Americas Dairyland The Next Generation

In a segment produced in partnership with PBS Frontline - meet some of Wisconsin's next-generation dairy farmers who just might save America's Dairyland with their approach to farming and technology.

Milwaukee PBS and 10thirtysix producers continue work on an upcoming documentary about the distress and hope within Wisconsin's dairy industry. We'll introduce you to a young auctioneer who shares the heartbreak he sees when small family dairy farms shutdown.

Wisconsin's dairy industry continues to face challenges. What happens with dairy can have a big impact on the state's economy and Wisconsin consumers. 

Livestock auctioneer Mark Oberholtzer talks candidly and emotionally about the farm families who've come to sell off their dairy cattle. 

Clark County is located in the northwest part of the state where there are more cows than people. But over the years, hundreds of small family farms have said goodbye to dairy farming. 

10thirtysix | Program | Pandemic in the Heartland


A small dairy community in the northwest part of Wisconsin recorded zero cases of COVID-19. Despite that, the virus hit the city of Loyal hard. As part of the Local Journalism Initiative for PBS FRONTLINE, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel present "Pandemic in the Heartland," a look at how small business owners and dairy farmers coped with a coronavirus shutdown.

Journal Sentinel Story

Kristyn Nigon moves a young calf to its hutch.
Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Dairyland in Distress