As farms struggle, builders feel the effects, but one local business looks for opportunity in a changing economy.
There’s no question the dairy crisis in Wisconsin is exactly that: a crisis. The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that Wisconsin lost almost 700 farms in 2018 and continues to lose two farms per day in 2019. As one of Wisconsin’s most important and long-lasting industries, agriculture contributes over $88 billion annually to the state’s economy and provides over 400,000 jobs. That’s almost 12% of the state’s workforce. As a vital industry suffers, many other Wisconsin businesses are feeling a trickle-down effect.
As a full-service design/build contractor in Kaukauna, Fox Structures has spent 37 years building their reputation as agriculture experts specializing in the construction of freestall barns, milking parlors, youngstock facilities, equestrian structures, curtain repair and much more. “We’ve experienced a steady decline in our local agriculture business,” said Jason Van Egeren, sales representative and agricultural specialist at Fox Structures. “In the last two years, we’ve done less than half of our normal amount of agricultural work.”
In the dairy downturn, Fox Structures believes their ability to understand customers’ limitations helps them create new, affordable solutions for farmers. “We are starting to see an uptick in remodeling, ventilation demands, curtain repair/replacement and roof replacements as many freestall barns are starting to hit the 20-year age mark,” Van Egeren shared. According to his observations, dairy farms are now more than ever, learning the importance of maintaining existing buildings to ensure a longer lifespan for the structure. Farmers are also relying on remodeling to meet the latest industry standards and keep their dairy operation as functional, animal friendly and labor efficient as possible, he explained.
In another effort to increase efficiency, Fox Structures recently added their own weld shop, Fox Welding and Fabrication, Inc. With the ability to quickly produce the metal goods required in many projects, the weld shop provides great value to customers, saving them both time and money. Fox Welding offers a full line of ventilation equipment along with specialty welding services for agricultural, equestrian, commercial and residential applications.
Builders aren’t the only ones shifting their businesses. Technology is changing the way dairy farms operate. As more farms add robotic milking equipment and state-of-the-art feed centers, Fox Structures is learning to design with technology in mind. “Robotic milking equipment has been available for years, but we are just recently seeing more interest to use them,” Van Egeren shared. “Historically, robotic milking was thought of as only for small herds. But recent improvements in robotic technology, coupled with the reduced initial investment, have made it a viable option for production and labor savings.”
Also, as dairy farms work with limited budgets, feed rationing accuracy is a top priority. To ensure every ounce of grain or forage is used, farmers are relying on builders like Fox Structures to construct enclosed feed centers or commodity storage structures. “The feed can be mixed and batched under a roof to help greatly reduce the amount of feed that gets wasted due in part to the weather,” Van Egeren explained. Exposure to the harsh weather including rain, snow and wind can cause feed shrinkage, costing farms significant dollars each year.
While Fox Structures and other area builders are certainly feeling the ripple effect of dairy industry changes, Van Egeren reinforces this is a statewide, multi-industry concern. “This affects the implement dealers, equipment dealers, trucking companies, landowners, building contractors, customer harvesters, custom applicators—every single person associated with the Ag economy is feeling the pinch,” he said. “It not only affects businesses like ours directly, but all Wisconsin businesses indirectly. As we support agriculture, we all should evolve to sustain our businesses and rebuild our economy in the new age of farming.”
If you are a farmer or small business that would like to talk with Fox Structures about how we can help you, please contact us today.