Lauer Looks Back On 30 Years

When Joe Lauer visited the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on the UW-Madison some 30 years ago, he actually had relatively little experience in corn! Lauer came to Wisconsin from the University of Wyoming where he worked nine years on literally every type of crop(24 total) – except corn! That’s one of the insights he shared with Pam Jahnke during a studio conversation recapping his career. On December 31, 2023, Lauer officially retired as the UW-Extension Corn Specialist.

“I really came to UW-Madison for the position, and especially the UW-Extension system we had at the time,” Lauer said. He said that the opportunity to be out interacting with growers, and creating his own network of field research, was very attractive. The timing wasn’t necessarily great though. “Farmers were really struggling weather-wise and economically,” he recalls. Wisconsin had been experienced the 1988-89 drought, and the cool-wet years of 1992-93 (Father’s day frost). Most farms were just trying to recover financially from very difficult times in the 80’s. He said this was also the time when the state started to experience what he called the “demise of the red dairy barn and the rise of the grain bins”. What Lauer means is that many Wisconsin farms were transitioning out of dairying into cash cropping, while some existing dairies were expanding.

Wisconsin’s corn production wasn’t exactly catching national attention either! The state’s battle with weather meant that it had a yield record of 119 bu/A set in 1991. During his first year on the job, growers set a new record of 141 bushel to the acre! That was 18% above the previous record! “I thought ‘man this might be kinda easy’, but it hasn’t worked that way! There’s been a lot of challenges, a lot of them are weather because we’re on the northern edge of the corn belt and weather influences Wisconsin production a lot.”

Lauer’s also very proud of the progress he’s witnessed within the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. He said when he first started working with the group, they had very little money to hire staff or really implement many programs. He compliments the group for focusing their attention, getting a little more checkoff money, and hiring the right people to ‘shepherd’ the organization forward getting the most ‘bang for their buck’. He said today Wisconsin Corn Growers Association isn’t just a force within the state, but also a national leader.

Lauer said he will continue to honor some speaking engagements he’s made, and he plans to stay in the Madison area. Near term focus will be family. Lauer and his wife, Kathy, have five kids and a growing number of grandchildren to welcome! What’s the one thing most people don’t know about Joe Lauer – you’ll have to listen to the end.

Congratulations Dr. Joe Lauer!