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Wisconsin Agricultural Outlook Forum explores rural-urban divide

After spending a decade visiting rural communities and inviting herself to listen in on informal conversations about politics at diners, gas stations and other local gathering spots, UW-Madison political scientist Kathy Cramer has learned a lot about Wisconsin’s rural-urban divide. She summarized her findings in her 2016 book The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

On Thursday, Jan. 25, Cramer will interpret her book for an agricultural audience during the keynote talk at the 2018 Wisconsin Agricultural Outlook Forum. The theme of this year’s forum is “Navigating the Rural-Urban Divide in Wisconsin.”

Due to her unusual research approach, Cramer has developed a unique and deep understanding of a perspective she calls rural consciousness, which she describes as someone’s identity as a rural person combined with a sense that people in rural communities do not get their fair share of attention, resources and respect. Cramer will explain this perspective at the forum.

“I’ll also explain how this perspective is fertile ground for arguments against supporting public institutions like UW-Madison and UW-Extension, and I will argue that agriculture could very well be one important way in which we bridge our urban versus rural divides,” says Cramer.

The Wisconsin Agricultural Outlook Forum, organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Renk Agribusiness Institute, runs from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Jan. 25 in Varsity Hall II in Union South, located at 1308 West Dayton Street, Madison.

The forum’s morning session features presentations by UW-Madison and UW-Extension Cooperative Extension experts on the recent trends and future outlook for the state’s main agricultural products, as well as the status of Wisconsin’s farm economy and overall economy.

The afternoon session, which takes place after Cramer’s lunchtime keynote talk, will explore how Wisconsin agribusinesses affect — and are affected by — the rural-urban divide.

“We are excited to have Kathy Cramer at the forum this year. Her discussion of her book will help set the stage for the afternoon as we examine how these issues impact the state’s agribusinesses,” says Paul Mitchell, director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute.

The afternoon session, moderated by Larry Meiller, starts with a talk about the myths and realities of the rural-urban divide by Tessa Conroy, an economic development specialist with the UW-Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and UW-Extension Cooperative Extension. Conroy’s talk will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Larry Alsum, owner of Alsum Farms & Produce, Mark Crave, herd manager and personnel manager for Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, and Mark O’Connell, executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.

“Larry Alsum and Mark Crave are both good examples of Wisconsin farmers and agribusiness owners who have to navigate that rural-urban divide—living in and running a business in a rural area, while focusing on selling something of value to the urban consumer directly,” says Mitchell. “It will be interesting to hear all of our panelists’ experiences navigating the rural-urban divide, and their thoughts about how the public sector could better support the state’s agribusinesses.”

Forum registration is open through Jan. 18. The $20 registration fee covers both the lunch and the forum. For a more detailed agenda and to register, visit:

The event is sponsored by the UW-Madison Renk Agribusiness Institute; UW-Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics; UW-Madison Office of University Relations; UW-Extension; Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board; Wisconsin Farmers Union; Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation; Midwest Food Products Association; and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association.

For more information, contact Jeremy Beach at or (608) 262-9485.