Fischer studies abroad in Scotland

Explores historic sites, farms and agribusinesses – Part 2

By Nicole Rogers
Posted 6/26/24

Recently, Owen-Withee High School Alumnus Matthew Fischer spent 11 days studying abroad in Scotland.  Fischer graduated this spring from University of Wisconsin-River Falls, with a double …

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Fischer studies abroad in Scotland

Explores historic sites, farms and agribusinesses – Part 2


Recently, Owen-Withee High School Alumnus Matthew Fischer spent 11 days studying abroad in Scotland.  Fischer graduated this spring from University of Wisconsin-River Falls, with a double degree, Bachelor of Science in Dairy Science and Agriculture Business. He said that he learned a lot about Scotland’s agriculture and enjoyed touring the country. In preparation for the trip, Matthew enrolled in Agribusiness International Study which was a course that ran during the whole spring semester.

“We toured an 800-cow farm. And that was probably one of the biggest farms they have in Scotland. A lot of them are between the 100 to 150 head and they're spattered throughout; they're not really concentrated in one region. They don't have any corn production over there because they can't get corn to grow, it's not hot enough for the heat units. Any corn they have in any diets is all shipped in from across the seas, from the U.S. typically. They buy a lot of corn and it’s also very expensive.”

 Matthew went on to say that the dairy herd was Scotland's equivalent of the Holstein USA, a Scottish Holstein Association. “They are a pure 100% registered herd,” he explained. “They measure everything in liters so about 80 pounds was their highest producing cows over there. They're not getting, or don't have a protein and energy source that we have over here. We can get our high cranking cows over 120 pounds. Also, the layout of the farm was unique because when you think of all our farms, the parlors and the milking equipment must be pristine. It's got to be clean, USDA standards, over there their parlor was inside the barn with no separate room, it was just open to the barn so it was extremely dusty. It was clean but it wasn't pristine, white clean.”

The grading system in the UK is unlike that of the U.S. It is not based on grade A or grade B per say, but more on a quota system.

“So, their class system was really funky, classes will be for a certain quota and that's how you determine your class pay. Because it's all paid pence per liter…I think if I did my math right, their milk price comes out to be for our 100-weight equivalent to about 22.22 pounds but also their operating expenses are a lot higher than ours so their profit margin again is barely a pound or two bucks on 100 weight of milk.”

 “We talked to the herdsman; he was really knowledgeable on everything. He said they just started breeding beef on dairy so there's the Angus to dairy crosses to manage the heifer number. If they do breed beef on dairy it's all contracted out to buyers beforehand. They don't have Premier and Equity like we do here, they just have a market for the cattle right away.”

What did Matthew take away from the trip to Scotland that would aid him in his career in agriculture? He said the biggest thing was being ready for changes in the climate policy.

“There's been a huge net zero initiative over there and sustainability. The UK since Brexit, they're not in the European Union anymore, the UK policies are about, I want to say, five years behind the EU's policies which was really interesting. Now Scotland is all of a sudden getting into the net zero.”

Matthew said it is beneficial to understand things like climate scores and carbon emissions on the farm because when policy starts happening here in the U.S., “We can get what we want in our policy versus having what they give you. Being ahead. I think every farmer we talked to had something to say about climate change policy. They said to be on the forefront because what happens here, usually 5 to 10 years later happens in the U.S.”

Matthew stressed that it is important to understand your carbon credits. If you have carbon credits and companies want to buy them, it’s vital to understand that process. He said that most global companies sell in Europe and Europe's already put these policies in place.

Matthew continues to work and hopes to someday take over his family dairy farm in Owen and was asked how the policies and climate change will affect a small Wisconsin farm like this.

“We are working right now on trying to get our climate scores figured out. I think it'll help us be more profitable in the future, because it's going to diversify some of our income. We are looking at different ways that we can be ahead so we're on the uphill trends because I think it's going to come to the point where plants are going to have premiums related to how efficient you are, how carbon neutral you are. I think it could be a tool in our back pocket that could get us more involved in the policy realm. Having diversified backgrounds to help us, the small farm communities, have a voice in the bigger American agriculture.”

In the fall of his senior year, Matthew was recruited by the National Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) and as promised was offered a job upon graduation. AGR, founded at the University of Florida in 1942, focuses on Agriculture and is the world’s largest social-professional fraternity.

“I started working for National AGR in June. I'll be an educational leadership consultant, be stationed out of Kansas City but work 100% remote so I'll be living back here at home. I will spend three quarters of my time traveling on the road across the nation working with 17 chapters. I'll be consulting plus we have conferences and everything, so will be very busy.”

After his travels with AGR are over and Matthew is back farming full-time, he has plans for the family dairy farm. “I think there's still a niche for having a smaller operation and our hope once I come back full time is to grow. But you know, land is a dime a dozen here. If it goes up for sale, somebody's already knocking on the door to buy it. But we want to expand, we want to expand the herd. We'll go robotics.”

Matthew said his parents Paul and Sarah Fischer, have always encouraged him to get involved and learn all he can about things that interest him. They too have been active in farm organizations and have had opportunities to travel and learn more about agriculture before settling into running the family farm. Matthew said it’s important to make connections while in college, reach out to professors, join an organization, be active, it has served him well during his time at UW-River Falls and now that he is a college graduate.