Photo of Hayden Pierce, a senior political science and criminal justice major who has worked on the project as a research assistant since last fall.

Hayden Pierce, a senior political science and criminal justice major, has worked on the project as a research assistant since last fall.

Amid changes in agricultural land and record high dairy farm closings, Wisconsin’s lead industry is in the middle of a major transition, and a team of UW-Platteville researchers – including faculty and students – is exploring how farmers and rural communities are affected by these land changes and their response to policy proposals intended to address the issues.

The project – led by Dr. Claudine Pied, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, and Dr. Shan Sappleton, associate professor of political science – is one of the seven inaugural faculty research fellowships at UW-Platteville, supported by the Dairy Innovation Hub. Formed in 2018, the state-supported Dairy Innovation Hub provides $7.9 million annually to the UW System to increase research, teaching and outreach offerings at UW-Platteville, UW-Madison, and UW-River Falls to help the agriculture community meet today’s challenges.

The research team is exploring how dairy farmers’ and community members’ connections to the land affect their decisions; how farmers make decisions about what to do with their land; and which land-based agricultural, conservation and recreation policies most effectively support the interests and needs of small and mid-sized dairy farms and their communities. Focused on Grant and Dane counties, the research uses a combination of analyzing existing data, interviewing and observing participants, and surveying farmers.

Hayden Pierce, a senior political science and criminal justice major from Marshall, Wisconsin, has worked on the project as a research assistant since last fall. His responsibilities have ranged from conducting interviews with community members, farmers and experts; researching existing literature; and analyzing and coding data the team has collected. He is currently developing a map of all dairy farms in Wisconsin, plotting the location of the more than 7,000 farms and categorizing them by livestock type.

“Hopefully this research will have long-term policy implications,” said Pierce. “Some of the trends that I have seen so far is that farms tend to be struggling in the same areas, but people have different ways of how they want to fix those problems. I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of programs that can assist farmers, but they aren’t very well known to them. Hopefully policy and good change will come from this research, and it can improve Wisconsin’s dairy industry.”

The research also aims to promote a stronger connection between the social sciences and agriculture at UW-Platteville.

“All disciplines interconnect in some way,” said Pierce, adding that the research is helping him develop a balance of understanding how policies affect agriculture.

This insight is especially useful, Pierce said, because he hopes to attend law school.

“All law has research behind it, so gaining this research experience and knowledge of how to find out if policies we put forward are effective and what consequences they may have is important,” said Pierce.

“We are excited to have Hayden on the research team,” said Sappleton. “We chose Hayden because of his strong academic background, interest in ag policy, and because he cares about the future of dairy farming in Wisconsin. We’ve been impressed with his work and overall contribution to the goals of the project.”

For more information about UW-Platteville’s involvement in the Dairy Innovation Hub, including research initiatives, visit