Otto Wiegand ’70, MS’91, PhD’95 has a doctorate but says he’s not a “test-tube kind of guy.”
Instead, Wiegand takes a hands-on approach to agriculture — whether it’s in northwest Wisconsin or farmer-to-farmer programs in Africa, Central and South America, and Europe. As a just-retired UW-Extension agriculture agent in Spooner, Wisconsin — serving Washburn, Sawyer, and Burnett Counties — he helped local farmers find solutions to everyday problems.
Working internationally, Wiegand has tried to find ways to make agriculture better in nations such as Kenya, Mozambique, Mali, Guyana, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cyprus, and Kosovo. “I like visiting farms,” says Wiegand, who grew up on a dairy farm in Cleveland, Wisconsin, in Manitowoc County. “I’m not a good salesman, but I can sell ideas. I love traveling to other countries and helping people — it’s like a working vacation.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in dairy science in 1970, Wiegand did a pair of stints in the Peace Corps in Kenya and Paraguay. (UW–Madison is a national leader in the number of volunteers it sends to the Peace Corps.) He later earned a master’s degree in African studies at Ohio University.
“It was an incredible experience. If you have that degree from UW–Madison, it carries clout.”
Wiegand first worked in agriculture, running the family farm in the 1980s and doing dairy employee placement and dairy expansion business planning. He later started teaching agriculture at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay as an adjunct instructor. He returned to UW–Madison to earn his second masters and a PhD in dairy science, finishing in 1995. “Getting my PhD was a humbling experience for me, because I realized that there are more questions than answers,” says Wiegand, who did research on feeding tree leaves to sheep in Ethiopia. “I am thankful for the opportunity. UW–Madison is a great place.”
And, UW–Madison helped him to translate a well-traveled career toward practical solutions for Wisconsin farmers. “It was an incredible experience,” he says. “If you have that degree from UW-Madison, it carries clout.”