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Published July 22, 2010, 09:50 AM

Governor: Wisconsin ag department chief dies

MADISON, Wis. — Rod Nilsestuen, who headed the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture as a “visionary agriculture leader” and helped dramatically increase the state’s milk and cheese production, has died, Gov. Jim Doyle’s office said late Wednesday.

MADISON, Wis. — Rod Nilsestuen, who headed the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture as a “visionary agriculture leader” and helped dramatically increase the state’s milk and cheese production, has died, Gov. Jim Doyle’s office said late Wednesday.

“It’s our understanding that he drowned while volunteering and working on a Habitat for Humanity home in Michigan with family,” Doyle spokeswoman Carla Vigue said.

Police in Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, said they responded to a drowning Wednesday evening near Picnic Rocks, a recreation area along Lake Superior. Police said the victim was a Wisconsin man visiting the area, but his name hasn’t been released.

Vigue said Nilsestuen was volunteering in the area.

Doyle appointed Nilsestuen secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in 2003.

The governor said Nilsestuen was not only “one of the most important agriculture leaders in Wisconsin history” who helped protect farmland and connect residents to local farms, but also was a wonderful father, husband and friend.

“Under his incredible leadership, Wisconsin has seen the greatest and most beneficial transformation of agriculture in generations,” Doyle said in his statement.

The governor also credited Nilsestuen for promoting the development of biofuels to generate local renewable energy and for ensuring that “farmers received the economic value of their work.”

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