Since his middle school days, Jared Holwerda has worked at a company that manufactures milk replacer for all manner of baby animals.
Last week, Holwerda was named Wisconsin's Star in Agriscience for his work in the laboratory at Esmilco, a California-based company with a branch in Fall River, where the Randolph Cambria-Friesland FFA member works.
He began working at the facility when his dad (who works there himself) asked him if he'd like to help with some lab work the company employees were falling behind in due to increased volume.
With experience in a physical chemistry class and water testing in the animal lab, Holwerda went to work with his dad and got enough training to be able to reliably replicate his results.
He said he started slowly in the lab and did more as he became more experienced but was always supervised by adults working the lab.
Part of his work there involved testing the milk-replacer products for proper pH and mixability, and other quality-control parameters. The company makes milk replacer not only for calves but also for pigs and specialty animals, as well as electrolyte products.
In an interview following the FFA award ceremony, Holwerda said he has several goals related to his FFA project. The first was to learn the proper operation of all the lab equipment. This included balances, pH meters, various types of glassware, scales and filtering equipment.
His second goal was learning to interpret the test results he was getting and determine if the products in question were acceptable to meet company standards.
A third goal was to make sure all his lab procedures were correctly followed so all test results were official and could be recorded to show that products met company specifications.
Part of his work involved getting the data transferred so it could be interpreted at the company office in Stockton, CA, as well as Fall River.
Through his experience in the lab, Holwerda has learned to operate, calibrate and maintain the equipment he uses. He said he can interpret test results, determine their accuracy and has learned to determine if products are going to be suitable for consumption by the various kinds of animals they are designed for.
Jared's parents are Stan and Beth Holwerda, and his adviser is the legendary Keith Gundlach. Stan is product manager at Esmilco.
The young award winner credited his father for making the job opportunity possible. "Without him, I would have never known about his opportunity, and this SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) would not have existed.
"It was important in my training to have my father as my supervisor and mentor," Jared said. "He taught me a lot about the laboratory and was also very important in helping me get to know the other employees."
He also credited his FFA advisor who visited him at work while he was doing laboratory protocols and had him explain each procedure.
The young FFA star plans to study environmental law and conservation and hopes to be a game warden one day. In addition to his work at Esmilco, Jared also started his own business – Jared's Lawn Care.
While in his FFA chapter, Jared served as reporter and then president in his senior year. With 258 members, the Randolph Cambria-Friesland FFA chapter is the second largest in the state — behind only Fort Atkinson.
Holwerda comes from a farming family. He said his grandparents emigrated here from Holland, and his uncle continues the family farm.