Wisconsin women awarded Farmers Union's highest honor

Wisconsin State Farmer
Former Wisconsin Farmers Union President Sue Carlson (center) is presented the Meritorious Service award by National Farmers Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson (left) and current WFU President Darin VonRuden during the organization's 116th Anniversary Convention.

KANSAS CITY, MO –  For nearly 60 years, Janet Nelson has worked side by side with her husband, Julian, making a go of it on their dairy farm up in Barron County. And for nearly as long, Nelson has been a member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. 

Vernon County native Sue Carlson lead the Wisconsin Farmers Union as president from 2003-2009 when she left her post after marrying North Dakota Farmers Union President Robert Carlson and moved to North Dakota.

Their dedication and support of the farming industry through the Farmers Union was rewarded, as Nelson and Carlson were among three members to receive the National Farmers Union (NFU) highest award during the organization's 116th Anniversary Convention.

The Meritorious Service Award is presented to individuals that have gone above and beyond to ensure that success and the well-being of family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Recognized for their outstanding leadership and service to family agriculture and to Farmers Union over the course of their lifetimes were Nelson, Matt Birgen and Sue Carson.

“As advocates for family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities, it is important to our mission as an organization that we recognize those who work to aid progress in rural America and in family agriculture,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Matt, Sue and Janet dedicated their careers and lives to bettering life for family farmers, ranchers, their communities, and to farmers across the world. I am proud to recognize their contributions with our organization’s highest honor, the Meritorious Service Award.”

Birgen, Carlson and Nelson join past recipients of the Meritorious Service Award, including former Members of Congress and a former United States President (Harry S Truman), who have made particularly noteworthy contributions to family agriculture, humanity, and Farmers Union at the state and national levels.

Sue Carlson is a passionate family farm advocate and has championed Farmers Union policies for most of her life and is the recipient of theMeritorious Service Award to Agriculture and to World Agriculture.

Carlson has provided strong leadership at every level - from serving as a youth leader in her local, to president of Wisconsin Farmers Union, to sitting on the NFU Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and in developing the World Farmers’ Organization (WFO).

Most recently, she played a key role in development of the Women’s Committee of the WFO. Sue worked tirelessly to grow WFO’s efforts to expand participation by women farmers and recognize the vital role that women farmers provide in our world’s agricultural and rural economies. Her work raised the general visibility of WFO, helped build understanding of its mission, and established enduring partnerships between organizations and governments around the essential role of women in agriculture around the world.

Barron County farmer Janet Nelson was presented the Meritorious Service Award to Farmers Union and to American Agriculture during the NFU convention this week.

Janet Nelson and her husband operated a 360-acre dairy farm in Barron County, originally started by Julian’s grandparents. They have milked 56 cows in years past, but have cut down to a manageable amount for granddaughters, Brittany and Bailee George to help Julian with.

Nelson has been a member of Farmers Union since 1961 and in the 1970’s, a Barron County Farmers Union officer asked her to attend her first fly-in. Ever since, she has played a significant role in Farmers Union and American agriculture.

Nelson served on the NFU Policy Committee, bringing what she learned back to Wisconsin and taking on the role as WFU Policy Committee chair. Her greatest accomplishment has been the quilts she has created and donated for the NFU Convention Foundation fundraiser over the past 40 years. The thousands of dollars obtained from the auctioned quilts has helped Farmers Union spread the values and beliefs of the organization to countless numbers of people throughout the nation.

Matt Birgen has served on his Clay County Farmers Union board for more than 50 years, he has also served on multiple other boards since coming back from the Korean War and starting his own operation in 1955.