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Eight exceptional young farmers will participate in the 65th Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) Awards Weekend Jan. 25-27, 2019, in Johnson Creek, Wis.

The Outstanding Young Farmer Program began in 1954 as a National Priority program for the U.S. Jaycees. Wisconsin's first winner was named in 1952 and 64 state programs have been held since. Wisconsin has had 18 winners on the national level over the years.

Ryan and Tasha Schleis, Kewaunee County — Ryan Schleis always knew he would be spending his life on his family’s farm in Kewaunee County. His hope for the future of agriculture combined with the strong foundation of his family’s farming legacy are creating opportunities for him to diversify the family farm to remain relevant, productive and cutting edge.

The farm, which has been in the Schleis family since 1916, is a haven for Ryan as he works with his wife, Tasha, to increase the farm’s sustainability and longevity. The couple hopes their three children will continue the family farming legacy.

To deal with low milk prices, the couple have sought efficiencies including a new feeding program utilizing home grown forages, reducing employee numbers by taking on more tasks themselves as well as keeping a smaller, higher quality herd of cows on their farm. 

The herd of 450 purebred Fleckvieh cows and an additional 450 head in young stock and steers has given Ryan and Tasha more versatility on the farm. The herd is healthier and more vigorous overall since they began using this breed in 2008.

Both Ryan and Tasha are active in the Kewaunee County Dairy Promotion, and help with events like Breakfast on the Farm, Farm-to-Fork Gala and local parades. Tasha is also one of Kewaunee County’s dairy ambassadors, visiting schools and other organizations to share the importance of dairy.

Jon and Holly White, Marathon County — Family and farming have always been top priorities for Jon and Holly White. Both have farming backgrounds and have had a passion for it for many years. Today they are raising their two young children on their own farm.

Ten years ago, the couple saved up enough money to buy three cows and rent a barn. They both began working on a 1,000-cow dairy and a 160-cow dairy, but scaled back to working only on the 160-cow dairy within two years. This was also about the time they moved to another barn where they milked their growing herd — now up to 20 cows —with buckets.

In 2013, they were able to purchase the farm they currently own through the Beginning Farmer Program with the Farm Service Agency and United States Department of Agriculture.

In order to help diversify the farm, the Whites have recently started to crossbreed their registered Holsteins with Jerseys. They’re hopeful this move will help them stay relevant in the ever-changing commodity markets.

When Jon and Holly began milking they had realistic and reasonable goals. They wanted to pay off their herd of cows and buy their own farm. As a result of their struggles, the couple hopes to mentor other young farmers just starting out. They also open up their farm for tours to help educate urban families.

Mark and Cari Stoltz, Richland County — A strong faith in God, putting family time and priorities above all else and sharing the importance of the farm are values Richland County organic dairy farmers Mark and Cari Stoltz are using to raise their children and keep their farm operational.

Mark and Cari returned to the Stoltz family farm in 2012, purchasing what was left of the milking herd and young stock. They struggled through their first year farming with old equipment and outdated facilities not to mention enduring a drought.

The couple has also seen a reduction in the price paid for their organic milk as well as a new quota system. Even with these issues, the Stoltzes continue to improve their production and cow numbers as well as improving the farm and machinery. The Stoltzes have recently begun a new breeding plan, cross-breeding with Brown Swiss and Jersey breeds to achieve genetic diversity for reproduction and gain higher components.

When starting out running the family farm, the couple's goals were simple: stay in business and pay the bills. They are slowly but surely accomplishing their newest goals:  growing their own feed to save money, building a storage shed with a shop for machinery and hosting the Richland County dairy breakfast sometime.

Scott Laeser and Chelsea Chandler, Lafayette County—With plenty of lofty goals, open minds and feet planted firmly in the ground, Scott Laeser and Chelsea Chandler are tackling their farming dreams in the Driftless Region of the state. Their sustainable food production mindset combined with the desire to preserve the land for future generations carries them through each day in the field on their community-supported agriculture farm called Plowshares and Prairie Farm.

While living in Seattle, he volunteered to work at an organic community-supported agriculture farm just outside the city, where he asked the farmers lots of questions while learning on the job. Shortly after, he and Chelsea moved home to Wisconsin to start farming on his grandparents' farm.

The couple have utilized mentors, seeking information helping them to learn about various farm systems, marketing techniques, seed varieties, equipment and opening up to the public.

They grow over 200 varieties of certified organic fruits and vegetables on their farm. They’ve found success with certain varieties but are always conducting trials to test for improved yields, disease resistance and better flavor. They also experiment with cover crops and crop rotation, keeping in mind their ultimate goal: grow healthy, quality food with a minimal, or even positive, impact on the land.

Tony and Katie Mellenthin, Pepin County—Tony Mellenthin has been farming since 2011 while still a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Starting with rented land, he joined his family’s Dunn County farm business in 2013 after graduation with a degree in agricultural business.

Since graduation his responsibilities on his family’s farm have grown to include seed selection, crop protection decisions, crop insurance decisions, accounting and financial record keeping as well as soil sampling and day to day labor.  Since returning to his family’s farm the business has grown from 4,000 acres to almost 7,000 acres.

Tony and his family do trials each year on various methods and products. Through this process they have incorporated many new practices including fungicide on soybeans and irrigated corn, reducing soybean plant populations and some unconventional ways to stimulate growth and yield.

Besides coping with low commodity prices, he sees communicating with consumers and the non-farming public as a challenge that needs to be addressed. He does this through his involvement with the Wisconsin Soybean Association where he has served as president since February. 

He and his wife Katie have one child, Everly. Katie is a nurse in Eau Claire and helps out on the farm as needed.

Brody and Carolyn Stapel, Sheboygan County — Brody and his wife Carolyn began pursuing the possibilities of farming with his dad in 2012 after Brody worked as a landscaper for about seven years after high school. It took the family three years of planning before he and his dad and brother formally formed a partnership and moved the farming business to a new location at Cedar Grove, 30 miles from the farm where Brody had grown up.

Double Dutch Dairy includes 220 cows that they milk in a double-eight parlor. They also raise young stock and utilize 450 acres for feed for the herd and another 400 acres for cash cropping. Brody manages the dairy, herd health, reproduction, feed and nutrition and bookwork while his brother oversees the equipment and building maintenance and fieldwork.

The first years were a struggle as they worked to make repairs and updates to the farm.  Along the way they maintained genetic progress in both cattle and agronomy on the farm. They started doing custom field work, monitored and adjusted feed costs closely and continually reevaluate efficiencies as they strive to move ahead in the business.

Brody's goal from the start was to raise his family on the farm. He and his wife Carolyn want to give their four children the opportunity and desire to farm and that means they plan to continually learn and improve how they care for the land, the animals and create a positive workplace.

As president of the Edge Cooperative Board, he is not only able to give back to the dairy community that he loves, it has provided him with opportunities to travel to Washington D.C. to speak with lawmakers about policies affecting agriculture.

Evan Hillan, Rusk County — Evan returned to his family’s Ruck County farm five years ago after earning his undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship. Since returning, he has continued to grow equity in the operation and apply his business skills to growing the farm.

The farm currently includes 1,400 acres and they are currently planning their next phase of expansion which will include the addition of long-term manure storage and increasing the herd to 500 cows.

Evan’s responsibilities on the farm include overseeing all of the young stock from wet calves to bred heifers. In 2015 he also began sharing cropping decisions with his father.  He shares in the oversight of farm financials and he manages and oversees the farm’s 15 full and part time team members. Evan helped to design a new robotic calf feeding system and barn.

Evan currently serves on the National Dairy Board and Dairy Management, Inc. board.  He is looking forward to helping shape the dairy industry’s future on the national level.

Adam and Chrissy Seibel, Chippewa County — Adam and Chrissy are partners with Adam's parents on the family's fifth generation dairy farm in Chippewa County. The farm has grown from 50 cows and 225 acres to the current 140 cows and 1000 acres.

The farm was recently certified as organic. The Seibel’s was one of the first organic farms in the country to install robotic milkers.

In addition, they started raising and selling their grass fed, organic steers 10 years ago by travelling to local farmers markets. Now many customers come directly to the farm year round. Their products are available in the community at several stores and restaurants.

Both Adam and Chrissy are active spokespersons for agriculture. Their farm was a part of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation’s promotional video to highlight agriculture in the county. They have also worked with Senator Ron Johnson to advocate for organic integrity in the dairy and crop markets. 

They enjoy opening their farm to visitors including the Tour de Farm bike ride, Farm-City Days, Chippewa County Holstein Breeders Association’s twilight meeting, Bloomer Chamber of Commerce, Chippewa Valley Electric Board of Directors and more. Chrissy  also assists with the farm books and manages all of the direct marketing they do with their organic beef, including maintaining the farm’s website and Facebook page.

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