2019 Wisconsin OYF winners: Don't be afraid to be innovative

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Adam and Chrissy Seibel are the winners of the 2019 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer award. The Seibel’s farm was one of the first organic farms in the country to put in robotic milkers.

After graduating from high school, Chippewa County farmer Adam Seibel had a few goals: transition the family dairy farm to a certified organic operation and to attain crop and milk production levels comparable to that of a conventional farming operation.

The fifth generation farmers began networking with other organic farmers as well as educators, building strategies using new technology and ideas to help achieve those goals. Today the Seibel's are one of the first organic farms in the country to install robotic milkers.

Seibel attributes the farm's success to setting goals.

"Put (those goals)in a place where you will see them every day and then surround yourself with knowledgeable people that share your vision," Seibel said.

Seibel and his wife, Chrissy's hard work and innovation was recognized during the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer 65th annual Awards Weekend held Jan. 25-27 in Johnson Creek.

"We were very honored and surprised that we won. All of the other finalists had amazing stories and were just as deserving of this award," said Seibel.

Pictured are the top three winners in the 2019 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer award. From left are Brody and Carolyn Stapel, first runner up; Adam and Chrissy Seibel, winners; and Chelsea Chandler and Scott Laeser, second runner up.

First runners up were Brody and Carolyn Stapel of Cedar Grove. Brody is a partner of Double Dutch Dairy LLC. Owners of community-supported agriculture farm, Plowshares and Prairie Farm, Scott Laeser and Chelsea Chandler of Argyle, were named second runner up. 

Tony and Katie Mellenthin of Eau Galle, were winners of the “Speak up for Agriculture” award. Tony Mellenthin helps run the family's 6700-acre corn and soybean operation.

Other finalists in the competition included Jon and Holly White, Edgar, Mark and Cari Stoltz, Muscoda; Ryan and Tasha Schleis, Kewaunee and Evan Hillan, Ladysmith.

Overcoming challenges

Since joining the family business in 2002, the herd has expanded from 50 to 140 cows that produce an average of 80 lbs. per day. The family has also increased their cropland, going from 225 acres to 1000.

The family attributes some of the success in the bulk tank to innovative upgrades to the farms' facilities: a 150-stall freestall barn, separate calf and heifer barns as well as new feed and grain storage.

Organic dairy farms were not immune to the problems associated with the surplus supply of milk on the market. Not only did the family see a dramatic drop in price for their milk, a newly placed quota forced the family to rethink it production plan while surviving financially.

In the meantime, Seibel reduced herd numbers by selling a few cows, drying some up early and adjusting feed rations. While the quota has been lifted, further herd expansion is not allowed.

Finalists for the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer award gathered at Comfort Suites in Johnson Creek Jan. 25-27. Pictured are (back row, from left) Evan Hillan, Ladysmith; Ryan Schleis, Kewaunee; Adam Seibel, Bloomer; Brody Stapel, Cedar Grove; Scott Laeser, Argyle; Mark Stoltz, Muscoda; John White, Edgar; and Tony Mellenthin, Eau Galle. (front) Tasha Schleis, Kewaunee;Chrissy Seibel, Bloomer; Carolyn Stapel, Cedar Grove; Chelsea Chandler, Argyle; Cari Stoltz, Muscoda; and Holly White, Edgar.

Chrissy, who teaches high school science, and assists with the farm's recruitment and management for their youth apprenticeship students. She also manages all of the direct marketing they do with their organic beef. The couple began travelling to local farmers markets ten years ago to sell their beef. Now customers travel to the farm year round to purchase their products which are also available at several stores and restaurants. 

Adam encourages other young farmers to be innovative and to think outside the box.

"Technology and techniques are always improving; you don't have to do things the way they've always been done. And just because it hasn't been done, doesn't mean it can't," he said.

The Seibel's will attend the national OYF competition in Westbrook, CT, Feb. 5-9, 2020.  

"We are very excited to represent our state at the national level," Seibel said.

Andy Fisher of Reedsville, winner of last year's state competition, will compete  next month at the national OYF Congress in Moline, Ill..

Judges for the event include Dawn Haag of Compeer Financial, Heidi Johnson, Crops and Soils Educator for UW-Extension in Dane County; and James Reu, past Wisconsin OYF state winner.