Three-peat for third generation Vesper family farmers

Gloria Hafemeister
Marti family of Vesper, Travis and Melissa and their children Allison, 14, Chloe, 12, Jacob 10 and Ryan, 7 are proud to be Wisconsin’s Outstanding Young Farmers and will represent Wisconsin at the national OYF competition in 2024 in Washington State.

VESPER ‒ It is business as usual for Travis and Melissa Marti on their Vesper farm, just weeks after being chosen as Wisconsin’s Outstanding Young Farmers at the annual OYF Awards weekend in Manitowoc.

The couple says they are honored to have been the third generation to represent their county in the contest. Both Travis’s parents and grandparents won the award at the county level previously.

“We have been blessed to be able to work alongside family all these years,” says Melissa. “Travis's dad is still active on the farm, helping with field work during planting and harvesting. Grandpa Ron passed away recently, but he was an important part of the farm throughout his entire life. We know he'd be proud to see us receive this recognition and we're proud to carry on the legacy he started so many years ago.”

The couple agreed that there were many outstanding farmers in the group of finalists they met at the weekend event.  Travis says, “They all do amazing things with their animals, crops, machinery, and community outreach. The future of Wisconsin agriculture is bright with them leading the way!”

For Travis, farming was more than just milking cows and driving tractor when he was growing up on his family’s farm.  He says he spent his childhood learning how to solve problems, how to work with his hands and how to take charge and get things done.

After graduating from high school, Travis transferred those skills off the farm and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. After a year of working for Ford Motor Company, he decided office life and city living was not for him.

That’s when the couple made the decision to move back to Vesper to join his family on their dairy farm.

Without a degree in dairy science, Travis sought to learn about dairy management through PDPW classes and PDPW’s peer group. He also recognized the importance of relying on agricultural consultants, other farmers and UW-Extension to help him develop his farming and business skills.

At the time Travis and Melissa joined the family farm in 2014, the Marti's were milking 160 cows and had 150 replacement animals. Today the herd has grown to 535 milking cows and 450 replacements. The rolling herd average has also grown through the years and stands now at 30,600.

Like other farmers, Travis faced challenges of weather, Covid-19, volatile markets and milk prices.  Their expansion in 2015 – growing from 160 cows to 350 cows – required developing employee management practices.  Travis credits dedicated employees and ag professionals for helping him through the farm’s growing pains.

Grandpa Ron and Dad Mick also share in the credit for imparting their knowledge and lending support over the years as Travis and Melissa gradually assumed ownership of the family farm. They now own 614 acres and rent an additional 800 acres.

Cows have always been the center of the family’s business and Travis continues to follow his dad’s advice, “Take care of the cows and they will take care of you.” 

The importance of staying up-to-date on cropping practices in order to build and maintain healthy soil has been key. Travis says he has adopted several technologies that help fine-tune planting and spraying. The Marti's continue to experiment with cover crop and no-till practices as well as grid sampling of soil every three years in order to understand soil nutrients and pH zones.

The Vesper farmers uses variable rate fertilizer and lime applications as needed and has partnered with Elusive Hill to use manure injection equipment to ensure that the nutrients get into the ground. Drag lining is also used to reduce soil compaction and traffic on roads.

In the barn the cows benefit from new technologies and production practices.  A Boumatic activity and location system helps track milk weights, heat detection, rumination and eating time. It also helps identify sick cows early and a robotic calf feeder and robotic feed pusher increases efficiency on the farm.

Travis admits that he wasn’t thinking “big picture” when he returned to the farm. At the time it was important to simply be able to raise his children on the farm rather than in a city and be his own boss.  Over time he says his goals have evolved and is serious about passing on his knowledge to the next generation. 

Whether the next generation on the farm ends up being his own children or his employees, he is passionate about sharing the things he has learned and helping others develop their passion for agriculture.

Children Allison, 14, Chloe, 12, Jacob, 10, and Ryan, 7, are learning many tasks under their father's guidance including feeding calves, driving tractor, hauling wagons and milking cows. The siblings have also tasted the entrepreneurial spirit by planting, growing and selling sweet corn every summer. High school students that work on the farm also benefit, learning many skills that will help them succeed no matter the path they choose.

The Marti siblings, from left, Jacob, Ryan, Allison and Chloe, work together each year to produce a crop of sweet corn that they sell.

Building a sustainable business that supports his family as well as provides some work-life balance is a prime goal. To achieve that, Travis has focused on building a team of knowledgeable, trustworthy, hard-working individuals who also share a passion and vision for the farm.

Melissa is employed off the farm as an account manager and membership coordinator for #SocialSchool4EDU and also handles the farm bookkeeping, bill paying, payroll and works with the farm accountant.  She is very active promoting their farm and agriculture in general through social media and by hosting school classes and others at their farm.  She organized a “Lunch with a Farmer” event for National Ag Day in 2018, working with the school’s PTO, FFA, food service director, area farmers and local cheese factory.  She served on a Farm Technology Days committee in 2019 and arranged public relations and media opportunities in the area. 

The mother of four also wrote and was awarded a grant to purchase more than 100 copies of Right This Minute – the 2019 Ag Foundation’s Book of the Year – and delivered them to elementary schools across Central Wisconsin so teachers and librarians can incorporate lessons about agriculture in their classrooms.

While both Travis and Melissa have been active with social media and community in a variety of ways, a great deal of their involvement in ag-related groups has been through PDPW.  The couple says they are thankful to be a part of that organization where they have been involved in various committees and work groups throughout the years.

The community-minded couple has also partnered with the Pittsville Fire Department in an effort to increase ag safety awareness. The fire department has used Marti Farms on multiple occasions to conduct trainings and give presentations on ag safety issues including mapping and LifeLink III medical transport training.