One of the great traditions in Wisconsin agriculture is struggling, but surviving, thanks to some dedicated individuals. It’s the Wisconsin Jaycees Outstanding Young Farmer Program, which on Saturday night in Marshfield showcased another group of young farmers who made all in attendance feel good about the future of farming here in Wisconsin. However, the 59 year old event isn’t what it used to be.
Being named the state’s top young farmers is still one of the greatest honors the competitors will ever achieve. This year’s winners, Adam and Rebecca Kuczer, of Pulaski in Shawano county, are a shining example of the new generation of farmer and their attention to detail as they run their farm with a thorough and complete business plan. The same could be said for all the young farmers at this year’s event. In fact, Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary, Ben Brancel, who attended the Saturday night finale told us, “I think I just met some of the future leaders of this state.” He wasn’t talking about just in the area of agriculture. He said he was impressed talking to them and reading their resumes about how involved they are at the community level, the number and variety of organizations they participate in and the efforts they make to share with the consuming public what it is to be a farmer and how farms operate today with all the new technologies they have to incorporate into their farming businesses no matter what type of operation they have. He summed it up by saying, “This is an unbelievable group and we’re going to be hearing from them in the future, and for all those that say we don’t have good young people in agriculture, they should have been here tonight.”
Another aspect of the program and the participants that caught Brancel’s attention was the diversity of the farming practices among this year’s finalists. The winners, the Kuczers, operate a grain operation and feed Holstein steers with a comprehensive marketing plan for the steers as well as a tight rotation for their diverse cropping operation that requires special attention for their heavy clay soils that have required special drainage practices. Other operations include multi-hundred cow dairy operations with an on farm cheese plant to add value to the milk. Other operations on display were smaller, more traditional dairy farms using the latest technology in cow comfort, feeding, housing and marketing to insure success. Other dairy farms use grazing as the base of their operations to hold down costs and allow them more time to enjoy their families. Still other finalists don’t have animals but concentrate on cash grain operations that include growing part of their crop for the organic market. All the finalists have a strong conservation ethic with protecting the environment for future generations being a top priority for their individual operations,
Besides being successful already in their farming careers, this year’s finalists have something else in common—a good education. Many have four year degrees from UW-Madison, Platteville and River Falls while others have degrees from technical colleges around the state and they all say that education is helping them be better farm operators.
In the 59 years the Jaycees have sponsored their OYF program, there has never been a concern about the quality of the contestants. But over the past few years there has been a concern about the quantity of contestants for the program. There are not as many Jaycee chapters as there once was and not even all the finalists are sponsored by a local Jaycee affiliate anymore. In the past few years the banquet hall for the finals has required fewer and fewer tables as past winners don’t make the effort to return and keep the fraternity of OYF strong and special.
Over the past few years, a dedicated few have been the lifeblood of the event which the state Jaycees still wholeheartedly support. But as one Jaycee told us over the weekend, “there just aren’t as many of us as there once was.” Again this year, Daphne Holterman, who with her dairy farmer husband Lloyd, is a past Wisconsin OYF winner, and Harold and Cindy Matton of Eau Claire, past Jaycee members, put together and ran the 2012 event. That trio, along with local help, are the reason the program has continued. They did receive strong support this year from Marshfield area agribusinesses as sponsors and tour stops as well as support from many statewide organizations.
Those organizers hope word gets out that more young people should be encouraged to enter the competition and more organizations step up to sponsor this new generation of agriculturists who are multi-talented providers of food and fiber for an ever growing population that has little or no idea of where their food comes from or how it gets to their table.