Recently, Brian Brown, Belleville; Brian Forrest, Stratford; Jack Herricks, Cashton; and John Judd, Mount Horeb were recognized as Master Agriculturists during a presentation by the Wisconsin Agriculturist in partnership with Growmark FS; Twohig, Rietbrock, Schneider and Halbach S.C. of Chilton; and Compeer Financial.
Because of the pandemic, 2020 and 2021 Master Agriculturists were recognized together on Aug. 11 at La Sure’s Hall in Oshkosh.
Recipients of the 2020 award were Jeff Hendrickson, Belleville; Kent Wendorf, Viroqua; Eric Rygg, Eau Claire; and Charlie, George, Tom and Mark Crave, Waterloo.
“The Master Agriculturist program is the oldest farm awards program in the state and is one of the longest-running career-achievement honors programs in U.S. agriculture,” said Fran O’Leary, editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist. “The award dates to 1930, when Wisconsin Agriculturist first started honoring top Wisconsin farmers [and their families] for their hard work, dedication, success in farming and exemplary leadership.”
Brian and his wife Yogi own Sunburst Dairy near Belleville. They milk 500 Holstein cows, raise 500 Holstein heifers and calves, and grow approximately 1,000 acres of crops.
After purchasing the farm in 1984, Brian envisioned continued improvement for cow comfort, conservation techniques and labor efficiencies. To make this vision a reality, Brian’s family chose a new site for the dairy in 1998 and construction was started on a 300-cow free-stall barn and parlor. In 2007, a second free-stall barn was constructed.
Currently, Brian practices no-till, utilizes cover crops and follows a manure management plan developed by an independent crop consultant. He uses multiple considerations when selecting herbicide and insecticide to spray onto fields, especially near waterways. A constant consideration is how to improve feed quality and enhance environmental stewardship.
Brian has served multiple leadership positions for Accelerated Genetics; 4-H dairy leader for the Belleville Busy Beavers; chair and founding member of the Farmers of the Upper Sugar River Watershed; member of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin; is on the Commercial Exhibitor Committee and has hosted international tours for World Dairy Expo: board member for the Union Co-op; board member for Landmark Co-op; host of the Dane County Breakfast on the Farm and Farm to Table Dinner Fundraiser; has hosted many tours for international guests, youth groups and agricultural organizations; and works closely with UW-Madison on multiple research projects.
The couple has four adult children: Erin, Whitney, Chris (wife Rachel) and Cory (wife Katy); and three grandchildren.
Brian and his wife Elaine are partners along with Ken Hein of Maple Ridge Dairy in Stratford. They milk 1,910 Holstein cows, raise 1,800 Holstein heifers and grow crops on approximately 3,800 acres.
After earning a degree in ag engineering from UW-River Falls, Brian returned to and eventually purchased his family’s farm. A few years later, Ken Hein and Gary Ruegsegger started a conversation when Gary wanted to retire. The farms merged to became Maple Ridge Dairy.
Brian emphasizes the dairy’s focus on producing high quality milk, with a rolling herd average of 40,000 pounds and a decrease in somatic cell count to under 80,000 due to thorough milking preparations, frequent sand bedding maintenance and the use of cow health records for breeding selection.
Maple Ridge Dairy raises alfalfa and grass mixtures for haylage, corn for grain and silage, wheat for grain and straw and soybeans. The farm pays extra attention to water management and minimizing soil runoff. They no-till 800 acres of crops and plant small grain cover crops on 500 to 600 acres.
Brian served on the Professional Dairy Producers board of directors and as treasurer; member of the Marathon County Dairy Herd Improvement Association board of directors; served on the Stratford Area Chamber of Commerce and Marshfield Clinic Research Institute Oversight Board; and is involved with research, farm tours and group presentations with the National Fam Medicine Center.
The couple has five children: Kylie, Max and Brooks Vanderhoof and Lucas and Violet Forrest.
Jack and his wife Pat milk 620 cows, raise 600 Holstein heifers and calves, and grow crops on approximately 1,600 acres on their dairy farm near Cashton.
Jack knew at a young age that he wanted to be a dairy farmer but as the second oldest of 12 children, he didn’t think that was possible. Jack returned to the family farm while in college after his father passed away due to a tractor accident; 50 years later, he’s still farming.
Jack and his family are known throughout southwest Wisconsin for their conservation efforts. He said that no-till farming isn’t easy, but the farm refines its practices annually to continuously improve.
When Jack started farming, he had a herd of 34 cows and has expanded over time. They have implemented a crossbreeding program and now have a genetic base of about 40 percent Holstein, 40 percent Jersey and 20 percent Brown Swiss.
The Herricks have been farming cooperatively with a neighbor for 40 years, sharing equipment and labor when it is planting or harvest time. The families have one simple rule – “If we are going to do something and it isn’t good for all families, then we need to rethink it.”
The couple have three adult children: Angela (husband Donald), Daniel (wife Michelle) and Nathan (wife Janice); and seven grandchildren.
John and his wife Joan own a dairy farm near Mount Horeb where they milk and care for 130 registered Holstein cows and heifers, and grow crops on approximately 225 acres.
Because of contour strips that crisscross the farm, they have 53 fields. John recalled that when they moved to the farm, they could barely grow enough feed for 32 cows and six heifers.
John has served on the local school board, the Dairy Herd Improvement board and the Dane County Holstein Association board, and is a member of the Farmers of the Upper Sugar River Watershed.
Joan served on the Wisconsin Holstein Association board of directors and works part-time at World Dairy Expo.
The couple have two adult children: Andrew (wife Katey) and Laurie (husband Willie); and four grandchildren.
If you know someone who you want to nominate, please contact Fran O’Leary at 920.346.2285, firstname.lastname@example.org or write: Master Agriculturist, Wisconsin Agriculturist, 112 S. Prairie Street, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, Wisconsin 53919.
The deadline for nominations for the 2022 Wisconsin Agriculturist awards is Dec. 6.
Photos courtesy of Wisconsin Agriculturist.
Marian Viney is the public relations coordinator with Wisconsin Farm Bureau. She is an active member of her community serving in a variety of roles on the school board, within her church and other organizations. Her and her husband live in Belleville and have three sons: Matthew, Michael and Benjamin.