Who asked you to join Farm Bureau and when?
I was asked to join Farm Bureau by Buffalo County’s Don Dittrich. It happened outside of St. Boniface Catholic church after Saturday evening mass.
I like this question because when I hear someone ask this, it seems the person knows exactly who asked them to join Farm Bureau and where. To me, this signifies a life-changing moment.
I was asked to be a Buffalo County Farm Bureau board director at the same time. This was my first exposure to Farm Bureau in an active way. I was in my early 30s when I joined but I’ve always wished I would have been asked to join sooner.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
Noel, my partner in crime for 28 years, and I have four children. Rosli is a registered nurse, John is a diesel mechanic and owns Mad Swiss Trucking, Tessa is student teaching as she goes for her degree in math education and Allison is studying ag business management while interning at Compeer Financial.
Our children have always been encouraged to explore their options and the possibilities available to them in life. While our daughters and John have their own careers, they help whenever possible on our family’s dairy farm. We are proud of their successes and appreciate that they assist where they can.
Noel grew up on a dairy farm just a few miles ‘over the hill.’ Noel is a teacher at St. Boniface Catholic School. In addition to teaching full-time and helping on the dairy when she can, she owns and operates a pullet (chicken breeding stock) barn. She raises about 62,000 hens and roosters per year.
My brother Dan and sister-in-law Mary operate two broiler barns, where they raise almost 1 million birds a year. Dan is the overall operations manager on our farm. Their children Gavin, Morgan and Anna are young adults who also assist when needed.
Dan’s brother-in-law Peter Theisen, Al ‘the Good’ Shepard and our team of diverse employees make sure the daily tasks on the farm get done.
My other brother Eric is a truck driver and my mother, Hildegard, still lives in the main farmhouse along with some of her grandchildren. At 84 years young, she still rakes hay in summer, picks up parts and shouts commands from the command center (her front porch).
As with many farm families, it’s hard to draw a line of who is family and who is not. The support system I have at the farm allows me to take opportunities like serving as WFBF President and for that I’m sincerely grateful.
What is your favorite season or time of year?
Spring signifies new life and the promise of another start. Have you ever walked outside on a spring day and saw tiny bubbles coming from the grass and smelled an earthy smell like that of a freshly plowed field? This is the smell of frost leaving the ground and the moisture going through the soil profile displacing trapped oxygen. It’s the smell that signifies the end of mud and the time to get going. It’s my favorite because the sun is out, the air has turned warm and soon the crops will be popping up and the pastures will turn green.
Why do you value your Farm Bureau membership?
The very first thought that comes to mind when I see the tag line ‘A voice for farmers a vision for agriculture,’ is that Farm Bureau is not only a voice for farmers but helps farmers be their own voice. It is easy for us to become busy and, especially during tough times, hunker down even more and just grind away. Farm Bureau represents us when it comes to issues, but where we are second to none is in our Promotion and Education, leadership development and Young Farmer and Agriculturist programs.
What is your favorite food or meal?
Depends on my mood or my latest diet fad. I principally like a low-carb diet (sorry, grain farmers, but the steak I consume ate your grain first, so we should be okay). I don’t like to eat anything that doesn’t have cheese on it. I also strongly believe that there is no such thing as too much butter. What’s not to love about bacon and more bacon?
At the end of the day, it is not what you are eating but who you are eating it with.
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?
If you see me in person, you’ll notice a unique leather Appenzeller swiss belt that is adorned with bright metal cows. I wear this proudly as a symbol of my Swiss heritage and the blessings of immigrating to the U.S.
My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1960s before knowing each other. They later met and were married. My father, Josef, came with only $5 to his name. He came to work as a farmhand in the Waumandee area.
My mother was a housekeeper in Winona, Minnesota, for the owners of Watkins Company. Growing up I could speak fluent Swiss German and English became our second language. I went through speech therapy to help overcome my strong dialect. My father often said he learned to read from the cartoons in the newspaper. It was kind of neat that we read the same books together (The Hardy Boys). My parents did not become naturalized citizens until I was about 12 years old.
I connect with those who come to this country to make a better place for themselves. I know how it feels to be different. I wear my belt as a symbol to my heritage and a tribute to those who came and continue to come to this country to make a better life for themselves.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Fiercely independent. Now, I understand that I just used two words. You’ll learn that I seldom subscribe to the ideal that less is better when it comes to words.
More than 20 years ago when our farm received the Wisconsin Land and Water State Conservation Award our land conservationist described me as ‘fiercely independent.’ I am proud of that moniker because I am here to lead and serve. Sometimes to do that you have to remain independent.
Red or green tractors?
Truth be told we probably have a tractor of each variety. For the sake of nostalgia, I grew up with Allis Chalmers, Oliver and Farmall. When I was a kid my favorite tractor was a Farmall 450. Today, my brother Dan primarily drives the Case IH 7150 Magnum and I run the John Deere 8300. So, the debate goes on.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My father always advised, “I don’t care what you do in life, just be the best you can be.” Before I was able to figure out what I was going to do in life, my father died in a farming accident. He told me from a young age to be the one to take care of things if he ever was absent. So, there I was a farmer. My mother, brothers and I had to kick it in gear and 31 years later we are still here keeping my parents’ dream alive.
This story can be told many times over among many farm families. A tragedy and the perseverance to continue. My father-in-law, John Hillig, also was a farmer. At his passing he looked over us all; his children, their spouses and several grandchildren and said: “always stay together.” That’s what it’s all about and a good piece of advice.
What advice do you have for our young Farm Bureau members trying to survive in today’s ag economy?
Do not go it alone. There are resources available from your county Extension office, technical college programs, peer groups and fellow farmers. Through these opportunities, there are learning opportunities and camaraderie. Continued learning and adaptability will be vital to survival into the future. Just working hard will not cut it in today’s agricultural economy.
Most importantly join Farm Bureau and experience the programs we have to offer. Being involved in Farm Bureau will bring you in contact with people from all walks of life. You will find the inspiration and energy to conquer any challenge.