Wisconsin Couple Named National Outstanding Young Farmers - Cowsmo

Wisconsin Couple Named National Outstanding Young Farmers

Kyle and Rachel Zwieg of Ixonia, Wisconsin, were among four couples recently named National Outstanding Young Farmers. The Wisconsin chapter hosted Feb. 16-19 the 2023 National Outstanding Young Farmers Awards Congress in Appleton.

When the Zwiegs’ names were announced at the awards banquet, the attendees from Wisconsin stood and cheered.

Rachel and Kyle Zwieg are named 2023 National Outstanding Young Farmers. They farm near Ixonia, Wisconsin.

“It was cool having a hometown crowd,” Kyle Zwieg said.

Rachel Zwieg said earlier in the week during the program’s activities that she and her husband felt comfortable and at home. But as the Saturday finale approached they grew nervous.

Kyle Zwieg said, “We felt a case of imposter syndrome because of all of the people who have received the award in the past, especially those from Wisconsin. The expectations were high and we still think of ourselves as young and unexperienced.”

About 200 people attended the 2023 award banquet. Several were past nominees and winners of the award. Of the organization’s 27 past presidents, 14 were in attendance at the 2023 congress.

About 50 of the attendees hailed from Wisconsin, said Harold and Cindy Matton of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They manage the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer program along with Ken and Ann Reckelberg of Luxemburg, Wisconsin. The couples helped to coordinate the event’s almost-weeklong activities, which included visits to area farms and agricultural businesses. The congress originally was planned to be held in 2021 in Appleton but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that meeting was canceled.

The Outstanding Farmers of America organization is designed to facilitate an exchange of ideas and friendship that encourages excellence and involvement in agriculture as well as in the local, state and national community. Comprised of past nominees, the organization has about 1,500 members who use their connections with each other to assist farmers and promote the importance of America’s farming community.

The 2023 awards program recognized 10 couples from across the country. Each couple was featured in a short video during the banquet. From those 10 finalists, four couples were named National Outstanding Young Farmers – Jon and Amy Hegeman of Alabama, Brad and Tara Peacock of Arkansas, Carl and Betsy Long of Pennsylvania, and the Zwiegs.

The Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer program has been strong for many years. Its first state winner was named in 1952, with 22 winners since then.

Kyle Zwieg credits the Wisconsin program for its preparation of candidates for the national awards program. Finalists are interviewed by a panel of judges who are experts in their respective fields, just as they are in the final contest.

“The interview was intense and kept us on our toes,” he said.

One of the many questions the judges posed to the finalists was related to their conservation-farming practices. The Zwiegs pointed to their partnership with the Tall Pines Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust focused on preserving farmland, water and open spaces in Wisconsin’s Lake Country region.

The Zwiegs in 2011 placed a conservation easement on 233 acres of their farm that protects the land from future development. According to the Tall Pines Conservancy, the easement language was written to allow for improvements that would benefit the farm’s long-term viability while upholding conservation values.

No-tilling since 2009, the Zwiegs raise corn, soybeans and wheat on 1,500 acres – 450 acres of which they own. They’ve earned grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. They’re conducting long-term experiments with aerial-seeding cover crops. And they’ve installed a large-scale waterway and a plunge pool on erodible land.

They also own 150 head of dairy cattle, which include 70 milking cows. The cows are milked using a robotic-milking system the Zwiegs installed in 2020. The herd is currently producing 114 pounds of milk per cow per day with a combined 8.46 pounds of fat and protein, Kyle Zwieg said. They’ve established DeLaval’s best-producing robotic herd in North America.

Of participating in the National Outstanding Young Farmers program, Rachel Zwieg said, “It was great getting to know people in other parts of agriculture and learning from them.”

Kyle Zwieg said, “It’s cool to have a program that focuses on the impact that farms have on families and their communities. It focuses on both the business and personal journeys through life.”

This article was written by Lynn Grooms for Agri-View.

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