I’m honored, and a bit humbled, to share that I’m featured in the most recent issue of the Rural Route magazine, which goes out to farm families and others involved in agriculture in Wisconsin. You can read the full article below to learn more about how I got my start in farming, as well as raising meat goats and direct marketing goat meat in western Wisconsin.
I’d also like to give a big thank you to Amy Eckelberg from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau for asking me to do the interview and coming all the way to northwestern Wisconsin to take photos for the story in one of the hottest times of the year.
She also started to learn the art of taking pictures with livestock guardian dogs sniffing and licking you and figuring out how to get a good shot of grazing goats. This includes not just getting them to face you but attempting to not get too many goat rear ends or anyone taking care of business in the shot. I think Amy did ok, if you look at her pictures!
Enjoy the read!
P.S. The magazine also featured a number of grilling recipes in the Farm Flavor section from my personal food Instagram account: @GrillingLikeSteven You can check those out here.
If you want to see the whole magazine, click here to read it.
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Writer’s note: As a finalist in the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Excellence in Agriculture competition, I had the opportunity to share my background and contributions to agriculture, but also pressing issues I see impacting agriculture today. Over the next few weeks I’ll cover these issues in my blog.
While I’m getting closer to my projected size for my farm, I know it also wouldn’t be possible without programs and resources that support beginning farmers. Farming takes a lot of capitol (meaning money) and assets (meaning equipment, facilities, land and so on). It is a huge investment to get started, especially when you don’t have access to family land and/or assets. I’m not suggesting my farming friends who are farming with their families have it easy, nor am I wanting this to come across as "poor me." The reality is this is a huge hurtle for our next generation of farmers who don’t come from farming families or don’t have option of using family land/assets.
While this is my story, I know there are many others who want to get into farming that have similar stories or who are still trying to figure out how to break their way in through all the barriers. In agriculture we spend a lot of time talking about farm transition plans within families, but we also need to be thinking about how transition plans could work for those who want to retire without family and with those who want to begin farming without access to family land and assets and succeed in doing so.
This issue of accessibility to farm is a major issue for agriculture, when we start to think about the average age of today’s farmers, which is an average age of 57 and 30% are over the age of 75 (USDA). And, many of these farmers are starting or want to retire. I started to recognize this challenge when I was working for CHS and met young farmers while writing profile articles for the cooperative’s farmer magazine and working with its young farmer leadership program.
Through farm organizations, we need to be supporting and promoting programs for beginning farmers through
A few of the ways I’ve been helping raise awareness and address this issue is through sharing my voice as a beginning farmer with lawmakers and at our Farm Bureau district policy development meetings and with Congressional visits.
Additionally, while I’m by no means a seasoned farmer, I’ve been sharing my own advice with beginning farmers. This last summer I hosted a farm visit with a women’s conservation program, Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Women Caring for the Land program, and even helping share resources and facilitating networking with an informal farmer group I started and coordinate: the Wisconsin Meat Goat Producers Network because there is no formal state goat farmer organization.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit (2017). Iowa Finance Authority. http://www.iowafinanceauthority.gov/Public/Pages/PC204LN48
Farm demographics (2015). USDA. http://www.start2farm.gov/usda/knowledge
Young farmers still concerned about adequate land. (2015). American Farm Bureau Federation. The Voice of Agriculture.
Earlier this year we received board election information in the mail from an agricultural cooperative. As I paged through the candidate biographies, I was impressed by how experienced many of the individuals were as farm operators and involvement in their respective communities.
When I looked through it again, my impression started to change, not of them, but of the bigger picture. I started to wonder why there weren’t any younger farmers as candidates.There actually were two, one 28 and another 36. However, there majority of candidates were well over 50. I want to note, that I don’t want to discredit these seasoned farmers one bit. But, I started to see a glaring issue. Where is the representation from the younger generation of farmers? It’s not at the fault of the other candidates.
While the average age in our profession keeps ticking up, 57 years old based on current USDA numbers, there are younger farmers. I know them. Many of them are friends in my community and from college. I’m one of them. In the bigger picture, the ag community recognizes the need to support the next generation of farmers through specialized lending programs with Farm Credit and FSA, programs on succession planning, business planning, leadership development and other topics.
But why, when it comes to representing the farmer’s voice there’s limited representation of “young” farmers on ag boards and committees?. As agriculture and management styles continue to change, the next generation of farmers needs to have their voice at the table. Why isn’t it happening?
I can tell you from my own experience and conversations with friends, that it’s time. For me: we’re working off farm jobs, in addition to farming, have a young family, the farm is in the expansion stages and it’s just us running the show, with some occasional assistance from family that doesn’t live close. I’m not complaining. But, it’s a reality I know is true for many younger farmers. Here’s the deal. We need to make time for producer leadership roles. We have too. If we’re growing our farms, we need to be at the table in our communities, organizations and even agribusinesses. There’s potential for major disconnect with the next generation of farmers, when boards represent only those who are well into their career or even retired from farming.
I recently decided to walk the talk and joined my county Farm Bureau board. I also applied for another ag committee position, but wasn’t selected. But, that’s ok. That's what taking chances is about. I know that if I didn’t express interest, there was zero chance of serving in that role. I’m considering applying again in the future. I challenge my peers to make the time, take the chance and step up into leadership roles. We need younger farmers represented in our agricultural and community organizations.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
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Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.