Since 1954, the Minnesota Jaycees’ Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) program has been recognizing the importance of strong young leaders in the agricultural industry.
The mission of the OYF program is to build urban awareness of farming’s impact on the U.S. economy, create greater public interest in — and understanding of — the challenges facing today’s farmers and ranchers, foster beneficial urban-rural relations and deepen appreciation of independent farmers’ contributions to sustainable development and the green economy.
The annual OYF Awards honor young Minnesota farmers for achievements in agri-business, innovation and resource enhancement, adoption of improved technology for increased income with sustainability, use of soil and water conservation practices and contributions to the well-being of the community.
MinnPost and MinnPost’s YPN are proud to be a 2011 TOYM/OYF partner, sharing the stories of each of this year’s exceptional honorees.
Honoring the 2011 OYF finalists
The accomplished OYF finalists included dairy owners Nick and Tara Meyer, beef cattle farmer Dave Marquardt and sunflower oil producer Tom Smude.
To be nominated for an OYF Award, young farmer candidates must be under the age of 40 and must derive a minimum of two-thirds of their income from farming. Candidates with a financial interest in the farm operation (a sole proprietor, partner or corporation) receive higher ranking in the OYF judging process.
Selected each year from the pool of nominees by a preliminary judging panel consisting of past OYF winners, OYF finalists each receive awards of recognition but vie for the sole honor of OYF winner.
After a three-person judging panel conducted hour-long in-person interviews with each OYF finalist on Saturday afternoon, Minnesota’s Outstanding Young Farmer was chosen.
During the evening’s awards ceremony, husband-and-wife team Nick and Tara Meyer, co-owners of Meyer Dairy in Sauk Center, were pronounced this year’s OYF winners.
The Meyers represent a new generation of Minnesota farmers: proud to carry their families’ legacy forward with an increasing focus on flexible, adaptable business models, technological innovation and sustainability.
Establishing a family farm
Nick Meyer, who graduated from Ridgewater College in Willmar with a degree in dairy science, began leasing and managing his parents’ 120-cow dairy in 2003.
Gradually transitioning to sole proprietor of the farming operation, Meyer worked to grow the cow herd internally, constructed a freestall barn to house them and installed a new double-eight parallel milking parlor.
In 2007, Meyer married Tara Sammon, who grew up on a farm in near Faribault and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agriculture economics.
The couple immediately embarked on their family farm endeavor, expanding the farmstead to include 275 cows and 430 acres of corn and alfalfa.
All youngstock and heifers are raised on location and the majority of the crops are fed to the cattle in the form of high moisture corn, corn silage and haylage.
Mr. Meyer manages day-to-day activities on the farm and oversees four part-time employees and additional family members that help on-site.
Ms. Meyer, who recently completed her M.B.A., serves as the farm’s CFO, manages the calves and helps raise the couple’s two young children.
Although the Meyers implement new technologies and practices that allow the dairy to run more effectively and efficiently, environmental stewardship and animal care and comfort remain top priorities.
While maintaining the integrity of the farm, Meyer Dairy’s goals are to continuously improve milk quality and production, increase efficiency, and ensure future financial viability, should the farm pass on to their children.
Serving the community
To help close the gap between farmers and consumers, the Meyers have made their farm an educational center for the public — both by giving regular farm tours and by participating in agriculture education activities such as the Discovery Farms program, part of the Sauk River Watershed District’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative.
Discovery Farms conducts on-farm research on real farms to determine the environmental effects of agricultural practices.
The focus of the on-farm research is to identify and implement effective environmental practices that are compatible with proﬁta bie agriculture.
The Discovery Farm at Meyer Dairy includes an edge-of-field station for monitoring surface runoff and tile drainage water.
The water quality information collected will provide practical, credible, site-specific information to allow for better farm management decisions, supported by a better understanding of the relationships between land management and water quality.
To further educate the community and connect consumers to their work as milk producers, the Meyers also started the Meyer Dairy blog, which provides an inside look at daily life and business on their farm.
Always active volunteers in their community, the Meyers serve on the Stearns County “Breakfast on the Farm” committee and are involved with the Stearns County Farm Bureau, the Stearns County American Dairy Association, 4-H, the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, the Minnesota Holstein Association, the Minnesota Agriculture Ambassador Institute, Central Minnesota Dairy Profit Teams and American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology.
The Meyers take pride in caring for the environment and have worked hard to build their farm operation into a sustainable and progressive business.
Meyer Dairy follows a nutrient management plan which involves soil testing, manure testing and applying manure and fertilizer within agronomic rates to minimize adverse effects on the environment.
The Meyers have also adopted pest management practices, which utilize crop scouting and economic thresholds to help determine the best methods to control pests.
To address erosion along an intermittent stream leading to the Sauk River, a grassed waterway was installed. Mulch tillage is used on cropland acres to help reduce soil erosion.
Meyer Dairy maintains several acres of grass wetlands, which provide food and habitat for pheasants, songbirds and other wildlife.
The well-maintained farmstead shelterbelt — consisting of multiple rows of trees and shrubs — also provides an excellent habitat for wildlife.
For their efforts in implementing conservation practices on their land and improving Minnesota’s natural resources, the Meyers were recognized with the 2009 Outstanding Conservationists Award by the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District.
That same year, the Meyers received the Commissioner’s Good Farm Neighbor Award from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in honor of their superior animal care and environmental stewardship as livestock producers.
In 2010, the Meyers were also named the Stearns County Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota in recognition of their contributions to the agriculture industry and local community.
To learn more about Meyer Dairy and hear what inspires the Meyers in their farm work, watch their OYF video, recorded at the Awards Celebration on Dec. 3:
The National OYF Congress
As winners of the state-level OYF competition, Nick and Tara Meyer will go on to represent Minnesota at the National Awards Congress in February 2012.
At the national level, the OYF program is sponsored by John Deere and supported by the Outstanding Farmers of America Fraternity and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.
Since 2000, Minnesota has produced four national OYF winners — in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2010.
The Meyers, with their triumphant small-farm success story and firm dedication to environmentally-beneficial management practices, will certainly make Minnesota a formidable competitor for recent national OYF favorite, New Jersey.
Best of luck at nationals, Nick and Tara!
Stay tuned as we continue coverage of the OYF Awards and feature profiles of each 2011 finalists. Up next: A Q&A interview with Nick and Tara Meyer.