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Jim Winn was overwhelmed when he received the Dairy Business Association’s Advocate of the Year at the Dairy Strong conference on Jan. 22.

Like many of the dairy farmers gathered in the Monona Terrace banquet hall on Jan. 22, Jim Winn looked up to his father and grandfather. They were progressive, installing one of Wisconsin’s first milking parlors in the 1940s.

Tragically, Winn’s father passed away when Jim was 7 years old, and three years later his grandfather died unexpectedly. Winn did chores on the farm through high school to help his grandmother keep the business going.

He went on to build Cottonwood Dairy in South Wayne, where he partners with Brian Larson and Randy Larson.

Winn never let the challenges hold him back, Marjorie Stieve of Vita Plus Corporation told the crowd as she presented him with the Dairy Business Association’s Advocate of the Year award during DBA’s Dairy Strong conference. Vita Plus sponsored the award.

Winn was caught off guard.

“I’m overwhelmed,” he said, his voice cracking on-stage. “I know a lot of the past recipients of this award and to be mentioned in the same breath as those people just means the world to me. That’s some good company in that group.”

Winn’s unmistakable passion for the dairy community made him the perfect candidate to receive the award, Stieve said, listing off a host of examples — from his collaboration with other farms in an annual Day at the Dairy, which draws hundreds of elementary school students, to his leadership in helping to form the Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance, a famer-led group focused on protecting and improving water quality.

Winn values collaboration with his family, friends, neighbors and employees as well as with agriculture-related organizations, Stieve said. He is a member of the board of directors for Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, which represents farmers in the Midwest on federal policy.

“My love for the industry is my way of giving back,” Winn said. “I am very fortunate to be in the dairy industry and I love this industry; it’s treated me good over the years.”

Winn heaped praise on his employees, some of whom were in attendance.

“This award is because of those folks,” he said. “I am so proud of them.”

Winn also recognized his wife, Laurene, “the girl of my dreams,” whom he began dating in high school.

Nicole Barlass, DBA’s director of member relations, said Winn’s leadership stands out.

“One of the reasons Jim was selected for this award was not only for his passion for DBA and for his farm, but he’s also just one of those guys who is always willing to step up and be a leader and take charge,” Barlass said.

Stieve said the advocate award is important and the company is grateful to be able to recognize a farmer in this way.

“As an organization, we feel the ability to communicate with today’s consumers and also to recognize the time that our great dairy producers put into standing up for our industry and making sure that we not only have the right to farm but also the trust of today’s consumers is what this is about,” she said.

Winn is well-known in the dairy community for bringing people together to find solutions to difficult issues farmers deal with on their farms, DBA Executive Director Tim Trotter said.

“When you think about someone who is advocating day in and day out for dairy farmers, he’s at the top of the list,” Trotter said. “He’s contagious, everybody likes him, he always wants everybody to be involved and feel included.”

DBA gives the award to shine light on what volunteerism and the organization mean, Trotter said.

“What is in the DNA of progress at DBA?” he said. “It’s people like Jim Winn.”