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Oh, brother: Arcadia siblings serving as state FFA officers

Growing up on their family’s Arcadia dairy farm, brothers Collin and Curtis Weltzien spent a lot of time together, both on the farm and as part of Arcadia’s chapter of FFA.

Now in their 20s, that trend has continued, making the brothers the first in the history of the Wisconsin FFA Association to serve together as Wisconsin state FFA officers.

“It’s something we are both extremely honored and humbled by,” Collin said. “Being elected to serve as a state officer and carry on the legacy of the FFA organization is a distinct privilege in itself. But the chance to experience it all with my brother alongside me is an honor ... . The stars aligned and gave us this once in a lifetime opportunity, and we’re doing everything in our power to make the most of it.”

Collin, 21, is serving the 2019-20 year as Wisconsin FFA Association president, while Curtis, 20, serves as the state treasurer.

The brothers grew up on their family’s 180-cow dairy farm, Weltzien Farms, near Arcadia. The 1,200-acre farm has 700 tillable acres and is run in partnership by the brothers’ dad, Keith, and uncles, Russ and Dan Weltzien.

Life on the family farm led them to life in FFA.

“We grew up hearing stories about our dad and uncles’ FFA experiences, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for us to get involved with FFA as soon as we could,” Collin said.

Collin started in FFA with the Creed Speaking competition during his freshman year, earning a third place finish at state. That experience jump-started the rest of his FFA career, he said.

Throughout his high school FFA career, Collin found success in the prepared speaking, extemporaneous speaking, and parliamentary procedure contests as well as the soil judging and dairy judging career development events. He received his American FFA Degree this past fall at the 92nd National FFA Convention.

As a high school FFA member, Curtis said his biggest accomplishment was placing first place in the Dairy Products CDE Judging at state two years in a row.

Watching his brother, Collin, serve as Wisconsin FFA Association vice president in 2018-19 convinced Curtis to take a shot at becoming a state officer.

“The biggest highlight of my FFA career was becoming a state officer,” Curtis said. “The places we’ve gone, people we’ve met, workshops we’ve facilitated, businesses we’ve toured nothing comes close to the experiences and memories we’ve made.”

Collin and Curtis both said their relationship and years spent working together has carried over to their work as state officers, representing the 21,000 Wisconsin FFA members.

“Our relationship has always been a very close one, and this year has been no different,” Collin said.

“In the last eight months, we’ve logged a few thousand miles, met a few thousand FFA members, and made a few thousand memories together, and we wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

“We’ve always been competitive with each other growing up. That competitive spirit has always pushed us both to do our best, and I’d say that’s definitely worked to our advantage as state officers as well.”

“We hold each other accountable to the highest degree of work we can attain,” Curtis said.

Collin said he has put 40,000 miles on his car in the last two years while attending to the duties required of a state officer, but the opportunity has made the rigors of the job worth it.

“Those miles come with a boat load of stories,” he said. “The most rewarding part for me is watching FFA members grow and succeed. Whether it’s witnessing high school FFA members tap into the experiences FFA has to offer or watching my teammates grow personally as leaders, impact thousands of lives, and come together as a family, I can’t help but smile when I see first-hand the life-changing impact this organization has on its members.”

Collin said the brothers are grateful to their parents, Keith and Karen, their younger brother, Connor, also an FFA member, and their FFA Advisors Kevin Whalen and Steve Schank for getting them to the position they are in with FFA.

In addition to their state officer duties, both Collin and Curtis are working toward degrees at UW-River Falls. Collin is a junior and Curtis is a sophomore, and both are majoring in agricultural business and minoring in dairy science.

Following graduation, the brothers plan to return home to become the fourth generation to operate Weltzien Farms.

“That’s been our dream since we were little kids, and we’re bound and determined to make it happen,” Collin said. “Farming and agriculture have been a part of me from the beginning and I plan to keep that way for the rest of my life.”

It’s a goal the brothers said FFA has helped make more attainable.

“If we can get along for a full year as state officers, farming together should be a breeze,” Curtis said.

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Assembly vote on livestock siting bill pulled

MADISON — The vote on a livestock siting bill fast-tracked by Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature was canceled Feb. 19, just one day before it was scheduled to be voted on by the Assembly during their final day of session for the year.

On Feb. 10, Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, and Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, circulated legislation to improve livestock facility siting rules and statutes.

The legislators touted the bill as “a collaborative effort between agriculture groups and local government associations,” crafted with input from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Pork Producers, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants; Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Counties Association.

Marklein said one of the stakeholders raised on issue that he and the bill’s co-authors could not overcome in time to complete the bill during this session, prompting the cancellation of the vote.

“The change they requested would have impacted local control and I was not willing to create an imbalance in this legislation,” he said in a news release. “Our original proposal was a good bill that gave farmers certainty and predictability while maintaining local control. This was my goal from the beginning of the process.”

Even if the proposal had passed the Legislature, it’s likely Gov. Tony Evers would have vetoed it.

In 2018, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection began looking at changes to ATCP51, the administrative rule that regulates the local government approval for new or expanding livestock facilities in Wisconsin, as the rule dictates a mandatory four-year technical review. Twelve public hearings were held across the state in 2019, prompting hundreds of comments from citizens and organizations alike.

Shortly after DATCP staff presented revisions to the rule, sifting through public comment to thoughtfully craft those revisions, the department decided it would no longer move forward with the proposed changes. And just days after that announcement, Brad Pfaff, Evers’ pick for secretary of agriculture, was ousted by the Wisconsin Legislature.

In early February of this year, the DATCP board let the 30 month deadline expire, ending discussion about ATCP51 at the department level. It appears that after this decision, legislators began working on their own bill to address livestock siting within the state.

The state’s current livestock siting rule, overseen by DATCP, went into effect in 2006 and hasn’t been changed since its adoption.

Technical committees have undertaken a review of the rules in 2010 and 2014, as well as recently in 2018.

Currently, the agriculture department writes siting and expansion regulations subject to approval by the governor and Legislature. Under the proposed bill, the department would have needed permission from a new nine-member board before it could begin drafting any such regulations. Five members of the board would be selected from agricultural groups.

Other ag bills

The Wisconsin State Assembly approved eight bills designed boost Wisconsin’s dairy industry Feb. 20, its final scheduled day in session for the year.

The Assembly passed a farm aid package that includes elements of what Evers wanted but goes farther by cutting taxes for farmers by $30 million a year and another $6 million for self-employed people. Evers hasn’t said whether he will go along with those tax cuts, which also must win approval from the Senate. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said senators were “picking and choosing” what they like from the farm aid package to vote on in March. He didn’t elaborate.

The Assembly also approved a trio of bills that would prohibit labeling food as meat, milk or dairy if it doesn’t contain those products.

One proposal would ban labeling or selling a product as meat unless it includes animal flesh. Eleven other states already have such a ban. The other two bills would ban labeling a beverage as milk unless it comes from cows, goats or certain other animals and labeling a product as cream, yogurt or cheese unless it includes dairy. Those two proposals would take effect only if 10 other Midwest states approve similar prohibitions by 2031.

The Assembly was giving final approval to bills that already passed the Senate or making proposals available for it to vote on next month. The Senate plans to return for one final day in March. A bill must pass both the Senate and Assembly in identical form for it to go to Evers.

None of the bills had passed the Senate as of press time.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Family friendly: Eau Claire County farm expands for fifth generation

EAU CLAIRE — At a time when Wisconsin dairy farmers are exiting the industry in droves, organizers of the 2020 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Eau Claire will be showing off an area dairy farm that expanded to accommodate the next generation on the farm.

Nellie Holsteins, a fifth-generation, 200-cow dairy farm south of Eau Claire, will host farm tours during Farm Technology Days, which will be hosted by Huntsinger Farms, a horseradish farm several miles west of the dairy.

Nellie Holsteins is owned by Doug Nelson, his son, Derrick, and Derrick’s wife, Miranda. In the past two years, the farm has expanded from 56 cows to about 200 in an effort to support two families as Derrick and Miranda returned to the farm and transition into ownership.

“With Derrick coming back from school and wanting to take over, we knew we wanted to expand,” Doug said.

Derrick graduated from the UW-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course program and returned to the farm in 2011. Since then, he, Miranda and Doug have been working on ways to make the dairy farm viable for the two families.

“It’s been about a seven-year process,” Doug said. “We had to build our land base and buy some land from some neighbors.”

The Nelsons built a four-row free-stall barn big enough for drive-through feeding just down the road from Doug’s home farm. They also built a a double-8 parallel parlor after originally considering robots.

Derrick said the transition from the 56-cow tie-stall barn on Doug’s farm to the new free-stall and parlor went fairly smoothly.

“We purchased a lot of cattle that weren’t in the stall barn before,” he said. “We had a lot of help those first few days, but it went pretty well.”

They have been in the new barn for about two years, Derrick said.

The Nelsons use alley scrapers and a robotic feed pusher to help cut down on the need to hire additional employees. They use activity trackers on the cows and use sand bedding in the free-stall.

“It helps with overall cow comfort,” said Miranda, who graduated from UW-River Falls. She and Derrick met when they showed cattle together in 4-H, she said.

Doug took over in 1991 from his dad. His family has been farming just south of Eau Claire since 1895. They grow corn and alfalfa on 300 acres to feed the herd. They continue to raise heifers at the home farm down the road.

The Nelsons’ milk goes to Dairy Farmers of America. They just started milking three times a day milking about three weeks ago, Miranda said.

“We wanted to see if we could increase production,” Derrick said.

“We had a lot of fresh cows this month, so we wanted to take advantage of that,” Doug said.

Early returns are promising, Derrick said, and he was guessing they were getting better than 82 pounds per cow.

“Based on milk off the tank, we’ve gotten an extra 11 or 12 pounds per cow,” Miranda said.

The 2020 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days show is slated for July 21-23 at Huntsinger Farms. Huntsinger Farms’ subsidiary, Silver Spring Foods, Inc., is the largest producer of horseradish in the world.

Tours of Nellie Holsteins will require about a 10-minute bus ride. Doug said the plan is to have attendees take the bus through the free-stall barn after taking a virtual tour of the farm at Farm Technology Days.

For more information, visit www.wifarmtechnologydays.com/eau_claire.

Corn stands in the snow along Highway P and Vance Drive in the town of Seymour on Monday. The standing corn keeps drifts off roads. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

Steve Telisak of Chippewa Falls looked at a tractor on the opening day of the Eau Claire Farm Show at the Chippewa Valley Expo Center.