April 20 2015 06:38 AM

Legacy event honoring late DATCP secretary shines a light on businesses in transition.

University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF) graduate Rod Nilsestuen was a lifelong advocate of Wisconsin agriculture. Nilsestuen served as the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection from 2003 until his untimely death in 2010. Although Nilsestuen is no longer here on Earth, his memory lives on through UWRF's annual Nilsestuen Legacy Event.

The fourth annual Nilsestuen Legacy Event was held on April 6, and this year's theme was "Managing the Big Change: Transitions in Agriculture." This year's event was held as a panel discussion that carefully looked at all factors in a change or transition in family and corporate businesses, including the financial, career, social, personal and emotional aspects. Mike Alme, Josh Henning, John Rosenow and Mandy Speerstra sat on the panel with Dr. Jim White, professor of agricultural economics at UWRF, serving as moderator.

Rosenow and his wife, Nettie, milk 550 cows at Rosenholm Dairy near Cochrane, Wis. In addition to their dairy herd, they own Cowsmo Inc., which takes manure from the dairy and converts it into compost products. The Rosenows didn't have any "heirs" that wanted to take over the farm and the compost business, so they started looking at candidates to take the helm. Speerstra, a 2010 graduate of UWRF, was what they were looking for. She always wanted to farm, but was under the impression that she either had to marry into a family farm or buy her own farm. Coming into the fold at Cowsmo "lifted a barrier," said Speerstra. "I didn't have to marry in or pay a large sum of money to farm," she explained.

Henning joined the Marines right out of high school to avoid going back home to his family's cheesemaking business. Inevitably, though, Henning's Wisconsin Cheese in Kiel, Wis., ended up calling him home. Henning's family told him that if he wanted to come back, he had to do it with his whole heart and soul. After graduating from UWRF in 2014, Henning came home to join the family business as a fourth generation cheesemaker.

Alme is an area sales manager with WinField Solutions, the agronomy division of Land O'Lakes. He started his career with Agriliance (WinField's predecessor) and stayed with the company when Agriliance was split up by Land O'Lakes and CHS in 2008. The fertilizer side of Agriliance went to CHS, while the seed and crop protection product aspects were now overseen by the newly created WinField. According to Alme, WinField's annual sales went up by $1 billion after the transition was complete. "How we view transitions is important," stated Alme. "Do we see change in our mind as being positive or negative?"

While the discussion itself lasted just an hour, it was an enlightening and informative conversation starter for many in attendance who plan to take over a family farm or business when their college careers come to a close. Just like Rod Nilsestuen, the annual Legacy Event looks to empower the next generation of farmers and agriculturists through the power of knowledge.
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The author is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, majoring in agricultural marketing communications. She will serve as the 27th Hoard's Dairyman editorial intern this summer.