LAKE CITY, Iowa (DTN) -- On a rainy Friday morning in Lake City, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig held a ceremony to present the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award to Mark and Melissa Schleisman, the owners and operators of M&M Farms in Calhoun County, Iowa.
The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award is made possible through a partnership with the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers and The Big Show on WHO Radio. This award recognizes Iowa livestock farmers who take pride in caring for the environment and their livestock and have demonstrated a commitment to their community. The award is named for Gary Wergin, a long-time WHO Radio farm broadcaster who helped create the award.
"In memory of longtime radio broadcaster Gary Wergin who passed away in 2003. At that time, he started the Good Farm Neighbor Award and presented a couple families with it. The Coalition saw a real opportunity to continue his legacy and continue to recognize Iowa's livestock farm families that go above and beyond -- caring for their livestock, being good stewards of their land and being active in the community," Brian Waddingham, executive director of Coalition, said as he opened the ceremony.
Established in 1997, M&M Farms is a multigenerational, diversified farm that carries a 320-head cow-calf herd. The Schleismans buy weaned feeder pigs and after feeding them to market weight, sell approximately 34,000 hogs per year. M&M specializes in popcorn production and grows 1,700 acres of popcorn and popcorn seed each year. Mark also sells popcorn seed internationally for ConAgra Foods. They also grow 3,200 acres of corn and soybeans and 100 to 200 acres of small grains and forages.
Mark and Melissa Schleisman have help from their two sons Matthew and Landon, and daughter Brandy and her husband Colby. Mark's father, Larry; his uncles, Jim and Jerry; and farm employee, Jacob, are also actively involved. Mark and Melissa also have three other daughters and a son-in-law who are not actively involved in the farm but help seasonally and as needed. They are also the parents of a son, Luke, who is deceased.
For the family, earning this award carries much meaning in their day-to-day work.
"It's validation that what we do every day is seen and is the right thing. That's the biggest thing," said Mark Schleisman, after receiving the award plaque.
"I second what he says. Plus, it's good to have all of our family together and work together," Melissa Schleisman added.
On the family farm, animal care is a top priority for the Schleismans. Mark, Colby, Matthew, Landon and Jacob are all Pork Quality Assurance certified and Transportation Quality Assurance certified. Mark, Colby, and Matthew are also Beef Quality Assurance certified. Three years ago, they built a calving barn that allows them to calve all 320 cows and heifers indoors during inclement weather.
"Sometimes livestock production gets cast in a bad light. I like to call it our ultimate value-added agriculture. We take corn and soybean and grass and biomass that we grow and feed it to something and make a higher value product. That's what makes agriculture special in our state and what drives our economy," Naig said during his presentation.
The Schleismans incorporate proven conservation practices into all elements of their operation, using grass waterways, filter strips, pollinator habitats, pheasant and upland bird habitats, food plots, terraces, bioreactors, saturated buffers, wetlands and water reuse for nutrient management. No-till or strip-till are used on all their crop acres. They started using cover crops 13 years ago and now implement the practice on all their crop acres. Their seed mixture is a combination of rye, oats and brassica. In 2017, they received an Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award and have previously received regional and national conservation legacy awards from the American Soybean Association.
In addition to running their operation, the Schleismans are extensively involved in their community. Mark served three terms on the Southern Calhoun/South Central Calhoun School Board and is currently a member of the St. Mary's Church finance council. He is a past Calhoun County Pork Producers board member and currently serves on the Calhoun County Farm Bureau board. Mark also serves on the Iowa Pork Producers Association's Environmental Committee and is a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, where he has hosted field days. The family also maintains memberships in the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Soybean Association, American Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association and National Corn Growers Association.
Susan Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @jpusan
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