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Pete Kappelman to receive top World Dairy Expo award

Shellie and Pete Kappelman
FAMILY FARMERS: Shellie and Pete Kappelman started farming together 32 years ago, when they were married.
The Manitowoc County, Wis., dairyman is humbled to win the Dairyman of the Year award.

World Dairy Expo has named Pete Kappelman of Two Rivers, Wis., the 2018 World Dairy Expo Dairyman of the Year. He will receive the award Oct. 3 during a dinner at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.

Kappelman owns and operates Meadow Brook Dairy Farms LLC in Manitowoc County with his wife, Shellie, and their three children: Beth Gierke, 29, Mitch Kappelman, 27, and Erin Kenneke, 25. Erin’s husband, AJ, also works on the farm. The family milks 470 registered Holstein and Brown Swiss cows.

Meadow Brook Dairy’s rolling herd average is 30,800 pounds of milk, 1,197 pounds of fat and 943 pounds of protein. Breed age average is 103.6. Recently, the marketing of the dairy’s high net-merit Brown Swiss genetics has taken off. In the past two years, the Kappelmans have sold 10 bulls into AI and are exporting embryos to Japan. They also raise 470 heifers and calves. They farm 1,100 owned and rented acres, growing corn, alfalfa, soybeans, wheat, rye and grass.

Active in his community
Kappelman has impacted the national and international dairy industry through serving multiple terms as the board chairman for Land O’Lakes Inc. He was first elected to the board in 1995. The 56-year-old says he has found the experience rewarding but challenging at times.

“I tell everyone it has always been exciting, but it hasn’t always been fun,” he says. “We work hard to preserve and grow our members’ investment.”

Kappelman is in his last year on the board. His final term expires in February.

In 1992, he helped organize the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dairy Center for Profitability. He served as the first president of the organization in 1992 and 1993. He now serves on the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center board and the National Milk Producers Federation board, and is a high school girls basketball coach.

In the past, he served on the board of directors for Immanuel Lutheran Church, the Economic Development Corp. for Manitowoc County and the UW-Madison Alumni Association. He also was a 4-H leader and served on the U.S. Dairy Export Council. In addition, he was the ag policy adviser to the U.S. secretary of agriculture and the U.S. trade representative.

Believing in the importance of providing people with the tools, education and livestock that are needed to make a long-term, sustainable difference, Kappelman has participated in several service trips to Africa and other developing countries, and has dedicated time as a board member for Heifer International.

Getting started
One of seven kids, Kappelman is the fourth generation of his family to operate the farm. “I grew up knowing I would farm,” he says. “My dad assumed we would all farm.”

In 1985, Kappelman graduated with honors from UW-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in dairy science. “College was fun, but once spring came around, it was hard to sit in the classroom,” he recalls.

Between his sophomore and junior years of college, he took a year off to work on a large registered Holstein dairy farm in Modesto, Calif. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Kappelman says. “I learned a lot that year, and I highly recommend that every young person who wants to farm work for someone else.”

He and Shellie married in 1986 and returned to the home farm in 1987, where they formed a partnership with Kappelman’s older brother John and their dad. “We farmed with John until 2009, when we bought him out,” he says. “John still owns some cropland that we rent.”

Family matters
Kappelman says he is proud that all three of his children graduated from UW-Madison and worked a year or two off the farm before returning home.

“I think farming was always in their minds,” Kappelman says. “They all bought houses within 2 miles of the farm and joined the LLC last year.”

ALL ABOUT FAMILY:  The Kappelman family includes Greg Gierke holding son Kenny (left), Beth Gierke, Shellie and Pete Kappelman, AJ Kenneke holding daughter Claire, Erin Kenneke and Mitch Kappelman.

Beth majored in ag business and is in charge of human resources, bookkeeping, payroll, and caring for young calves and heifers. She is married to Greg. They have a 2-year-old son named Kenny and are expecting a baby in November.

Mitch majored in dairy science and is the leader in reproduction and genetics on the farm. He also takes care of fresh cows.

Erin also majored in dairy science. She is a herdsman and the parlor manager, and is in charge of udder health. Her husband, AJ, handles cropping and maintenance on the farm. Erin and AJ have a daughter, Claire, who was born in March.

Kappelman is farm manager. When he is home, he does a lot of fieldwork, works with their dairy nutritionist and helps each of his kids in their areas.

Shellie has a professional portrait photography business.

In addition to the family, Meadow Brook Dairy has nine full-time and eight part-time employees.

Kappelman has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer award, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer Achievement Award and the Wisconsin Dairy Farm Family of the Year award.

He says he is honored to be the 2018 World Dairy Expo Dairyman of the Year.

“It was a real surprise, because I never thought I would be considered for it,” Kappelman says. “I think every dairy producer should get this award — I’ll accept the award on behalf of all the hard-working dairy farmers. If you’ve survived this long farming and put in all the hours, I think everyone should get it. I am thrilled to accept this award, but it wasn’t expected.”

19 Wisconsin men honored

Since 1970, when World Dairy Expo began giving the Dairyman of the Year award, 19 recipients have been from the Dairy State.

In addition to 2018 honoree Pete Kappelman, here are the Wisconsin winners:

2011 Alan, David, Jim and John Koepke, Oconomowoc
2008 Charles, George, Tom and Mark Crave, Waterloo
2004 Donald T. Peterson, Cashton
2000 Howard Voegeli, Monticello
1999 Niles and Elmo Wendorf Jr., Ixonia
1996 John Selz, Humbird
1993 Clarence Boyke, Fond du Lac
1985 Eugene Nelson, Union Grove
1980 Lyle F. Viney, Evansville
1976 Lyman D. McKee, Madison
1970 Melvin Sprecher, Sauk City

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