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Farming is Mike Cerny's 'labor of love'Farming is Mike Cerny's 'labor of love'

Master Agriculturist: Walworth County farmer is a precision farming pioneer.

Fran O'Leary

March 1, 2017

5 Min Read
PROMOTING HIS PASSION: Last summer, a film crew from Discovery Media Works for the United Soybean Board spent the day at Mike Cerny’s farm, interviewing him and filming his farm for a three-minute video. Cerny talks about his passion for farming, which he refers to as “a labor of love.” The video has been a big hit, according to USB. Watch it at vimeo.com/187873806. The password is “seed.”

Mike Cerny grew up 3 miles east of the farm he lives on in Walworth County near Sharon. After graduating from Big Foot High School in 1968, he attended University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for one semester where he played football. He played semiprofessional football for the Delavan Red Devils for seven years and worked in construction.

“I played defensive end,” Cerny explains. “When I played for them, they were the No. 1 team in the nation.”

Back to the farm
In 1983, Cerny’s father, Stan, asked him if he wanted to come home and farm. He jumped at the chance.

“Dad and I shared equipment and labor, and I continued to work construction until 1990,” he recalls. In 1988, Cerny bought the farm where he lives and remodeled the house built in the 1830s.

“It’s not really me who got me here,” Cerny explains. “It’s my dad and what my dad taught me about farming and life. My dad was a great farmer. He was one of the first farmers to test the herbicide Lasso. He did things with fertilizer, seed and chemicals. He really knew how to make crops grow. He was one of the first farmers to grow soybeans for Dairyland Seed in the 1960s, and he was a Dairyland Seed dealer. His dealer number was number 02.”

Cerny followed in his father’s footsteps growing corn, soybeans and wheat; he named his farm Frontier Farms. Cerny married in 1976. He is proud that all four of his daughters grew up on the farm.

“The farm was a good place for my daughters to grow up,” he says. “They were active in 4-H and FFA, and they all have a great work ethic.”

Today, Cerny farms 990 acres of land within 15 miles of where he lives. Like his dad, he grows seed soybeans for Dairyland Seed, as well as public varieties of wheat seed, which he cleans, bags and markets from his farm. With help from full-time employee Ken Moore, strip-till operator Gary Davis and part-time employee Bill Dawson, Cerny custom-harvests another 1,500 acres for area farmers and establishes over 2,500 acres in strip tillage annually.

In 2016, he grew 490 acres of corn, 400 acres of seed soybeans for Dairyland Seed and 100 acres of wheat. He prefers to grow seed soybeans and wheat because they are “value added.”

Cerny has been noted for good land stewardship on his farm. He participates in the USDA Conservation Security Program and has been a leader in no-till production for many years.

Precision farming pioneer
Cerny is a pioneer in precision farming. In 1994, he was one of the first farmers to do site-specific farming; in fact, the serial number on his GPS was 001. Shortly thereafter, he was interviewed by Forbes magazine.

“My ADM yield map was used in television commercials and ads,” he recalls.

He is still on the cutting edge of site-specific farming and works with local ag suppliers and co-ops to develop variable-rate farming as prescribed by his meticulous recordkeeping and yield maps.

Cerny is working with Joe Lauer, UW-Madison professor and state corn specialist, to interpret 14 years of yield data to understand the various influences on crop yield. He has also worked with university projects researching the western corn rootworm variant, white mold and soybean aphids, as well as tillage trials and research on the efficacy of Clariva to control soybean cyst nematode.

“Mike never seeks out the limelight and quietly goes about his farming business with an incredible curiosity to find out how and why all of the hundreds of variables of soil, water, weather, pests and tillage affect not just his farming operation, but that of the general farming community,” says Peg Reedy, retired Walworth County Extension ag agent. “He is constantly looking for ways to use information to improve the profitability of farming, and has shared yield maps from nearly 20 years to identify management areas and optimize the use of inputs on areas where they will be most cost-effective.”

Over the past two decades, Cerny has devoted an enormous amount of time to serving on the technical advisory committee for the UW Integrated Pest Management and Crop Management programs. According to Shawn Conley, UW-Madison professor and state soybean and wheat specialist, in this role, “Mike helps shape the applied research and Extension materials that are developed for farmers from this group. As part of this group, Mike works with other ag leaders from across the state to ensure the Wisconsin farmer’s voice is being heard by UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences faculty, staff and administrators.”

Cerny’s persistence and attention to detail have paid off in top-notch yields on his farm. Last fall, his soybeans averaged 75 bushels per acre, and his corn yielded 230 bushels per acre.

Beyond the farm
Although he keeps busy on the farm, Cerny has been active in several farm organizations. He served six years on the Wisconsin Soybean Association board and then 21 years on the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, including several years as president. While he is no longer on the board, he attends board meetings as Wisconsin’s representative to the North Central Soybean Research Program, where he is secretary-treasurer for that board.

Cerny was also a member of the Governor’s Snowmobile Council for 27 years, serving as chairman for many years.

At 66, Cerny says he has no plans to retire. In addition to spending time with his four daughters, who all live within 5 miles of the farm, Cerny says he enjoys entertaining his 2-year-old grandson, Max, who loves riding in the big tractors and combine almost as much as his grandpa.

“I want to keep farming as long as I can, but at this point in my life, I’m not looking to expand,” Cerny says.

2017 Master Agriculturist

Mike Cerny
Age: 66
Location: Sharon, Walworth County
Farming enterprises: Crops, custom harvesting
Size of farm: 990 owned and rented acres
Years farming: 34
Family: Daughters Renee Cerny, Anna Cerny, Emilie Cerny and Megan Maise; son-in-law, Nick Maise; and grandson, Max Maise

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

Even though Fran was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Fran has 25 years of experience writing, editing and taking pictures. Before becoming editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist in 2003, she worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

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