Wallaces Farmer

Farmers found outstanding in ag production and leadership were honored in March, along with a recipient for exceptional service.

Gil Gullickson, editor of Wallaces Farmer

April 2, 2024

10 Min Read
 Elwynn Taylor
EXEPTIONAL SERVICE: Climatologist Elwynn Taylor was honored for his exceptional service to Iowa’s agriculture, during a ceremony last month, which also honored the 2024 Master Farmers in the state.Gil Gullickson

March 21 was a joyful day for Iowa agriculture, as seven farmers were honored as 2024 Iowa Master Farmers in Ankeny, Iowa. Each year, Wallaces Farmer and the Iowa Master Farmer Association select deserving candidates who reflect exceptional agricultural production skills, commitment to family and service to community.

The 2024 Master Farmers are:

  • Roger and Kathy Carlson, Red Oak

  • April Hemmes, Hampton

  • Neil and Becky McCoy, Villisca

  • Mark and Diane Schmitt, Fort Atkinson

Profiles of each winner appeared in the March issue of Wallaces Farmer magazine. Full stories about their farms ran online at WallacesFarmer.com during the week of March 11-15.

Wallaces Farmer and IMFA also named a new winner of the Exceptional Service to Agriculture Award for 2024: Elwynn Taylor. He served as Iowa State University Extension climatologist from 1979 until he retired in 2019. He gave myriad talks during countless visits to Iowa farmers about weather and climate over four decades. Taylor also answered questions on a radio call-in program for years.

For Taylor, serving as ISU Extension climatologist was a delight.

“There are no finer people in this world than Iowa farmers,” Taylor says.

How it started

Wallaces Farmer first offered the Master Farmer award in 1926, when Henry A. Wallace decided his family’s magazine would sponsor the annual award. It was clear from the outset the award was about more than farming, as it also encompassed involvement in family and community affairs. It made perfect sense to use the magazine’s motto — “Good Farming, Clear Thinking, Right Living” — as a basis for the Master Farmer scorecard.

Since then, 501 Iowans have received an Iowa Master Farmer award. Of the 501 Iowa Master Farmer Award winners, 471 are farmers, 27 are winners of the Exceptional Service to Agriculture Award and three are Honorary Master Farmers.

Candidates are nominated by farmers, neighbors, agribusiness leaders and farm organizations throughout the state. Judges for the 2024 awards were Steve Berger, Iowa Master Farmer Association president; Maynard Hogberg, Master Farmer Exceptional Service member; Larry Buss, immediate IMFA past president; the late Bill Northey, IMFA vice president; and Jennifer Carrico, former editor, Wallaces Farmer.

See below are summaries of each award winner’s operation and career. To nominate a farmer for the 2025 Iowa Master Farmer award, click the button on the top and bottom of this story.

Carlsons: Relationships, community loom large

Roger and Kathy Carlson didn’t initially intend to farm. However, Roger watched as his uncle Paul hired others to farm his land. This spurred Roger to ask his uncle for the opportunity to farm it.

And his uncle said yes.

Roger and Kathy started farming 200 acres of row crops and 50 acres of pasture in a 50-50 livestock and cropland rental agreement with Paul in 1974. Over time, they grew the farm in Red Oak based on lessons they learned early in their farming careers.

“No. 1 was keeping good records,” Kathy says. “Roger did our cash flows and balance sheets every single year before going into the bank for a loan.”

The value of forming relationships also surfaced during this time.

“The key thing—and Roger was really, really good at it—is making relationships with people,” Kathy says. This benefited them in several ways, such as in renting ground from landlords. Over time, they have rented multiple farms, many from the second and third generation of landlords.

They also grew their family early on with children Kelly, Tony, Jessie, and Amanda.

Their focus wasn’t entirely on the farm. Kathy chaired the Buckle Up Babes program, which helped supply infant car seats to Montgomery County parents.

Roger dug into soybean industry boards and associations. “He loved doing that,” Kathy recalls. “He learned so much and said it taught him the skills he needed to be a leader.”

One of the reasons Roger and Kathy grew their business was so there would be room if any of their children wanted to farm. Two of their children, Tony and Kelly, did exactly that. Roger did so on the condition that like him, they involve themselves in community affairs.

Roger passed away in January. However, he left a legacy for his family to carry on the farm.

“We are family,” says daughter Kelly Osheim, “and we stick together.”

The Carlsons were nominated by Ray and Elaine Gaesser, who farm in Corning, Iowa.

Hemmes: Combining fun and business skills

Each fall, you’ll find April Hemmes harvesting corn and soybeans on her Hampton, Iowa, farm while breaking into rousing “combine karaoke” songs with friends Julianne Johnston, Shannon Latham and Annette Sweeney. 

“Other farmers will ask me, ‘Why do you do that?’” she says. “It’s to show people we have fun and just to share a little bit of the farm with them.”

However, Hemmes also possesses a serious streak that’s enabled her to build a 950-acre corn and soybean farm over the past 39 years.

“April sets goals for herself and consistently hits them,” says Kelvin Leibold, an ISU Extension farm management specialist. “She also knows her cost of production, keeps spreadsheets on her crop sales and does a marketing plan every year. She keeps her cost of production low, but also knows where and when inputs are needed and would help improve efficiencies.”

Hemmes has held offices in the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the United Soybean Board. She’s also participated in two U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) projects that help women farmers in Uganda with business and marketing skills.

“One farmer told me that, ‘Because of this program, I can do so much more. I can feed my family. I can send my girls to school. And my family is succeeding.’ That’s the best reward you can get from participating in such a program,” Hemmes says.

She treasures other relationships she’s formed over her career, including those with Leibold, who nominated her for the Master Farmer award.

“He’s retiring after 40 years,” Hemmes says. “I got a note from him that said, ‘I can't put into words how you've helped me through my career.’ But he has helped me just as much.”

“I'm not the best farmer in the world,” she says. “But I try to do what I think is best for the land. To be recognized by peers [as a Master Farmer] is unbelievable.”

Hemmes was nominated by Leibold.

McCoys: Small factors add up to major successes

Neil and Becky McCoy exhibit teamwork akin to an all-star baseball pitcher and catcher. Rather than whiffing batters, though, they strike out weeds and invasive trees.

Each summer, the Villisca farmers load their all-terrain vehicle with a sprayer and head to their fields and pastures.

“We take turns spraying weeds from one side or the other,” Becky says. “I jump off the Gator to cut off the evergreens and honey locusts. It’s especially important to go around the terraces and cut them [trees] off before they get big.”

Just as “small ball” defines winning baseball teams that string together singles rather than home runs, efficient farms often piece together small factors that add up to major successes over time for the McCoys.

For example, constant attention is crucial with cattle, particularly during calving. “You have to be there to tag calves and give them their initial shots and watch so cows don’t step on them,” Neil says.

The McCoys have also been active in 4-H as members and as leaders. Becky recalls the camaraderie and friendships that 4-H created as members.

“We all worked together, getting our cattle ready to show,” Becky recalls. “We got together for family picnics. The girls would have slumber parties, and be assigned as to who was in charge of breakfast, lunch and cleanup. It taught everyone to work together.”

Neil eventually was inducted into the 2015 Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame. Becky served on the county’s 4-H youth committee and is a 4-H Foundation supporter.

Both stressed goal setting to 4-H youth they led. “Following through with commitments was another one,” Neil says. “That’s a tough cookie to crumble, but I hoped my leadership helped people do that.”

It did, for several 4-H’ers told the couple years later that their leadership resonated with them. “It gives you a warm feeling in your heart to know that you, hopefully, influenced somebody,” Neil says.

The McCoys were nominated by Monroe McCoy, Neil’s brother.

Schmitts: Devotion to dairy

Back in 1968, Mark and Diane Schmitt’s dairy numbered just 27 cows. “From there, we just grew,” says Mark Schmitt, who farms with his wife, Diane, and two sons, Glen and Greg. “It just happened. At one time, we were the biggest dairy in the state.”

These days, Schmitt Dairy bustles with activity. There are 600 cows to be milked three times daily. There are newborn calves in a newly constructed calf barn for which to care. Then there are the 500 steers and 400 heifers that also need care and feeding.

“Mark and Diane work closely with their family in a progressive way — from the daily management of the farm, succession planning and forward-thinking ways to leverage themselves financially,” says Jennifer Bentley, ISU Extension dairy specialist. “There have been many ups and downs in the industry, and Mark and Diane have persevered with strong qualities of faith, family, and community.”

The Schmitts have also immersed themselves in youth programs, such as 4-H and FFA. They also support dairy industry associations and have offered the farm as a model to others who want to grow their farms. They’ve conducted tours over the years to parties ranging from school children to adults. St. Luke’s Catholic Church in nearby St. Lucas also plays a big part in their lives. Diane served as a parish board chairperson when the church was made handicapped accessible by installing an elevator.

Fifty-six years of dairying has generated myriad memories for the Schmitts. “Our mission statement is that the dairy is to produce quality products for the consumer,” Mark says. “It’s to provide the best care possible to the cattle that produce these quality products and to build a business that succeeds many years into the future. It’s also to promote personal and financial satisfaction for all employees and to maintain financial success. I think that we have accomplished a lot of this.  It’s been a good ride.”

The Schmitts were nominated by Bentley.

Taylor: Iowa’s weather wizard

Elwynn Taylor was fixing a National Weather Service weather station on a Georgia farm when a famous peanut farmer stopped by to chat. Meanwhile, panic ensued at the farm’s headquarters. 

“They discovered the president of the United States was missing,” Taylor recalls. “They had six, maybe eight, Secret Service agents assigned to guard him. They didn’t know where he was.”

All the while, President Jimmy Carter was safe and sound, visiting with Taylor about the weather station.

That brush with presidential fame was just a precursor of the stellar career that awaited Taylor as ISU Extension climatologist from 1979 to 2019. No matter if he was speaking to the president of the United States or Iowa Farmers, Taylor laced weather and climate facts with fun.

Taylor arrived in Iowa in 1979. “I was thrilled to come here,” he says. “The weather’s just what I wanted, with lots of variety, lots of extremes. We have blizzards, we have droughts, everything that a climatologist loves.”

Taylor, wife Carolyn and their two children immediately got a dose of Iowa’s weather extremes.

“I love it now, but I didn't when we first moved here,” Carolyn says. “We moved from Alabama where it was 85 degrees [F] when we left and minus 5 when we got here. You could walk up to the roof of our house on a snow drift.”

Taylor quickly settled into his new position, making countless visits and giving myriad talks to Iowa farmers about weather and climate. Taylor also answered questions on a radio call-in program for years.

“It was all volunteer,” Carolyn says. “He had one of the first cellphones at Iowa State, and he’d call in from wherever he was to do his radio show.”

For Taylor, serving as ISU Extension climatologist was a delight. “There are no finer people in this world than Iowa farmers,” he says.

Taylor was nominated by John Fischer, an Iowa Master Farmer, Class of 2023.

Read more about:

Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Gil Gullickson

editor of Wallaces Farmer, Farm Progress

Gil Gullickson grew up on a farm that he now owns near Langford, S.D., and graduated with an agronomy degree from South Dakota State University. Earlier in his career, he spent 13 years as a Farm Progress editor, covering Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Gullickson is a widely respected and decorated ag journalist, earning the Agricultural Communicators Network writing award for Writer of the Year three times, and winning Story of the Year four times. He is a past winner of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ Food and Agriculture Organization Award for Food Security. He has served as president of both ACN and the North American Agricultural Journalists.

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