The Wagner family has been in the farm business for 146 years.
It started with Scott Wagner’s great-great-grandfather, who came over from Germany and started a farm about three miles away from the Hooper farm where Wagner and his family now live and work.
“There’s been a lot of trials and tribulations that’ve happened,” Wagner said.
In the ’30s for instance, things got so bad that Wagner’s great grandfather actually put the farm up for sale. But when the potential buyers found out that it didn’t have oak floors, they backed out. Shortly after that, Wagner’s grandfather took it over.
“My grandfather got through that ’30s time period and became successful,” Wagner said.
Now, years after those early trials and tribulations, Scott Wagner’s family farm is alive and well—so well, in fact, it’s being honored with an award from the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce at the annual Excellence In Agriculture Awards Luncheon.
The family will be honored as the 2018 Farm Family of the Year and will be celebrated at the luncheon, which is on March 20, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fremont Golf Club.
The awards were selected by the Chamber’s Agriculture Council, which meets once a month to receive and assess nominations from the chamber’s membership, according to Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tara Lea. Wagner was picked for his deep ties to the area and his forward thinking.
“He is a fifth generation farmer here in the Dodge County area, so that was very exciting to have someone who has such a strong background in the ag industry winning that award,” Lea told the Tribune. “And he’s also been very supportive trying to move agriculture forward, he’s a very innovative thinker and is just really helping to make sure we’re all moving in the right direction.”
Over the past year, Wagner has helped with “a number of different measures,” ranging from his involvement at the Fremont Corn Expo in December to his work in trying to bring the often divisive Costco poultry plant to life, Lea said.
“For a while, he was somewhat the spokesperson as to why this was good to come to our community and really instrumental into helping us bring that wonderful business here,” Lea said.
Wagner is still supportive of the project, arguing that the voices of opposition toward the plant were “a minority.”
“To me it’s a win-win for all of farming—all of grain farming, anyway,” Wagner said. “For an ag economy, which Fremont is, that was something that definitely helps, whether you’re putting up poultry barns or not, in the standpoint of basis, meaning getting a better price for your crop.”
Wagner has spoken out in support of the plant, has been involved in the City Council and Planning Commission meetings about the project, and his farm hosted a press conference with Costo executives in 2016. Wagner got involved in supporting the project after hearing what he believed were “misconceptions” in the contentious discussions over the plant. For instance, he disagreed with concerns that the the chickens raised on farmers’ land, or the plant itself, could cause water pollution, arguing that farmers are acutely aware of what they are putting into the ground.
“This is an opportunity for farmers who are looking to diversify their operation, to bring other generations back to the farm,” he said. “When you have an area, at this point, that does not have a lot of job opportunity, you’re finding that the young folks are moving away.”
Wagner first started farming when he was 18, when his father—an agriculture teacher who returned to farming in the early ’70s—let him rent out one of his grandmother’s farms.
“I actually put myself through college farming,” said Wagner, who studied ag business.
The Wagner farm is a full-fledged family operation—Wagner and his wife Krisy have five children—Christian, Natalie, Hannah, Alana and Lawson—who all help however they can with the day-to-day work that needs to be done. The oldest, Christian, who is 12, will start helping to feed the cows with the feed wagon this year.
Kristy handles the bookkeeping and helps out with other daily tasks when she isn’t busy homeschooling the kids.
“She’s more than capable of doing a lot of different things,” Wagner said. “If it wasn’t for my wife, we wouldn’t be where we’re at today.”
They have one part-time hired hand, and at 76, Wagner’s father still comes out to help as well.
“Even though we are a corporation, it is still a family farm here,” Wagner said.
His family’s house is on a farm that was purchased in 1973. The family owns about 1,700 acres, Wagner said. They try to stay “relatively diversified” in what they produce.
“I run a small registered red angus herd—I sell bulls and typically have been retaining heffers,” Wagner said. “Crops wise, we raise seed corn for Hoegemeyer Hybrids—we’ve also grown for many other companies for that matter.”
They also raise white corn, yellow corn, seed beans and soybeans.
“I enjoy the challenges of it,” Wagner said of farming. “When you are a farmer you are everything—you are a biologist, you are a chemist, you are an accountant, you are a physicist, you are a mechanic, you are everything. And it may not be that you know everything about everything, but either you can research to find out about it or you know people who can educate you on it.”
His family also hosts frequent farm tours so he can “represent agriculture the way it is.”
“It’s interesting when you bring folks onto the operation how their eyes are opened up to new things,” he said.
Now, he’s happy to receive recognition for his work—even if he wasn’t expecting it.
“It’s a nice honor,” Wagner said. “As a farmer, we just kind of keep our nose down to the ground and do the best we can for the soil and for the food supplies, etcetera. So this is kind of one of those things that, it’s nice that recognition was made, I guess, for doing the jobs that we’ve been able to do and for the involvement in the community.”
Wagner still owns the original farm where his great great grandfather started, 146 years ago. He rents that house out now, he says, and still farms it to this day. One day, he hopes that his kids will keep the family business running, despite the difficulties that farmers often face.
“I think that’s exactly the point behind most farmers is you hope to continue that generational extension of what’s happened,” Wagner said. “The goal obviously is to keep it ongoing another 146 years and longer. That’s always the hope.”