Son carries on legacy of Todd County’s Farm Family of the Year

James Wielenberg, left, and his mom, Jane, continued to farm after their dad and husband, Melvin, passed away after a long battle with melanoma. Shortly before Melvin died, the Wielenberg family was chosen as the 2016 Todd County Farm Family of the Year.
James Wielenberg, left, and his mom, Jane, continued to farm after their dad and husband, Melvin, passed away after a long battle with melanoma. Shortly before Melvin died, the Wielenberg family was chosen as the 2016 Todd County Farm Family of the Year.

By Sheila McCoy, Staff Writer
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The plan to one day take over the family farm came sooner than James Wielenberg, 35, of Long Prairie had ever anticipated.

In 2011, James’ dad, Melvin, was diagnosed with melanoma (skin cancer) and after a long, hard battle of fighting the disease, he died March 31. He was 64.

“He did every treatment and every clinical trial that would slow it down,” said Jane, Melvin’s wife and James’ mother.

Since then, Jane encourages people to check their moles and spots for any changes.

“Don’t put off to get something checked out,” she said.

James said the transition to take over the farm has gone smoothly. Since he has worked at the family farm full-time since 2004, he is already very familiar with the day-to-day operations. He also already owns one-third of the herd.

Even so, the loss of one person is felt in the workload.

“When he was alive, if we needed parts, one of us could run to town while the other continued working,” he said. “But with dad gone, the work that needs to be done is still there when I get back.”

His brother, Neil, helps out as time allows. High school student Eric Pachan helps with milking the cows and feeding the calves.

“So that helps a lot,” James said.

Jane said she and Melvin both grew up on farms near Melrose. In 1980, they got married and at first, rented a farm place, but bought their own in 1983.

“The farm is the best place to raise a family. The children learn how to take responsibility and to work hard,” she said.

When Melvin and Jane bought the farm, they had about 14 milk cows and some feeder hogs. Even though the hogs are since gone from the farm, the Wielenbergs now have 85 Holstein and Jersey cows.

“We only milk the Holsteins though, because the Jerseys are too young,” James said.

The cows are milked in a double-six herringbone parlor.

About 70-75 calves are born each year. The heifers are raised to replace the older cows

“The bull calves get sold when they are about a week or two old at the sale barn or privately,” he said. “They usually end up as steers.”

James said farming is something he has always wanted to do. Before joining his parents’ farming operation, he worked for others, but decided he liked working for his dad better than being on his own.

“Some days I think I am crazy for it, but it’s still here. It’s a passion,” he said,

James studied farm operations with an emphasis on dairy at Ridgewater College in Willmar. He graduated in 2001.

“That was a nice experience. Even though we all had different backgrounds, we all had the farming in common, You could relate to a lot,” he said.

The family crop farms alfalfa, corn and barley that is used to feed the herd.

Besides James and Neil, Melvin and Jane have two other children, Michael and Amy.

Since farming is keeping both Jane and James busy, neither has much time to do other things.

She is actively involved in St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Long Prairie as an eucharistic minister. James also serves as an usher there.

Jane also serves as an election judge for the township.

Grandma of three grandchildren, Jane said she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, Haylie, Preston and Blake.

James is also a member of a Young Cooperator Program that the Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI) hold and of the local FFA Alumni chapter. In one way, it is almost like he’s following his dad’s footsteps. Melvin served as an AMPI District Board member.

This year, the family was chosen as Todd County Farm Family of the Year.

“I’m not really sure why they picked us, but it is an honor,” Jane said.