Honored - Phil and Laura Finger were named Outstanding Young Farmers at the 66th Annual Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmers Awards Weekend January 24-26 in Chippewa Falls. Phil is a 5th generation farmer whose family farm goes back to 1872. Phil and Laura will now represent Wisconsin farmers at the National level. Top Photo: left to right; Phil Finger, children Alisa, P.J., Alivia, Alana and Laura Finger. Bottom Photo: Laura and Phil Finger are pictured with the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmers award at the awards ceremony.
Philip and Laura Finger Named State Outstanding Young Farmers For 2020Issue Date: February 6, 2020
When Philip and Laura Finger left their home on the Finger Family Farm in the Town of Little River to attend the 66th annual Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer Awards Weekend in Chippewa Falls they knew they had been nominated for Wisconsin's top Young Farmer award but never dreamed they would win.
Then, after spending some time with the other nominees, they were so impressed with them that they were even more certain they would not be chosen. "In comparison, we really didn't think we were qualified," Phil said. "We went to the banquet Saturday night (Jan. 25) expecting to shake someone else's hand. When the winners were announced we were both in tears!"
The couple agreed that they had made some lifelong friends during the Awards Weekend that began on Friday, Jan. 24 and ran through Sunday, Jan. 26. The six nominees, some of them as individuals and some as couples, had been strangers when the weekend began, but bonded well during the functions that led up to the final selection and by the time winners were announced at the banquet they had made some lifelong friends. They said one thing all nominees had in common was that they all shared the same struggles.
Phil said he and Laura were shocked to be chosen because they thought all the other finalists they had met were more worthy of the award.
The weekend began with an Ag Forum training session for candidates on Friday, Jan. 24, led by Trisha Wagner and area ag agents/educators with Daphne Holterman, past Wisconsin and National Outstanding Young Farmer award winner.
During the weekend nominees toured area businesses, including Seibel's Organic Dairy in Bloomer and Leinenkugel's Brewery in Chippewa Falls and were interviewed by a panel of three judges.
Since they didn't think they would be selected, Phil and Laura had not invited any other family members to join them and the 75 to 100 others who attended the awards banquet.
Phil is the fifth generation to farm on his family's farm that straddles the Marinette and Oconto county lines. The farm was started by great-great-grandfather Franz Finger, who came to this country from Bohemia and purchased the first 140 acres in 1872. Owners since then have been Lawrence and Mary Finger, Ervin and Grace Finger 1930-1974 and Phil's parents, Jack and Nancy Finger, 1974 to present. The farm grew to support two families in 2008 when Phil and Laura took over operations. In 2009 when Phil and Laura were married they continued with the expansion. The partnership allows each couple to have a little time off and still do a good job of running the farm.
From its small beginnings the Finger Family Farm has grown to include 1,400 crop acres and 540 Holstein milking cows. They ship about a semi load of milk each day and have 20 employees. They milk three times a day.
In addition to the dairy operation the Fingers have a small chicken flock, with about 150 hens and deliver two to three dozen eggs a day to customers.
Inflation hasn't taken hold of the dairy industry as it has in the rest of the world, Phillip said. Milk still sells for about $20 a hundred weight, as it did in the 1970s. Dairy Farmers of America helps promote dairy products, which includes milk, cheese, whey products (including dry whey, which is used as a muscle builder), butter, ice cream, baby formula and more.
Phil and Laura are both now 38 years old. He was raised on the family farm and earned a Dairy Science Degree from UW-Madison in 2004. Laura was born and raised in Hawaii, and earned a Dairy Science Degree from Iowa State College in 2003. She was working as a dairy herdsman in Daggett, Mich. after being widowed in 2004.
They met in 2004 thanks to "a set-up" by Jeff and Lisa Fisher of Peshtigo.Both said they did not hit it of on the first date, but started dating again in 2008. They were married on Feb. 21, 2009.
They have three children, including Lisa's 18-year-old daughter Alana, who is currently studying in the dairy program at Fox Valley Tech and hopes to return to the farm and become the sixth generation of family ownership. Other children are PJ, 10; Alisa, 9, and Alivia, 6. Each of the kids has regularly assigned chores, which Phil and Laura feel is an important part of training them for life.
A typical day for Phil and Laura starts when they get up together at 2:30 a.m. They start their work for the day, check on their animals, and check on employees whose shifts start between 1 and 3 a.m. At 6:30 a.m. they go home for breakfast with the children. After the kids get on the bus they go back to work, checking their job list, vaccinating animals, handling breeding chores, and helping wherever they are needed.
The couple agrees their goal are to have a successful family and a successful farm. They also agree their secret is to give and take, and wherever one has a weakness the other makes up for it. Phil's passion is genetics, while Laura takes care of the calves. Her primary job is running the home, his is running the farm. Phil chuckles that the secret of working together is that, "I do what she tells me."
Both say they treat their employees respectfully, and the employees do the same for them. "Our farm is a team effort," they agreed, and added, "The people that work with us do a great job." They also agree that farming is hard work, something that must be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, but it's also enjoyable and they're glad they made the decision to farm and would not want to do anything else.
They are proud to be part of the farming community, and proud to be active members of the Marinette and Oconto county communities. Their farm on Townline Road has a barn in each county. They try to shop locally, patronize local stores and vendors and put money back into sporting events and other local activities.
They seek ways to keep consumers connected to farming, and to help young people be involved. They do cow chip bingo, at Historical Days they bring baby animals for youngsters to see. They have provided access and assistance at the farm for youngsters who wanted to raise an animal as a learning project.
Phil and Laura will now go on to compete for national award honors with young farmers and farm couples from all across the nation to be announced at the 2021 national honors event that will be held in Appleton. Finger said in the 64 years that a national level Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) has been selected, 19 of those chosen have been from Wisconsin.
In addition to competing at the national level for 2021 honors, as this year's Wisconsin OYF winners the couple will host next year's state awards event, which is to be held somewhere in northeast Wisconsin.
Phil and Laura said they are really looking forward to helping promote agriculture, reconnecting consumers with food sources, and bringing more optimism back into agriculture. They see a need to remind fellow producers and consumers that everyone has to eat, but everyone needs different choices to meet their taste and dietary needs.
In 2022, during its 150th anniversary year, the Finger Family Farm will host the annual Marinette County Breakfast on the Farm.
The Wisconsin OYF program was developed in 1954 to recognize the younger generation of successful agriculturists in the state. To be eligible for the OYF award, farmers must be between 21 and 39 years of age, either individuals or teams, who derive at least two-thirds of their income from farming. Judges base their decisions 50 percent on candidates' progress in agriculture, 25 percent on land and water conservation practices, and 25 percent on community involvement.
Phil and Laura were nominated for the award by Scott Reuss, who serves as UWEX Ag agent/educator for Marinette and Oconto counties.
This year's first runner-up is Katy Schultz of Fox Lake, a partner in Tri-Fecta Farms Inc. and this year's "Speak Up for Agriculture" Award winner.
Jeremy and Heather Natzke of Green Leaf were the second runners-up. Jeremy is also the fifth generation on his family farm, Wayside Dairy. They are sponsored by CP Feeds, GPS Dairy Consulting, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Luxemburg-Casco Jaycees, and Riesterer and Schnell.
Other nominees this year were Kelly Fruit of Viola, John "JJ" and Chase Pagel of Kewaunee, and Laura and Tyler Raatz of Oconto Falls.
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