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Catch up with…Pete Kappelman

  • Home: Manitowoc, Wis.
  • Occupation: Partner, Meadow Brook Dairy Farm, and Chairman, Land O’Lakes, Inc. Cooperative Board
  • What I’m doing when I’m not working: Spending time with my family, running, flying as a licensed private pilot, coaching youth basketball, serving as a 4H Dairy Leader.
  • Best thing I learned at CALS: My years at Madison in CALS exposed me to some of the greatest professors in the country. More than teaching just subject matter, they taught me how to learn, and the value of learning for my lifetime.

You’ve been very active in a range of dairy organizations since the start of your career. What motivated you to get involved?
At 25, I was asked to join the new UW-Madison Center for Dairy Profitability board. We really wanted to convince producers they were business people and give them a place to receive help with business decisions. A few years later, I also helped start the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin. At the time, these were new ideas and new organizations, with no status quo. For the first few years, it was really a labor of love for the industry.

With Land O’Lakes, Inc., you oversee a cooperative with $7 billion of annual revenue. How did you earn members’ trust?
People trusted me because of what I had done in other leadership roles. Your farm or business should also be a reflection of the kind of board member you will be. I keep a well-run, attractive and respected operation, so neighbors will look at it and think, ‘He’ll represent my equity the same way.’

You’re also on the National Dairy Board and the U.S. Dairy Export Council. What are you hearing about the outlook for producers?
Increased international demand has made dairy a valuable worldwide commodity. Right now, we’re in the driver’s seat for agricultural export. I want to make sure, for producers around the country, as well as my own kids’ sake, that we take advantage of every opportunity we’re given to help the industry grow.

Are your kids involved with the business?
Yes, my wife Shellie and I have three teenagers: Erin, a high school freshman; Mitch, a high school junior; and Beth, a freshman at UW-Madison in CALS. All three are very involved in the farm, and they have been from an early age. Not only do they work on the farm, but they also own cattle.

Do you expect them to follow your path?
Right now, I’m just enjoying watching them grow up. Whether they come back and farm is up to them. I try to show them the opportunities agriculture gave me–the same thing is there for them if they so choose.