Going Places. Here at Home: Ben Wikner

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Ben Wikner

Work ethic guides farmer through leadership roles

This is one in a series of articles highlighting the lastest generation of innovators making a difference in Clayton County

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Growing up on the family farm near Farmersburg, Ben Wikner was involved in agriculture from a young age. He recalled helping his dad and participating in 4-H and FFA. 


He learned early on the importance of getting involved in the community.


“We have a firm belief in giving back and supporting community events and local businesses. It’s a family thing,” Wikner said. “And that’s also what I like about agriculture: the drive to support local businesses. Whether it’s the mechanic at the tractor implement or a farmer going into the gas station, agriculture is rooted so very deeply in this county. Agriculture is here 365 days a year.”


After graduating from MFL MarMac in 2013, Wikner began serving in a new way, through the Iowa National Guard.


It was eight years of what he called the “best experience that shaped my future.”


Wikner also earned degrees from Southwest Wisconsin Technical College and Iowa State University during that period, and has been back on the farm full time since 2018, raising hogs, corn and beans with his dad and brother.


“It’s really nice farming with family,” he said. “I really enjoy what I do. It never feels like work. It’s a beautiful area, and I love Clayton County and northeast Iowa.”


But the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly a test. The farm—and industry in general—faced challenges producers never thought they’d encounter. 




“Prices were extremely low. There was a week or two when we were wondering where the pigs would go,” Wikner said. “But things worked out and we made it through. Now, it’s 2023 and prices have improved drastically and things are going very well. That’s the one thing dad always instilled in us—and he’s been farming since the 80s—is that there are highs and there are lows. That’s how it works. If you can make it through the lows, you can make it through the highs.” 


With eight full-time employees, Wikner said the experience emphasized not only the family’s responsibility to keep the farm operating and thriving for their own livelihoods, but for others as well.


“We have eight people who support their family with what we do here. When you’re thinking about the future, you can’t be selfish and say, ‘This is what I want.’ We’re a collective group in this together,” he shared.


Wikner also supports the collective good by volunteering with many community organizations. He’s been involved with the Farmersburg Fire Department and Clayton County Farm Bureau Board, and currently serves as vice president of the latter. 


Then, with the Clayton County Pork Producers, Wikner is board secretary while his brother Neal is treasurer.


The Pork Producers are known for grilling at events around the county—an effort that ties directly into what the Wikners do on their farm, raising pigs.


“We can serve that pork to people around the county,” he said. “What I also love about the Pork Producers organization is it’s a non-profit and we’re donating to the food shelf and giving back in different ways. I like the grass roots of it.”


Through the National Pork Producers Council, Wikner was accepted into the 2023 class of the National Pork Leadership Institute, a comprehensive training program whose graduates spread the pork industry’s story from Main Street to the nation’s capital.


“I was in Amarillo last week, and I’ll go to D.C. to meet with leaders and Chicago and Des Moines, then we’ll take a trip to South America this fall,” said Wikner, who was asked to apply to the program. “They said it’ll be four days every two months I’ll have to hop on a plane and go somewhere. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll push myself outside my comfort zone to do it.’ That’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve met other pig farmers, other young leaders. It’s wonderful networking and learning from people across the country.” 


Additionally, Wikner has served two years on the Clayton County Extension Council, a position to which he was elected. 


“That’s been a positive experience because that directly correlates to our 4-H in the county—developing those young kids and giving them a good program to meet other kids,” he noted.


Wikner also likes supporting local youth through FFA. Last week, for example, he was invited to MFL MarMac to judge a small project.


The volunteerism doesn’t end there. Three years ago, Wikner got involved with the Clayton County Fair Board, helping with everything from the tractor pull to entertainment—and even a bit of recruiting. Some of the younger kids who help on the Wikner farm have now gotten involved.


“That’s probably not your normal person who’s involved on the fair board,” Wikner admitted. 


He’s excited about some of the new efforts in the works at the fair.


“We started a new sponsorship at the fair this year, and we’ve just been blown away at the support we’re getting from businesses to keep our fair going and to improve it. The next couple years, it’s going to be fun to see it grow and thrive,” Wikner said.


Being so involved has been rewarding for Wikner. Through these organizations, he’s not only made a difference, but he’s met others who want to help too.


“I’ve made a lot of connections, friends, at these different things. They want to give back, want to improve, and not just stay at the status quo. That’s what I value a lot,” he said.


And anyone can make a difference, Wikner stressed. An impact is an impact, no matter the size.


“Even if it’s just volunteering for a day at the fair or volunteering at a cook-off, it helps out. It’s our community, our home. I challenge young people—people of all ages—to give back and be involved,” he shared.


Being so involved isn’t always easy. After work all day on the farm, many of Wikner’s evenings are filled with meetings. But he credited the work ethic he developed on the farm with guiding him through leadership roles and balancing a busy schedule.


“When you’re a farmer, no one else is going to take care of something if you don’t get it done. If there’s a water line broken or a feeder out of feed, no one else is going to come in and make sure those pigs are fed. It comes down to your responsibility and your discipline to make sure it’s done and done right. That’s where a lot of the drive to go out and do and get it done comes from,” he said. “With that comes time management. There are only so many hours in a day on a farm. Some days, things don’t go right, things break. You have to persevere, adapt and overcome and continue on.” 


“I’m a really big optimist,” Wikner added. “I try to bring that into my life every day. It’s a good day, and I’m thankful for the opportunities.”

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