Building a strong community goes hand-in-hand with building a strong farming operation for Max Schmidt, an Elma farmer who was honored last week as the first Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award recipient of 2020. 

Schmidt owns KMAX Farms, a wean-to-finish swine operation in Howard County. Under his leadership, he’s given several non-family employees the rare opportunity to launch their own farming careers by becoming partners in KMAX Farms.

“It is somewhat unique,” said Schmidt. “When you look back to when I started farming and what it takes today, it’s nearly impossible for a young person to start farming on their own.” 

Beyond their duties on the farm, Schmidt also taught his employee partners the importance of being involved in their rural communities and agricultural organizations. They have responded by serving in various leadership roles including local school boards, Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA). 

“If you want to have a strong community, you have to be willing to step up and take part in it,” Schmidt said. “I have required all of them to take some part in the community. That’s how you build a community ­— by everybody taking a part in it.”

One of the KMAX Farms partners is Trent Thiele, who wrapped up his term as IPPA president last week. 

“Max has given all of us younger producers an opportunity to get started in farming,” said Thiele, who nominated Schmidt for the Good Farm Neighbor Award. “He’s taught me so many different things, like giving back to the community.” 

Schmidt himself is a former IPPA president, giving him and Thiele many common connections across Iowa’s pork industry. In fact, Thiele said it was Schmidt who originally convinced him to get involved in IPPA leadership.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig presented the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award to Schmidt last week at the Iowa Pork Congress, surrounded by members of both the Thiele and Schmidt families.

“The Iowa Pork Congress is a fitting event to recognize an outstanding pig farmer like Max Schmidt … in front of his friends and peers for his dedication to animal care and commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Naig. 

KMAX Farms uses multiple practices that positively impact soil health and water quality on the land where they grow corn and soybeans. They use minimum and no-till soil management to prevent runoff. They have also added waterways and grid soil sampling to their conservation practices. KMAX Farms uses precision and variable rate manure applications to ensure that fertilizer is applied efficiently. 

In addition to serving as past IPPA president, Schmidt has served in various leadership positions on the county level.

The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award is made possible with the financial support of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers. It recognizes Iowa livestock farmers who take pride in caring for the environment and their livestock and being good neighbors. It is named in memory of Gary Wergin, a long-time WHO Radio farm broadcaster who helped create the award.