Going a step above

Orbeck receives leadership award


ST. MARTIN, Minn. — Like many dairy farmers, Mike Orbeck does what he can to help his fellow farming community. Also like most dairy farmers, he never expected to be recognized for his efforts. 

“I want to give everybody a chance and help them explore other opportunities to help them better their farm and family life,” Orbeck said. 

Orbeck was named the Distinguished County Leader last month at the Minnesota Farmers Union State Convention in Bloomington. 

Orbeck, along with his brothers, Kevin and Bob, milk 80 cows in a stanchion barn near St. Martin and farms 750 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa, oats and rye.

In the past two years, Orbeck led the effort in putting on two informational workshops for farmers.

“I was nominated because I put on a couple of workshops at the Greenwald Pub,” Orbeck said. “I didn’t want it to be a sales pitch but rather groundwork information.”

The first workshop held in 2022 was about solar energy, and the second was about county resources. A third workshop, which will be about farm transfers, is already planned for 2024.

The workshop on solar energy started with a 15-minute presentation by Clean Energy Resource Teams followed by a two-hour question and answer session with seven professionals in the industry and the audience. There was a representative each from the University of Minnesota-Morris, Clean Energy Resource Teams, Citizens Utility Board, Stearns Electric Association, Great River Energy, Minnesota Dairy Initiative and Stearns County Environmental Services. 

“We didn’t bring in anyone that sold solar,” Orbeck said. “Everybody that sells this stuff often doesn’t realize that some of us know nothing about it. We need to learn the basics first.”

Earlier this year, Orbeck worked with Stearns County Farm Bureau, Minnesota Corn Growers Association and MDI to host a workshop called Navigating County Resources 101. The workshop, also held at the Greenwald Pub, attracted more than 100 people. This workshop featured the represented organizations and the resources they had to offer farmers. 

“If there is something the farmers could benefit from in this area and it could help them achieve their goals, I want to know more about it,” Orbeck said.

The farming community may be getting smaller, but it is a close-knit community, according to Orbeck. 

“Our biggest problem nowadays is it’s getting harder to bounce ideas off one another with fewer and fewer farmers unless you can bring them all together,” Orbeck said. “That’s also what is so great about Farmers Union and other farmer-led organizations. You can bring in a lot of different people together.”

Orbeck will carry the same theme into the farm transfer workshop next year.

“We don’t want to tell people how to do it but what and who they can reach out to for help and get the process started,” Orbeck said.

Like many dairy farmers, Orbeck hopes to pass the family farm onto the next generation. His two nephews both help on the farm regularly. 

“I keep going for my nephews,” Orbeck said. “To make sure they have the opportunity to keep it going it they want to.”

Orbeck has been a member of Minnesota Farmers Union since the early 1980s and has been the president of the Stearns County chapter for the past eight years. He said he will continue to be a part of the MFU because of the camaraderie that comes along with being part of a farmer-led organization. 

“You get to know and meet different people from all over the state,” Orbeck said. “They all want to do the same thing — to make a living and raise their family on the farm. They all do it differently but all have the same goal.”

In addition to the MFU, Orbeck is a member of Irrigators Association of Minnesota and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. Being involved in these organizations has given Orbeck opportunities he would not have otherwise had, such as last summer when Minnesota Sen. Aric Putnam visited his farm for a MFU function. 

“I visited with him for a few minutes that day and have run into him a couple of times since, and he always recognizes me and says hi to me,” Orbeck said. 

Orbeck said there are opportunities and support within farmer-led organizations. 

“You get to meet people that will have an effect on your life,” Orbeck said. “I love that I can call up any one of these organizations and ask honest questions and get honest answers.”


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