Driving the Future: Wilson Centennial Farm, 2023 Dairy Farm of the Year

There’s no shortage of passion involved in agriculture, a consequence of generations worth of work being passed down and the nobleness of feeding communities around the globe. Passion is at the forefront of Wilson Centennial Farm, driving business decisions and growth strategies and earning them the coveted title of 2023 Dairy Farm of the Year awarded by Michigan State University (MSU).

Owned and operated by Brent and Nancy Wilson, alongside their sons, Ben and Tyler, Wilson Centennial Farm in Carson City, Michigan, is grounded in their faith and family is at the foundation of what they do. “We’re a very close-knit family and the number one thing we do is get along. Everybody loves each other,” Nancy says. Milking 1,000 cows, Brent recognizes that with their team of sixteen employees and a growing number of grandkids, “we’re still small enough where we can feel like a family.”

Relying on each other, the Wilsons use each of their unique skillsets to advance the farm. While Brent focuses predominantly on herd health, Nancy handles accounting and payroll, Tyler manages herd breeding and nutrition, and Ben tackles crops and fieldwork.

“Tyler and Ben have honored Nancy and I greatly by choosing this occupation and they didn’t choose it lightly,” Brent said. “We required them to go someplace else to get work experience before driving a John Deere around here. When they returned to the farm, we wanted them to have management experience because if you’re going to run this farm, you’re going to take it to the next generation.”

The drive to advance and move forward is a cornerstone of their business operation. Anything done on Wilson Centennial Farm is done with excellence and the future in mind.

“We have grown here in a step-by-step process year after year after year,” Brent explained. “We don’t go to Greenstone and say, ‘we’re going to build a barn’ or ‘we’re going to build a parlor.’ We just grow and we build a barn when we have enough cows to fill it. And once we fill it, we think about what we’re going to do next.”

In order to determine what’s next, the entire family works with consultants and outside experts and in their initial meetings, the groundwork is laid. “I take our DHIA sheets out and I say, “We’re number one or number two or number four in the state. How are you going to take us to the next level?”

Achieving the next level time and time again is what’s made the farm the success that it is today. Brent is adamant on not settling and is now relying on his sons to continue the precedent he’s set.

“Since I’ve been managing the herd and living here at the home farm, I have not bred to a Holstein bull that has been negative on protein or butterfat,” Brent said. “We have the genetics for high protein and high butterfat, and then Tyler as a dairy nutritionist knows what to feed to maximize milk production.”

Brent’s drive for a challenge is only fueled by his involvement in serving in leadership roles and attending meetings and conferences off the farm.

“I discovered that for me to get my mind engaged, I have to get off this farm. I need to be challenged,” Brent said. “One of my first years being on the MMPA board of directors, I went to the National Mastitis Council (NMC) meeting, and it made me wonder if I could get my somatic cell count down. So, I started paying attention to cows and mastitis.”

The attention paid off with his herd going on to receive numerous milk quality awards, including receiving National Platinum Milk Quality Award by NMC for each of the past six years, which Brent credits to opening the door for opportunities.

“Having one of the top herds in Michigan for dollar value because of our high components and winning national awards for somatic cell counts, I have served on all kinds of boards and committees,” Brent said. His explanation may be an understatement with experience serving as a district board member for the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) and on the boards of directors for Isabella Bank, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Gratiot County Farm Bureau, Gratiot County Development and as board chair of the Sparrow Carson Hospital.

Brent’s off-farm experience started after graduating from Michigan State University (MSU) with a dairy science degree and beginning his career as a member representative with Michigan Milk Producers Association. After serving cooperative members for five years, Brent went on to work as a dairy agent with Michigan State University Extension for over a decade.

“We are always interested in helping Michigan State University with research studies and projects,” Nancy said, as a connection to Brent’s continued devotion to MSU. “They bring students out here to evaluate as part of a class and we’ve maintained a partnership with Michigan State University.”

The partnership is one of many for the Wilsons who are continuing to advance for the future. Currently, they have a 44-stall rotary parlor in construction, and they continue to implement sustainable cropping practices that work hand-in-hand with their business’s drive to succeed.

“We farm with the least amount of tillage, working with the manure we have and always planting a cover crop to scavenge those nutrients,” Brent said. “The exciting thing to me is that we’re leaving this soil in better shape than what we did when I started, when my dad started, when my grandpa started. We’re building it up and it’s doing better than ever before.”

Now carrying on the seventh generation, Brent’s personal drive and dedication to agriculture is what ultimately led him to returning to his family’s farm full-time, and he’s never looked back. “I was trained from the time I was small for hard work, and here I am,” he says. “In my lifetime, I’ve tried to take what I know and affect change for the betterment of agriculture.” Working with partners and his family, Brent has used Wilson Centennial Farm to drive the future of Michigan’s dairy industry.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »