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Minnesota Soybean Business

A steady chair: Cole Trebesch speaks softly, carries big stick

September-October 2019

As a youngster growing up on the family farm in Sleepy Eye, Cole Trebesch fashioned himself the strong, silent type. He was active in 4-H, but when his time came to say a few words into a microphone, Trebesch demurred. He’d rather someone else speak.

“He wouldn’t do the public speaking in 4-H,” says Cole’s dad, Richard Trebesch. “He could’ve used the practice when he was younger. We tried, but he didn’t do that stuff. But he’s doing it now and we’re very proud of him.”

The shy, reserved kid from Brown County grew into a tall, bearded father of two. Trebesch is now the leading voice of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC), which oversees the state’s checkoff program. In June, Trebesch’s peers on the Council elected Trebesch MSR&PC chair.

“It was a thrill to be named chair. It’s not something I thought would happen, but I think I’m up for the challenge,” Trebesch says between discussing checkoff-funded projects with growers at Farmfest. “Luckily, I’m working alongside a strong, diverse set of farmer leaders on the Council.”

With farm income down for the sixth consecutive year, and a prolonged trade war putting a dent in soybean prices and export markets, Trebesch’s, calm, steady presence makes him the ideal candidate to lead MSR&PC through a challenging period, says CEO Tom Slunecka.

“Cole’s biggest strength is he listens,” Slunecka says. “He’s the type of leader who makes sure everyone has their voice heard. He gets all the opinions and inputs he needs, and then makes a decision.”

Born to farm

Cole lives just a few miles south of the family farm in Springfield with his wife, Miranda, and their son, Oliver, and daughter, Elsie. Together with his family, Cole raises corn, soybeans, hogs and cattle.

“We live agriculture day in and day out,” he says. “It keeps us all close.”

Cole and Richard are thick as thieves, right down to their shared fondness for long beards. When MSR&PC launched a partnership with the bearded foursome from Discovery’s “Diesel Brothers,” fellow directors teased Cole, calling him the “fifth Diesel Brother.”

“I always have a beard. I might shave it off once a year, and Cole’s usually got one, too,” Richard says. “We just like to let it go. I guess we just look better with beards.”

MSR&PC Chair Cole Trebesch strikes a pose inside the shop at his family farm in Sleepy Eye.

Cole, 36, took his own agricultural path after high school. He majored in agronomy at South Dakota State University before returning home to Brown County after graduating in 2005. In 2008, at the urging of family friend and mentor, Richard Wurtzberger, the Trebeschs participated in the American Soybean Association’s Young Leader Program. At the time, Cole was a part-time crop consultant and custom raising hogs.

“I thought he should run because I saw a spark in Cole,” Wurtzberger says. “He had all the tools to excel in agricultural leadership – he just needed some experience.”

Cole became interested in agricultural policy and advocacy, following in the footsteps of his father, a director with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

“That was a great experience for both Miranda and I,” he says. “It helped me to become more comfortable and grow my leadership skills.”

Trebesch then began his tenure as a director with the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA), replacing Wurtzberger, who left to become an MSR&PC director.

“I encouraged him to run and he’s been thanking me ever since,” Wurtzberger says, laughing.

Trebesch served on the MSGA board for several years (and remains a member today) before he once again decided to fill a void in 2015 when Wurtzberger retired from his Council position.

“I started becoming more intrigued by the checkoff side of things. You can blame Richard for all this,” he says, chuckling. “The timing just worked out both times and I just thought I’d give it a try.”

Keeping busy

Trebesch found his niche with MSR&PC. In 2017, he was named treasurer and moved up to vice chair in 2018. He started directing checkoff investments on MSR&PC’s production and environmental stewardship action teams. His current goals as chair include: continue advancing MSR&PC’s investments in Plasma Blue, TruSoya and the Soy Innovation Campus, along with checkoff-sponsored research projects and an eye toward growing emerging international markets.

“It’s a great privilege to direct checkoff funds and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly,” he says. “It’s important that farmers know where their checkoff dollars are invested, and how they can use the programs to help their business.”

Trebesch’s leadership positions extend beyond Minnesota Soybean. He also serves on the Brown County Corn and Soybean Growers Board, the Farmward Cooperative Board, 40 Square Health Cooperative and is active in his church.

“He’s a very dedicated person, and so is his wife, so he’s got a lot of help,” says Wurtzburger, a Trebesch family friend for more than 40 years. “Cole’s going to do a great job as chair.”

MSR&PC Director Patrick O’Leary, Trebesch’s predecessor, agrees.

“Cole has lots of experience in a lot of different components of agriculture and he has the desire to do this job,” O’Leary says. “He’s confident with our team and I think it’s been a very smooth transition.”

Do as I say, not as I do

Continuing in the family tradition, Cole enrolled Oliver in 4-H. He laughs when asked if the apple falls from the tree when it comes to public speaking. Cole’s not letting his son off the hook.

“I make sure he does it,” he says, smiling. “It’s good to learn those skills when you’re young.”

Trebesch may have been reluctant to speak up as a youth, but today he’s primed to guide the Council.

“These are challenging times, but I just want to keep the Council moving in the right direction,” he says. “I’m ready to work to improve the outlook for our farmers.”

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