What goes through the mind of the average 19-year-old? Friday nights, who’s dating who, and maybe even fielding calls from their mom – perhaps it’s best not to know.
At 19, Charles “Chuck” Prellwitz was grappling with the death of his father while simultaneously shouldering the responsibility of the family farm.
Alas, he was not an average teenager.
“My brother and I just kept moving forward, continuing what we were doing,” said Prellwitz, who farms near Ripon, Wisc. “We farmed together for a while, and then he went on his own and I stayed with the farm.”
Eventually, Prellwitz did move away from the family farm when he married his wife, Diane — to across the road.
Longtime Wisconsin soybean leader Chuck Prellwitz was honored by the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board at the Wisconsin Corn•Soy Expo in February.
Many would balk at the enormity of the situation, especially at such a young age. But like many farm kids, there was something special in Prellwitz’s breakfast cereal.
“At the time, it wasn’t overwhelming to take over the farm. I’d been there all my life,” Prellwitz said. “I was young enough and dumb enough that it didn’t seem overwhelming. Looking back, I would probably think, ‘Why would I do this?’ But if I didn’t take the chance then, I wouldn’t have ever been able to farm.”
Thus began Prellwitz’s lifelong dedication to agriculture.
Though he didn’t have nearly enough years with his dad, he had a role model during his most impressionable years. Prellwitz’s father planted the seeds of a servant heart, and Wisconsin soybean farmers reaped the benefits of that servant heart for more than 30 years.
“My father had been a town chairman for many years. So, serving was part of what I grew up doing and was interested in,” Prellwitz said. “I had the opportunity to attend the Corn Soy Expo way back when, and I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to be a part of this.’”
‘In the know’
Elected to the Wisconsin Soybean Association (WSA) board in 1990, Prellwitz has volunteered countless hours on behalf of Wisconsin soybean growers. During his tenure, he bore witness to the creation of the national soybean checkoff and the United Soybean Board (USB), a group he would eventually join as director.
“I don’t think at the time I realized how important it was and how big of a deal it was,” said Prellwitz. “Adopting the national checkoff really has played into how much we have been able to do for soybeans and soybean farmers.”
It didn’t take him long to recognize the value in the wise investment of national checkoff dollars through USB. Today, for every dollar that farmers like Prellwitz invest into the soybean checkoff, growers receive about $12.33 in return value. Encouraged by the late Bob Karls, Wisconsin Soybean’s longtime executive director who died in 2022, Prellwitz decided to throw his hat in the ring and run for a USB director position. He served from 2004 to 2010 and was reappointed in December 2016, Prellwitz hung up his hat last month, retiring from the USB board after a combined 12 years of service.
“Bob asked me if I wanted to put my name in and be where the money is instead of always looking for money,” said Prellwitz, who also served three years as a policy advocate on the American Soybean Association (ASA) board. “I think what I really enjoyed the most about it was just being in the know and being a part of cutting-edge technology. Starting projects that are not known by very many people but that could eventually change the way the world works.”
Departing with gratitude
Though Prellwitz’s world revolves around Wisconsin, he knows Wisconsin isn’t the world. This mindset spurred him into absorbing as much as he could from his fellow USB directors who hail from different states, challenging him to think about problems and solutions from multiple angles. And, with the opportunity to travel internationally, Prellwitz experienced various cultures from different corners of the world – not just his slice of Wisconsin – that adjusted his outlook on many issues.
“Without travel, my horizons would have been so limited. While I’m up here in Wisconsin, USB encompasses many states. So, everybody has different problems, and we have to look at them all,” Prellwitz said. “The world travel that I’ve had the privilege of doing has made me recognize that what we’re doing is probably more important than people realize.”
As the chapter closes on Prellwitz’s time on USB and he reflects on his early years on the WSA board, the people he has met along the way linger in his mind.
“I am going to miss the people,” said Prellwitz. “Just knowing the people that are in charge, knowing everybody there wants to improve how soybeans are sold, where they’re going, what products are being made, things like that. I’ll miss it all.”
Many farmers have experienced an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, often at unexpected moments, for their way of life. Whether it hits when they watch the sun come up as they’re driving to the field for the day or when they witness someone else falling in love with the magic of the farm, these moments make the sleepless nights worth it. For over 30 years, Chuck Prellwitz defended and invested in agriculture by representing Wisconsin soybean farmers at state and national levels, ensuring that generations to come will have the opportunity to experience those precious moments.
“Agriculture hasn’t just been important in my life – it’s been my life,” said Prellwitz. “It’s given my wife and me a chance to raise a family on the farm and show them the work ethic needed to run a farm. I hope that in a small way, I helped direct the soybean industry.”