The most important part of Ben Steffen's dairy farm is the people.
The cows and crops are, of course, essential in his diversified dairy and crop production farm near Humboldt, but it's the relationships and teamwork with his wife, Paula Sue, and their employees that he values most.
The Steffens have four full-time and two part-time employees and five or six family members working with them. "In our operation we're a team. No job is unimportant," said Steffen, a 1984 University of Nebraska–Lincoln ag honors graduate. "We're a group of people who enjoy working together who find ways to grow the business, survive and thrive."
Soon after Steffen graduated from the university, his parents, Dick and Sue, turned over management of the farm to him and Paula Sue. "Oddly enough I was not one of those people who at age 5 knew what they wanted to do," he said, but returning to the farm and managing and growing the operation with his parents and wife is a decision that he's never regretted.
"My university education was empowering and gave me a sense of the possibilities. I knew I hadn't learned everything but I knew I could find challenges and do problem solving," he said. "It gave me the confidence to start my career."
It's a privilege to help the university. It's valuable for the state and for our community.Ben Steffen
His university studies not only gave him a valuable education in all facets of agriculture, it also helped him develop the communication skills he uses daily.
While working as a residence hall assistant for two years, "I learned excellent human relations skills, and it was a tremendous experience in leadership training," Steffen said.
He has used those skills not only on the farm but in numerous leadership roles for the university, agriculture-related organizations, his community and his church. A longtime member of the University of Nebraska President's Advisory Committee, Steffen served on President Bounds' Chancellor Search Advisory Committee and is a delegate to the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching, advocating for federal support for land-grant universities.
Ben and Paula Sue have worked extensively with cover crops and no-till cropping systems and have hosted Nebraska Extension field day demonstrations, a long- term CenUSA research project focusing on the viability of switchgrass as a biofuel, and numerous tour groups at their farm.
"It's a privilege to help the university. It's valuable for the state and for our community." – Ben Steffen
As an advocate for agriculture, Steffen has testified before the United States' Senate Agriculture Committee and before the Nebraska Legislature. He is past president of Agriculture Builders of Nebraska, past president of the Nebraska Association of County Extension Boards and past member of the Richardson County Bank Board of Directors, his local Board of Education and the Richardson County Planning Commission. He continues in Nebraska Farm Bureau leadership roles and is chairman of the Richardson County Rural Water District 1.
It doesn't seem like Steffen would have much time for fun but his hobbies include singing in a barbershop quartet, directing the Humboldt United Methodist Church Choir, performing magic and flying.
None of this would be possible without the help of Paula Sue, who earned a degree in accounting from the College of St. Mary and handles all of the farm finances, including grain sales and futures contracts, keeps the dairy herd records and drives a combine during harvest.
"I married a really excellent partner and friend. We enjoy working side by side," Steffen said.
Alumni Masters WeekSteffen shares his knowledge with students at Alumni Masters Week
Ben Steffen, a 1984 ag honors graduate, was one of the outstanding alumni who returned to the University of Nebraska– Lincoln to share his agricultural knowledge and experiences with students as part of the annual Alumni Masters Week.
The Masters Week award is granted to outstanding alumni who have shown great promise, success and leadership in their chosen life's work. Steffen and his wife, Paula Sue, operate a diversified dairy and crop production farm near Humboldt.
Alumni Masters Week is sponsored by the Nebraska Alumni Association, the Student Alumni Association and the university's Chancellor's Office.