True ag advocates: Zurns are Valley Farmer, Homemaker for 2014

If you're looking for people who are willing to serve as cheerleaders for all things agriculture, they don't come much more passionate than Bill and Karolyn Zurn.

Karolyn and Bill Zurn of rural Callaway were chosen as Becker County’s 2014 Valley Farmer & Homemaker by the Red River Valley Development Association. The couple raised five children on their Riceville Township farm, which they have operated together for the past 43 years. SUBMITTED PHOTO

If you’re looking for people who are willing to serve as cheerleaders for all things agriculture, they don’t come much more passionate than Bill and Karolyn Zurn.

The rural Callaway farm couple was recently honored as Becker County’s 2014 Valley Farmer & Homemaker, during the Red River Valley Development Association’s (RRVDA) annual honors banquet at the University of Minnesota-Crookston last month.

“We have been farming together for 43 years, and we’re both ag advocates,” said Karolyn Zurn, noting that they were quite honored to be a part of the 100th anniversary festivities for the RRVDA.

“Both Bill and I are very active with the Becker-Mahnomen County Soybean and Corn Growers Association,” she continued. “He’s the president, and I’m the treasurer.”

They both also serve as directors with the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA), where “Bill’s on the promotion council, and I’m on the growers board,” she added.


As a member of the education committee for Minnesota Soybean, Karolyn is especially passionate about sharing the positive story of agriculture. She is able to capitalize on her dual membership with the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Northern Crop Council to avidly promote the amino acid content of Minnesota soybeans.

“I’m president of the Minnesota Agri-Women, and I’m also on the executive board of Minnesota Ag in the Classroom,” Karolyn added.

Currently, much of her work is focused on advocating for more women as leaders in agriculture. She is a fan of author Sheryl Sandberg and her bestselling book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” which examines the need for more women in leadership roles, in both government and industry.

She has been working to organize more conferences and workshops that focus on this issue - such as the recent Minnesota Agri-Women conference that was built entirely on the theme, “Lean In.”

On the other side of the coin, Karolyn also sympathizes with young couples raising families, who tend to focus their leadership efforts on getting involved in their churches, schools and youth groups like 4-H - because that’s just what she and Bill did when they were raising their five children.

“We were very active in 4-H when our kids were small, and we were active in our church and community as well,” she said.

It was only after their children were grown and raising families of their own - the couple now has 10 grandchildren as well - that the Zurns expanded their advocacy to the regional and national level, Karolyn added.

For his part, Bill Zurn is just as proactive as his wife in advocating for agriculture, especially soybeans. He is currently a member of the Water Quality committee on the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (where he served for nine years), and is a past president of the MSGA.


Bill also works with new uses and domestic management of soybean oil on the national level, through the United Soybean Council.

In addition, the Zurns work closely with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to protect the water and soil resources of their rural Callaway farm for the next generation of farmers.

Some of the conservation practices they have implemented in their farm operations include efficient drainage systems, no-till or minimum tillage, and no-drift nozzles for applicators.

And while not all of their five children are farmers - today, only their sons Eric and Nick are active participants in the family’s farm operation - Karolyn said one of the things she’s most proud of is that they all remain involved in agriculture on some level.

Working side by side with their parents on the family farm in Riceville Township, Eric is also a member of the Air Guard and local grain elevator board; and Nick, who owns a small excavating and trucking business, grows corn, soybeans, and sugar beets and wheat.

“We work as one unit on the farm to get everything done,” says Karolyn.

Their oldest daughter, Rebecca is a school teacher and married to a farmer. Jessica is a crop insurance agent and also an employee of the CAEP, an exchange program for foreign workers.  Kelsey, their youngest, works in human resources for Forum Communications Printing.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes .

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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