brad schloesser MARL

Brad Schloesser and Willie.

The Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program completed 2022 with a new Executive Director, Brad Schloesser. With an extensive background in agriculture and education, Schloesser most recently served as South Central College’s Dean of Agriculture and had been with the college since 1992.

Schloesser has also been involved in the sheep and wool business for a number of years. In fact, it was a lamb named Willie who made a lasting impact early on in Schloesser’s ag journey.

Schloesser grew up the second child of six on his parents’ farm near Le Center, Minn. where they raised dairy cows and pigs. When he was 9 years old, his uncle Gene brought over a lamb that wasn’t nursing. Gene handed his nephew some milk replacement in a re-fashioned 7-Up bottle, and Schloesser took the lamb into his care. “That one sheep, Willie, in 1970, helped me discover a path I was very passionate about and enjoyed,” Schloesser said.

As a freshman in high school, Schloesser’s ag teacher encouraged students to start an enterprise of their own, and Schloesser decided to go with sheep. He purchased 13 ewes that year and by the time he graduated high school, he had about 100.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Agriculture Education, Schloesser’s first teaching position was in Madelia, Minn. where he taught for six years. During that time, Schloesser, his wife, LuAnn and two young daughters, Jessica and Carissa, moved to a home in the country. It wasn’t long before 75 ewes from the flock he had established in high school joined them. Schloesser stated the majority of the flock were a Suffolk Hampshire cross, which is a meat breed. Schloesser said the price of lambs was lucrative and he started raising about 500 head of feeder lambs.

Besides his daughters having the opportunity to learn about raising sheep firsthand, Schloesser also introduced his students to the industry and gave them the opportunity to help with shearing. About 10 students ended up with sheep projects of their own, and Schloesser was nominated by a student for a teacher recognition program. When Schloesser was posed with the possibility of continuing his education, he was led to ask himself, “What would I be interested in?”

That query took Schloesser and his family to Bozeman, Mont. where he earned his master’s degree in Animal Science from Montana State University. His thesis focused on ruminant nutrition, examining the various effects that different diets had on 40 head of sheep. After completing the program, Schloesser returned to Minnesota and spent one year teaching in Marshall before accepting a position with South Central College and moving to an acreage outside of St Peter.

Schloesser has seen how shepherding animals has shaped his ability to raise a family and take care of others, and also views the work as a symbol of his Christian faith. Reflecting on his journey so far, Schloesser said, “It’s been a wonderful career to help me prepare for this role in guiding, supporting, celebrating ag.”

As a member of MARL Class XI (2020-2022), Schloesser brings firsthand knowledge of the program to his new role. “It was a tremendous experience,” Schloesser said. “As a lifelong learner, I appreciate the design.”

MARL provides each class of up to 30 individuals a two year experience that provides unique opportunities to build both leadership and personal skills at a variety of events in Minnesota, as well as in national and international environments. Over the two year period, Schloesser and 26 peers attended nine in-state seminars, a national seminar, and an international seminar. It’s this design of requiring individuals to step out of their comfort zones into new and different atmospheres that Schloesser believes allows growth.

Class XI traveled to Ecuador and visited a variety of agricultural environments that were quite a bit different than the corn and soy beans of Minnesota lands. They toured a wide range of establishments including pineapple, rose, avocado, and plantain farms. They even visited a livestock farm that raised thousands of guinea pigs, an Ecuadorian delicacy. Schloesser also recalled being immersed in a Spanish-speaking market with the task of purchasing ingredients for an Easter soup. The items were donated and the meal was served to a food insecure population.

Now as the program’s executive director, Schloesser recruits future enrollees from all over the state and also supports current members of the program. “We’re educating individuals on the value of leadership as well as supporting,” Schloesser stated. He explained that about half of the participants are actively farming while others come from many different walks within the ag industry including finance, innovation, development, and various roles within the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. With this variety comes different experiences to be shared and Schloesser emphasized the value of making connections, sharing reflections, and collaborating.

Quality leadership is of value both within the ag industry and outside of it. In reference to those who may be misinformed about the industry or removed from it, Schloesser noted, “It’s really important we tell the story properly.”

Class participants pay approximately 25 percent of the total cost; the rest is covered by supporters of the program. Therefore, Schloesser explained, another aspect of his position is “daily sharing the story, seeking support from sponsors who value good leadership.”

An advocate for women in agriculture, Schloesser is thrilled with the evolving enrollment statistics for the MARL program. He reports the last two classes have had slightly more women than men enrolled. Schloesser also looks forward to witnessing the ripple effect: meeting new class members who were encouraged to apply to the program by veteran class members. Having started in 2000, MARL now has over 350 alumni.

“It’s a fabulous asset for Minnesota,” Schloesser stated of the MARL program. While unique to Minnesota, MARL is one of many established member programs within the International Association of Program for Agriculture Leadership. Schloesser is able to connect with directors of IAPAL member programs in other U.S. states, as well as Canadian provinces and countries.

Schloesser states he’s “looking forward to leveraging experiences and turning a really good program into an even better program.” With only a few months into the role, Schloesser has already been able to meet many new faces at expos and conferences. He commented about the experience, “It just keeps getting better.”

Schloesser continues to raise sheep and donates meat to South Central College’s culinary program. He currently has a dozen head of Targhee sheep that make up his “therapeutic flock.” Schloesser also manages a vineyard located on his property and sells his grape harvests to a local winery. The Schloessers’ two daughters have careers in the ag industry, have both married and are raising children of their own. Schloesser enjoys spending time with his eight grandchildren, ranging in ages from 4-15, and passing along the joys and lessons that come with sheep raising to another generation. 

MARL will be accepting applications for Class XIII in early 2024. To learn more about the process, please visit their website at   

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