Meet One Female Shaping the Illinois Cattle Industry

By Betty Haynes Illinois Beef Association

CALF News Copy Editor Larisa Willrett was recently featured as part of a women in ag story in the Illinois Beef Magazine. Larisa Willrett hails from south-central Montana. Her parents were journalists by trade and her mother’s family ranched. She attended Colorado State University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in animal science and master’s degree in agriculture. Although Willrett intended to pursue a career as a veterinarian, she later determined production ag was a better fit.

“Agriculture is more than a career path,” says Willrett. “It’s truly a culture based on family, community, hard work, faith and common goals. That’s what drew me in.”

After graduate school, and an internship with CALF News, Willrett worked in membership for what was then the National Cattlemen’s Association (NCA), where she gained a unique perspective on the inner workings of grassroots organizations.

“My boss at NCA was former Illinois Beef Association (IBA) Executive John Butler, and he was a great teacher in terms of conveying what our purpose was,” explains Willrett. “Any truly grassroots organization is driven and guided expressly by its member leaders. That’s why I’m so honored to be able to help guide IBA as a member volunteer.”

While working at NCA, she met her husband, Jamie. They now are partners in J. Willrett Farms, a sixth-generation diversified cattle-feeding and farming operation in northern Illinois, and feedyard ultrasound business, Beef Performance Technology. Willrett has been the CALF News copy editor and writer for 27 years and is also employed with BluePrint Media, a woman-owned company specializing in media and marketing management for agriculture businesses and associations. Their three children, Justis, Olivia, and Sawyer, have followed in their parents’ footsteps. Each is pursuing careers in the agriculture industry and their oldest, Justis, has returned to the family farm.

“I’d like to think that, through my involvement, they see that running this type of operation is a partnership,” says Willrett. “We endeavored to raise all three of our kids, regardless of their gender, with the same expectations. Work hard, be honest, live with integrity and chase your dreams.”

Willrett’s daughter, Olivia, recently graduated from Colorado State with dual majors in animal science and ag business. After holding internships with AgriBeef and Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, she now is a market analyst at the Five Rivers risk desk in Colorado.

“I’d like to think that raising her to believe she can do anything she sets her mind to has helped her confidence,” comments Willrett. “I have to say, I have never experienced discrimination among any of the men I’ve worked with in agriculture. Outside of agriculture – yes. And Olivia has had the same positive, supportive experience.”

Willrett’s advice to the next generation is to get an education in a field of interest, get involved and give back.“The world is run by those who show up,” says Willrett. “Our children have been able to see the value of participating in associations like IBA and NCBA, and the long-term relationships you develop through them.”

**Reprinted with permission from Illinois Beef magazine.