The crops may be harvested and the equipment put away, but there’s still plenty to do on South Dakota farms in the winter. This is especially true for farmers, like John Horter, who raise animals. John is the fifth generation in his family to grow soybeans, corn, wheat and alfalfa near Andover. He also works with his parents, wife Jaclyn and two adorable children, Dane and Raegan, to manage a cow/calf operation and a farm repair and supply business in their local community.
With 98 percent of South Dakota farms being family owned, it’s important for farmers like the Horters to practice sustainability and excellent animal care to continue feeding families in the future. So what does a typical winter day on the Horter family farm look like? How do they keep their cows healthy during cold weather? We visited with John to get the scoop on his winter activities.
Q: What is a typical day like on your farm in the winter?
A: A typical winter day starts with checking on and feeding our cattle. We do our best to make sure they eat at about the same time every day. Once they’re taken care of, we spend time in the shop fixing equipment and working at our store. We also plan for the next growing season by reviewing harvest data to determine investments in seed, fertilizer and equipment. This type of data and the technology in our tractors help us use minimal resources to grow healthy crops.
Q: How do you keep your cattle comfortable in unpredictable weather?
A: We make a plan for each situation. If it looks like it’s going to be warm, we put down extra bedding to keep them out of the mud. When it’s cold, we feed them more to ensure they have extra energy. If it is unusually stormy or cold, we bring them closer to windbreaks for protection or inside our barns. We add windbreaks and plant trees throughout the year to give them more protection out in the pasture. We are constantly looking for different ways to keep them safe and healthy no matter the weather.
Q: How do you make sure your cows stay healthy when it’s cold?
A: We work with an animal nutritionist to put together the right diet for every season. As the temperatures fall, we adjust their diets to provide more energy to keep them warm. Cattle grow thicker hair in the winter to protect themselves against cold temps so they can stay comfortable grazing in sub-zero weather.
We also rely on our veterinarian to help us treat our animals if they get sick. When we notice an issue, our veterinarian helps us diagnose the problem and can prescribe an antibiotic through a veterinary feed directive. This ensures that we only use antibiotics when necessary and in the right doses. It helps us treat our cattle safely and as directed by law.
Q: What’s your favorite part about raising animals on the farm?
A: It’s really fun to see the way our children interact with the animals. In the summer, we all check on the cattle in the pastures together. We enjoy welcoming new calves every spring and watching them grow. It’s so rewarding to be part of providing healthy, safe and affordable food for South Dakota families.
In a state with more cows than people, it’s easy to see why cow comfort is so important to many farmers and ranchers. Read how animal care and cover crops are helping Shawn and Kristy Freeland create a sustainable future for their Rapid City ranch.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
South Dakota farmers may have planted a record soybean crop this year, but the growing season and harvest have been challenging to say the least. Late planting coupled with a dry summer, unusually damaging hail and then rain and snow in October forced local farmers to take advantage of every sunny second in the combine to harvest a projected 277 million bushels of soybeans.
What’s the view from the field? Luckily we know a pint-sized crop reporter who has the 4-1-1 on all the soybean action near Andover. Dane Horter is back – with the help of his dad John – talking about harvest and sharing insights on how planting GMO soybean seeds and cover crops helps their family farm improve sustainability and protect yields.
Plus, we find out how second grade is going, whether or not Dane has a girlfriend and which football team he’s rooting for. Don’t miss out on all of this and a truck high-five!
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Sustainability is a trending topic among South Dakota farmers and families. Farmers want to take care of the soil and water for future generations, and consumers want to know the food they’re eating is grown and raised with the environment in mind.
Morgan and Jason Kontz are no exception. Jason is the fourth generation in his family to grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and raise beef cattle near Colman. Morgan recently added a few free-range chickens to the mix.
Keeping up with the demands of the animals, crops and two young kiddos can be challenging, but they make time to explore new opportunities to enhance sustainability on the farm.
“We feel very privileged to have a role in growing safe and nutritious food for families. We’re making decisions today we hope translate to better soil and healthier crops and animals so our children have an opportunity to farm in the future,” said Morgan.
For example, they use no-till for growing all crops. No-till is just like it sounds: not tilling the field after harvest. By leaving plant stalks and roots in the ground, they keep the soil in place and enrich it with organic content and beneficial bugs. Over time, healthier soil translates to nutritious and productive crops.
Another way to improve soil health is through cover crops. These are crops planted before or after harvest that can increase organic matter and fertility, reduce erosion, improve soil structure and limit pest and disease issues. Morgan and Jason are planning to start using cover crops this fall. First, they need to test the soil to determine the right mix for their fields.
Their commitment to doing the right thing for the environment extends to the cattle barn. The deep-pit beef barn safely collects manure from cows in a large pit through grates in the floor. Then they apply the manure to their fields using a tanker truck and a drip line. Precision technology allows them to apply the right amount of fertilizer per crop, per acre.
According to Morgan, this is a perfect example of sustainability and recycling because they’re using waste to precisely fuel plant productivity.
“We want to be able to come full circle on our farm. We like that we can apply manure to feed our crops and then we use those crops to feed our cattle,” she explained. “Sustainability is more than a trend on our farm. It’s something we plan to continue growing for the future.”
Did you know that when it comes to being environmentally friendly, the size of the farm doesn’t matter? Test your knowledge with this blog on the truth behind five sustainability myths.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Many South Dakota farmers would say their favorite part of farming is working with their animals. Local farm animals are well-loved by their owners, which shows in the quality of the eggs, milk and meat they create for your family.
Take the happy cows at Marty Neugebauer’s farm, just north of Dimock. Marty’s farm is one of four dairies that provide the milk to make Dimock Dairy’s delicious assortment of cheeses, curds and spreads South Dakotans love.
Marty knows delicious cheese comes from happy, comfortable cows that are fed a healthy diet. Most of South Dakota’s 117,000 dairy cows enjoy a protein-rich diet of soybean meal, 31,000 tons of it each year to be exact. This nutritious feed typically comes from GMO soybeans. Both GMO and conventional crops are nutritionally equal, and planting GMO seeds allows farmers to grow food more sustainably by using less water, fertilizer and pesticides.
Cows aren’t the only animals living the sweet life on South Dakota farms. Jamie and Brian Johnson raise chickens and Angus cattle on their soybean, corn and wheat farm in Frankfort. Chickens eat a diet of soybeans, corn and grains with added vitamins and minerals. This protein- and calcium-rich diet helps them laying healthy eggs for your favorite meals.
Treating animals right means treating the land right, too. Pig farmers Peggy and Brad Greenway keep their pigs comfortable in a high-tech pen that ensures the animals have a constant flow of fresh air and are fed just enough fresh, nutritious feed. These advancements help them use the right amount of water, feed and land to keep their pigs healthy and reduce their environmental footprint. The Greenways aren’t the only pig farmers practicing sustainability. In the last 50 years, pig farmers have reduced their overall carbon footprint by 35 percent.
At the end of the day, farmers appreciate having a best friend with them through it all. The farm wouldn’t be the same without the family dog. Spending time with their favorite pooch makes the work more enjoyable.
Farms just wouldn’t be the same without the animals that give us safe and healthy food. Find out more about how ranchers sustainably care for their cows with a visit to Shawn and Kristy Freeland’s home.
‘Tis the season to reflect on the blessings of the past year. As farm families gather near the tree and around the table, they are thinking about more than just opening gifts and spending time with loved ones. They’re looking back on the growing season and making decisions about how to improve their farm and your food for the future.
The truth is South Dakota farmers think about your family almost as much as they think of their own. Growing food that’s healthy, safe and sustainable requires constantly evaluating current practices and persistently seeking new ways to take care of the soil and water down the road.
That’s why more and more farmers use technology to track everything happening on their farms. From planting the right amount of seeds to applying fertilizer and pesticides in a safe way, technology helps farmers do things right while getting the job done. In fact, today’s soybean farmers grow 46 percent more soybeans than they did 30 years ago on 40 percent less land. They also use fewer resources like energy and water, while providing more protection for the soil. Get the facts.
As we all look ahead to the opportunities of a new year, South Dakota farmers wanted to say thank you for spending time with their families and learning more about what they do as part of Hungry for Truth.
Baking is a holiday tradition shared by many in South Dakota. Take a look at how Josh and Kara Kayser use it as an opportunity to help their children learn where food comes from.
Music and agriculture are two of Moriah Gross’ great loves. Six years ago, her passions intertwined when she founded Pierre’s first youth orchestra and invited students and their families to her farm for a sunflower-themed photoshoot.
“What makes our orchestra truly unique is that we live in God’s country, and our county [Sully County] is the top sunflower producer in the U.S.,” said Moriah. “It made sense to combine the two in celebration of the beauty that surrounds us in the fields.”
Since then, it’s become an annual tradition. She decides on a marketing theme for the year, invites her students and their families out to the farm for the photoshoot, where the families also pick sweet corn. Moriah and her husband, Austin, a fourth-generation farmer from Onida, feel it’s a great opportunity to answer questions about food and farming.
“Conversations about how we grow food can happen 30 miles away or sitting next to someone at a baseball game. I always look forward to the opportunity,” explained Moriah.
Combines and Violins
Moriah grew up on a family ranch near Mankato, Kansas, growing milo, wheat and sunflowers, and raising Angus cattle. She spent summers with her family custom harvesting wheat for other farmers, traveling from Texas to the Canadian border. She learned how to drive a combine, grain cart and tractor. Her time in the cab and caring for cattle turned out to be helpful for her career as a musician.
“I remember singing with my mom in the combine to bluegrass and country western music,” said Moriah. “Later, my dad added a radio to the barn, so we listened to music during calving season.”
Moriah began playing the violin when she was 7 and joined the orchestra in middle school. By the time she graduated from college, she had mastered the violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar and piano. With all this experience and a love for wide open spaces, it just made sense to move to Pierre to start The Pierre Youth Orchestra, eventually becoming its executive director. What she didn’t plan on was meeting and marrying Austin.
“I never thought I’d be lucky enough to marry a farmer,” said Moriah. Since Austin’s family regularly opens the farm to youth and hunting groups, Moriah knew he’d welcome the orchestra with open arms.
Questions and Conversations
The annual orchestra photoshoot generates interesting questions about everything from how they grow crops to the equipment they use on the farm. Some families are surprised to find out that most of the sweet corn they grow is GMO.
“We still grow one traditional sweet corn variety for sentimental reasons, but the other five are GMOs,” explained Austin. “It’s fun to explain how each one has been carefully bred to enhance its color or flavor.” GMOs make up 94 percent of the soybean and 89 percent of the corn crops grown in the U.S. They also happen to be two of South Dakota’s top crops.
This year, the orchestra held its first community fundraiser at the Fort Pierre farmers market. Austin and Moriah donated 1,500 ears of sweet corn for the event. Naturally, shoppers asked about different types of sweet corn and if it’s organic.
“People think organic means the corn is healthier in some way. The truth is it doesn’t matter,” said Moriah. “The sweet corn we grow is nutritionally the same as organic and both are safe to eat.”
One day, she hopes to turn the photoshoot into a concert to bring more people to the Pierre and Onida communities to enjoy music on the farm. Until then, she and Austin continue planting seeds of knowledge whenever they can and watching them grow.
If you have questions for Moriah and Austin, share them in the comments below. Love reading stories about South Dakota farm families? Here’s one about Eunice who’s been growing crops and irises on her family farm for nearly 90 years.
Photos Courtesy of Grandpre Photography & Moriah Gross.
For many in Sioux Falls, the average Saturday starts with a cup of coffee and a walk down to the local farmers market around 8 a.m. For local farmer Dale Hebda of Hebda Farms, preparing his stand at the market starts at 5:30 a.m. on Friday morning.
“We start with picking produce and packing it up for Saturday morning,” Dale said. “We usually finish Friday by packing our cooler with our baked goods at 11 p.m.”
Long hours are just part of the job at Hebda Farms, a produce farm in Mission Hills that started off as a 4-H project for Dale’s oldest son, Steven.
“He began with two or three acres that supplied our stand at the little farmers market in Yankton,” he said. “He bought the seed, paid for the water and paid me rent. He really took care of his finances and ran an excellent business.”
In addition to Steven’s efforts and purple ribbons accrued at the county fair, the community also provided the support Hebda Farms needed.
“Our community really came together and rallied around him to support his local business at our farmers market,” Dale said. “With Steven’s proven success and our seven younger children coming into 4-H down the road, we needed to expand our business.”
As luck would have it, a property came up for sale just as the Hebda family considered expansion. They purchased the land and went from two to three acres to 45 acres and have been growing ever since. In addition to adding products and produce to their line, they also began growing soybeans, corn and alfalfa on an annual rotation.
“We rotate crops yearly for weed control, as some weeds are more prevalent in some crops than others,” he said. “Some of the harvested crops are sold, and some are kept to feed the cattle we raise for our family.”
Introducing new products and produce is a regular occurrence for the Hebdas. Dale said they test them for about two to three years to see if they’re viable, then decide if they’ll continue growing them in future seasons. Hebda Farms also now has a commercial kitchen for pickling and canning their 36 varieties of jellies and creating delicious baked goods from scratch.
“We have about six to seven varieties of pies,” said Dale. “Our Latino workers have contributed their family recipes, so we now sell flan and other traditional Mexican foods.”
Even though there are challenges in owning a small businesses and farming, Dale enjoys growing food and connecting with South Dakota families.
“It is a fun time. At the end of the day, I don’t necessarily get satisfaction from the revenue,” he said. “I’m happy when I see happy customers leaving our farm or stand with healthy and fresh food for their families.”
You can visit Dale and the Hebda crew on Saturday and Sunday mornings at Lewis and Clark Lake in Yankton, Saturday mornings in Sioux Falls and by appointment at their farm in Mission Hills.
Farmers markets are a great place to meet with the people who grow your food. If you can’t make it out to a farmers market, ask a question in the comments, or check out our blogs below to learn more about connecting with local farmers:
Not many farmers can say they’ve cultivated their South Dakota land for nearly 90 years. But then again, Eunice McGee of rural Colton isn’t your typical farmer. Affectionately known by her friends and neighbors as the “Iris Lady,” Eunice not only tends a flower garden with 140 varieties of rare irises, she’s also pretty good at growing corn and soybeans on her family farm.
“I’ve been farming since I was 10 years old. I used to drive a team of horses alongside a one-row corn picker with my father. I’d stay with the wagon until it was full,” said Eunice, who turns 97 later this year. “Now I use my iPhone to check the farm markets to decide when to sell my crops. I think I’ve seen more changes in farming than anyone else around here. We just continue improving.”
With her eyes on the future and her knowledge of the past, Eunice embraces farm technology and new practices while staying committed to being a good neighbor and growing safe and healthy crops.
Though it was hard to give up the horses, she was the first woman in her area to purchase her own tractor, a move that caught the banker off guard. She also began planting GMO corn and soybean seeds when the technology became available because they require less water and pesticides to protect the plants. She said that, despite all the changes she’s seen in farming, she still feels safe eating food that’s grown and raised on farms.
Today, her son-in-law Tom Langrehr and neighbor Dan Fladmark tend to the day-to-day field work while her daughter Deb Langrehr takes care of the bookkeeping. Eunice actively maintains massive gardens of irises, tulips and day lilies, delivers equipment parts to the field and is the key decision-maker when it comes to managing the farm. Her neighbor, Jeff Thompson, enjoys stopping in to see the flowers, finding out how her crops look and discussing market trends, which Eunice has at her fingertips.
Every year, she determines which seeds to plant, where to plant them and when to sell her crops. She also works with the local co-op to spray pesticides when needed and harvest her soybeans and corn because she doesn’t own a combine. There’s no doubt farming is in her blood, and she has her grandfather Lars to thank for it.
Lars Berven came to the United States from Norway in the late 1800s with hopes of finding land and starting a family. After a brief time in Wisconsin, he headed west and settled on 160 acres in Sioux territory. All he had to do was plant crops and tend to them for a year and the land would be his for free. The natives were friendly and eventually named the farm Minnewawa Farm after the “gentle waters” that flowed in a nearby creek. That was 1875.
By the time Eunice came along in 1920, her father had taken over the family farm and grown it to 320 acres. She farmed alongside her grandfather and father as they expanded to the 805 acres she manages today. When she got married to her late husband JC in 1943, they moved to a new farm just two and a half miles away. In addition to growing crops, she also raised chickens for eggs and maintained a garden full of vegetables over the years.
“I just love being outside,” said Eunice. “Farming gives me the opportunity to be outdoors with the animals and nature.”
Another thing she loves to do is cook meals from scratch to feed the combine crew who harvests her crops. Typically, the crew pushes through harvest without breaks, but not on Eunice’s farm. She gets them out of the field with mashed potatoes and gravy and sends them home with their favorite pies.
“The world is so fast paced these days. On our farm, we take meal breaks to slow down a bit, enjoy our blessings and talk to each other,” said Eunice. We couldn’t agree more. Conversations around the dinner table are one thing that should never go out of style.
Enjoy reading stories about real South Dakota farmers? Here are a few we think you’ll like:
Paul Casper has always had a strong connection to the land. His love for the outdoors began when he was young, spending a lot of time hunting, fishing and trapping. Almost everything he does for work and recreation is tied to the environment. That’s why using sustainable agricultural practices are so important for his family and farm.
“What we do on the farm every day has an impact on our family, the food we eat and what we do for fun,” explained Paul. “The water is right beside us so we continually look for ways to improve our farm practices to take care of our soil.”
Paul isn’t kidding when he says the water is right beside them. Today, the family farm is surrounded by four lakes: Lake Thompson, Lake Whitewood, Lake Henry and Lake Preston. That hasn’t always been the case.
Paul used to ride horses and hunt in the pastureland that eventually became Lake Thompson. In the mid-1990s, heavy rains permanently turned the ground into a lake, and now it’s one of his favorite places to take his grandkids fishing. Keeping those waters and the land around them safe while protecting his corn and soybeans are very important parts of his plans.
Like many farmers in South Dakota, Paul uses sustainable practices like crop rotation and soil sampling. The GPS technology in his tractor and sprayer help him apply the right rates of pesticides safely and only in areas where they’re needed. The Caspers also practice no till, which means they don’t disturb the soil after crops are harvested. Leaving the stalks and plant roots in the fields reduces the chance soil will wash or blow into the lakes. It also improves the health of their soil and allows them to use less equipment so they don’t use as much fuel.
“We have greatly improved our farm practices over the past 15 years to preserve South Dakota’s land and water,” said Paul. They have no plans to slow down. This year, they’re looking at planting cover crops, which is a crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil.
The more Paul pays attention to sustainability, the better his crops grow. Now that his son and granddaughters have returned to the family farm, safety and sustainability are even more closely connected.
“We live and breathe farming, so we need to preserve the family farm for the next generation,” said Paul. “We also swim in the lakes, and eat the fish we catch, the animals we hunt and crops we grow. There are no shortcuts to being safe and environmentally friendly in agriculture, but I found it’s always worth the effort to do things right.”
Learn more about Paul’s farm practices and how he turns the veggies from his garden into delicious chicken kabobs by watching this episode of Across the Table.
For many South Dakotans, summer time includes having fun on the water. Whether it’s a road trip to the lake or a quick dip in the river, it’s a tradition that’s great for escaping the heat and creating memories that last a lifetime. The same holds true for farmers like Colin Nachtigal who lives near the Missouri River and enjoys fishing, kayaking and swimming on hot summer days.
“When we’re out working on the farm and it gets hot, we jump in the river for a quick dip,” he said. “I’m excited to teach my 18-month-old how to swim in it someday.”
While Colin doesn’t get to be on the water in summer as much as he’d like, he does spend most of his time on the banks of the Missouri working with irrigation pumps. He, along with his dad, two uncles, brother, and six cousins, grow corn, soybeans and wheat and raise beef cattle along the river. He’s part of the fourth generation to cultivate the land and thinks of the Missouri River as more than just a swimming hole.
“Some of our land is irrigated, and the water comes right from the Missouri River. Our rural home’s water system uses water from the river, so we also drink it,” said Colin.
He uses sustainable farm practices to ensure the water is safe for his crops, animals, family and neighbors who depend on it. The Nachtigals blend reliable practices from the past and innovative technology of the future to prevent soil erosion. This includes GMO seeds, minimal tillage and using equipment that puts crop nutrients, like fertilizer, in the soil.
“Minimizing tillage, or no-till, means that we’re leaving the soybean plant roots in the ground after harvest to hold the soil in place. Putting the fertilizer into the soil instead of on top helps the plants use it more efficiently. Both reduce erosion and keep the river clean,” explains Colin. He also uses GMO seeds that require less pesticides. If he does have to apply pesticides he waits for the right day.
“We’re always looking to improve on the ways of the older generation. Learn from them, but also try new ways to take care of the land and water,” said Colin. “Hopefully one day my daughter will be part of the family farm and grow food for people in South Dakota. In the meantime I’m looking forward to making more memories with her on the river.”
Summer isn’t the only time of year to make lasting memories. Learn how South Dakota farmers spend time with their families all year long by reading these blogs:
June may be dairy month, but if you’re anything like us, cheese is a year-round obsession. In South Dakota, Dimock Dairy is known for some of the best handmade blocks, curds and spreads you’ll find anywhere.
The journey for these delicious cheeses starts seven miles northwest of Dimock on Marty Neugebauer’s farm. Marty grows corn and soybeans, and raises beef cattle in addition to operating a dairy. He started selling milk to Dimock Dairy in the 1980s as a junior in high school when he his mother Anita expanded the family farm. When his mother retired in 1998, his brother Darin joined the operation. Marty knows dairy products don’t get any better than what’s right down the road.
Today, his family business is one of four family farms selling milk exclusively to Dimock Dairy. He’s proud to support a local business and enjoys knowing their products get their start on his farm. He claims their butter is the best ever made with the aged cheddar a close second.
Marty gets going every morning at 5:15 a.m. Before bringing the cows in around 6 a.m., he sanitizes the milking equipment and pipes to make sure the milk is clean when it reaches the bulk tank. Keeping things clean is Marty’s number one priority so he can send the best quality product to town.
He brings eight cows into the barn for milking at a time. Each cow goes into the same stall on the same side of the parlor every day. According to Marty, “Cows need routine. If you change anything, they won’t give the same amount of milk. Keeping them comfortable and happy is important to milk production.” He sanitizes the cows before attaching the milkers, which suction right to the cow. The milkers are equipped with a sensor to detect the flow of milk and stop pumping when the milk stops flowing.
Marty says cows have their own unique personalities and pump different amounts of milk. They can provide anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds per session, and it only takes about five to eight minutes to milk each cow. After the milkers shut off, they detach automatically and he disinfects the cows so they’re clean. Within 15 minutes of coming inside, the cows head back outside for the day.
Next, the fresh milk flows into a receiving jar and is pumped through a plate cooler to reduce its temperature by 20 degrees within seconds. It is then collected in a bulk tank where it’s chilled to 38 degrees F until a Dimock Dairy bulk milk truck picks it up.
Marty repeats this process at 4:30 p.m. every day. It takes three hours to sanitize and milk about 90 cows each morning and afternoon. In between milkings, he takes care of his beef cattle, tends to his crops and completes other tasks on the farm. “There’s always something to do,” Marty said.
Cow Comfort and Nutrition
For many dairy farmers like Marty the key to good milk production is keeping cows comfortable, giving them plenty of access to water and feeding them a nutritious diet. While Marty’s cows eat mostly distillers grain made from corn and silage, many dairy farmers in South Dakota also feed theirs soybean meal. Did you know there are approximately 117,000 dairy cows in South Dakota that eat 31,000 tons of soybean meal each year? Good thing soybeans are the state’s second largest crop.
Dimock Dairy Delivery
Every other day, approximately 10,000 pounds of milk leaves Marty’s bulk tank to take on a whole new shape and flavor. We’ll explore how Marty’s milk becomes the delicious cheese at Dimock Dairy in part two of this blog so stay tuned.
What about the gallons of milk you find at the grocery store? Ever wonder how it gets from the farm to the shelf? Read about its journey.
In greater Yankton, South Dakota, a new era of farmer is making headway in the agricultural industry. Young millennial farmers, working on and off the farm, are shaping a new definition of farming. The tactics they use to produce food for families across the state prove to be as efficient and sustainable as their larger counterparts, despite not farming full time.
Nate Hicks and Brandon Wagner are two of the dozens of farmers in southeastern South Dakota who work a day job and then run their family farms on nights and weekends. Despite the long hours, it’s worth it to them. They manage to raise healthy beef cattle and crops with efficient practices on about 1,100 acres, which is a little smaller than an average farm size in South Dakota.
Nate grew up east of Utica, South Dakota, on a cow/calf farm and learned the tricks of the family business from his father. When it came time for college, he told his parents he was more interested in farming, but first pursued a mechanical engineering degree at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. He returned to the farm with his wife Kristen in 2015.
Nate says if he hadn’t left home and earned his degree, he wouldn’t be where he is today. The experience and knowledge gained during college and working off the farm helped him improve practices on the farm, such as fine-tuning an electronic record-keeping process originally created by his mother.
“We raise and record all our cows instead of buying new ones each year,” Nate says. “We use the records to determine which cows are top producers and keep calves from those cows each year. This ultimately provides more efficiency in our production practices, leading to lower prices and better meat quality for consumers.”
Nate’s friend, Brandon, also grew up on a family farm and shares a similar story. After graduating from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion with a teaching degree, he married his wife, Ashely, and returned to work on the farm and teach at Yankton High School. His teaching role expanded to help the school rollout its new FFA program.
When not at school, Brandon spends nights and weekends working alongside his younger brother, father and uncle to run the family farm. One of his duties is monitoring the herd during calving season, which is more efficient thanks to technology.
“We recently installed IP (internet protocol) cameras in our barn for remote monitoring of heifers that are calving,” Brandon says. “This is important because we work jobs off the farm and are multitasking in the evenings. With the cameras, we’re only minutes, or seconds, away if there is a problem.”
Brandon also creates better beef for shoppers. “Our family enrolled in a program with the American Simmental Association, which gives us USDA reports listing information from our previous cows,” he says. “We can tell which ones genetically create more flavorful meat. We can use the reports to get the traits we want so the entire herd produces higher quality beef.”
Brandon and Nate believe sustainability is an important part of any size operation. They use much of the same technology and practices as their full-time counterparts. This includes crop rotation for soil health, variable-rate planting so they don’t waste seed and minimal tillage to reduce soil erosion. The also rotate their grazing cattle so there is about one pair for every four acres of land to minimize their impact throughout the summer.
Nate and Brandon are excited about the potential of millennial and entrepreneurial farmers. They believe that if more young people see the opportunities with operations like theirs, they may decide to give farming a try as well. This gives South Dakota families even more choices when it comes to the food they find in grocery stores and farmers markets.
“I think showing young people how technology affects the industry is one of the most important issues in agriculture today,” says Brandon. “I heard a quote once that really resonated with me. It said, ‘The fastest way to lose money is to do it the way Grandpa did it. The fastest way to lose everything is to forget the way grandpa did it.’”
Read more stories about South Dakota farm families and how they care for the land and animals:
About the Guest Writer
Kristen Hicks, a farmer’s wife and director of marketing and communications at Mount Marty College, moved to Yankton in 2015. In addition to her day job, she helps her husband with his cattle and crop operation, and serves on the board of an entrepreneurial development group called Onward Yankton, and helps businesses with marketing strategies and digital solutions. In her free time, she explores the outdoors with her @southdakotadog, an Aussie-heeler mix named Tucker.
Our favorite crop reporter and farmer is back with a brand new planting update! Dane “farms” with his dad by Andover, and is delivering his latest update straight from the field.
We know farmers are hustling to plant their soybean and corn fields for the season, but what all goes into the process? Dane explores the technology they use to prevent seed waste, regulate how fast they drive and monitor how many acres they cover in a day. Does having a tablet in the tractor cab also mean they watch Netflix while they work? Let’s find out!
Now it’s time to head out to the field. Dane explains why soybean seeds aren’t the color you’d expect and how everyone works together as a team to get their crops off to a healthy start. Planting soybeans is just the beginning. The Horters also use a piece of equipment called a land roller to roll over the ground, making it more level and reducing equipment damage from rocks. Then they spray a pre-emergence herbicide to protect young plants from weeds.
Since they just planted soybeans, there isn’t much growth to see, but the corn is starting to sprout. Dane tells us how long that takes and why farmers make sure their plants are evenly spaced. It looks like the corn loves the sunshine just as much as we do.
Planting can be a hectic time for many farm families, but it’s also a favorite. The start of another growing season means the opportunity to grow food for families and animals in South Dakota.
Can’t get enough of the cuteness? Watch Dane’s Across the Table episode featuring farm sustainability and cupcakes. To learn more about planting in South Dakota, here’s a Q&A with farmer Monica McCranie.
It’s almost time for South Dakota farmers to get out in the fields and begin the 2017 growing season. There’s a great deal of preparation that goes into planting, and everyone in the family helps out.
Back in March, we checked in with John Horter and his 6-year-old son Dane on their family farm near Andover. Dane shared some insights about what he does to prepare for planting season, what it takes to grow healthy crops and why it’s important to grow food for people and animals in South Dakota. It all starts with a tractor high five!
Can’t get enough of Dane’s on-farm insights? Watch his report from the 2016 harvest.
Cattle have been part of Reiner Farms since the family homesteaded land near Tripp, South Dakota, in the 1880s. According to Marc Reiner, who is the fifth generation to run the family business, animal care is a priority and an important part of raising quality meat. As you can imagine, the way Marc cares for his animals today is very different than how his grandfather did. He’s gone high tech, which is especially helpful during calving season.
“It all starts with selecting the right genetics,” says Marc. The Reiners raise Simm-Angus cattle. They choose genetics for good maternal abilities and performance that will produce the lean and high-quality cuts of meat consumers demand.
Just like with humans, preparing for a new, healthy calf begins with the health of the mother. Marc uses an ultrasound machine to verify pregnancy and the stage of pregnancy so he knows when to expect a cow to give birth.
Proper diet and nutrition is important during this time. Marc feeds his cows a balanced blend of hay, silage, and soybean meal made from crops grown on his farm along with vitamin and mineral packets to keep them healthy. He also vaccinates them to prevent major diseases like scour. Vaccinating the mother passes the antibodies along to the calves so they are protected at birth.
Marc not only personally interacts with his cows, he also uses cameras when he’s not around to monitor animal comfort throughout the year. He can watch them from his TV screen, computer and mobile phone. This is especially helpful during calving. As a cow nears the end of its pregnancy, he can bring it closer to the barn and watch for signs of distress. It’s key to have shelter with controlled temperatures for cows to use during bad weather since calving starts in February.
“Cows have great natural instincts and can usually handle giving birth without assistance, but sometimes we have to step in,” says Marc. When that happens, he’s happy to have his family and employees by his side. “Calving can be an intense time. It takes teamwork to keep the newborns safe.”
After a calf is born, the most important things are its first meal and spending time indoors to grow healthy and strong so it can join the herd. Marc continues to monitor its weight, provides a nutritious diet and vaccinates as necessary until it’s time to be harvested. Beef cuts are sold to restaurants and grocery stores for South Dakota families to purchase and enjoy.
For Marc, that cycle of growing food and feeding people is one of the most satisfying things about being a farmer. “We feed our animals the crops we grow on the farm and enjoy eating the meat from the animals we raise.”
Read more about how farmers and livestock specialists use technology to raise healthy animals:
SPOILER ALERT: Cuteness overload!
It’s time for our latest episode of Across the Table. Host Melissa Johnson from Oh My Cupcakes! shares some of her favorite kid-friendly cupcake toppings with local farmer John Horter and his son Dane for a fun, springtime activity. Plus, Melissa talks with John about why sustainability matters so much in farming.
As a fifth-generation farmer who wants to pass on the farming tradition to his kids, John knows how important it is to take care of his land so he can leave it for future generations. From using new technologies to implementing advanced farming practices, farmers like John continually find new and more effective ways to ensure their farm is in better shape than they found it.
Watch the full episode to find out about how John uses some of those technologies and practices, like GMOs, responsible pesticides use and conservation practices, on his farm.
If you can’t get enough of Dane’s cuteness, you can watch his adorable harvest crop report from last fall.
Don’t forget to check out our other Across the Table episodes here.
In honor of National Ag Day, we talked with local South Dakota farmers about what they love best about family farms. Did you know that 98 percent of farms in our state are family owned and operated? Your neighbors work hard to make sure the food they raise that ends up on your table is safe and healthy. Check out what they had to say about their favorite parts of farming as a family affair:
“For me, it’s such a privilege to watch my kids grow up on the farm. To see the excitement in their actions and expressions is priceless. My kids will be the sixth generation on our farm, and you can tell their passion for agriculture comes from within. There’s nothing more rewarding than teaching my children what has been passed down to me through the generations and see them grow to appreciate the land that provides for us.” – John Horter, farmer from Andover
“One of the things I love most about being part of a family farm is the interaction with the land and animals. I believe there are no more beautiful pictures than that of calves running in a green, flowing pasture; combines harvesting soybeans from the fields on a brisk, colorful fall day; or a litter of piglets simultaneously nursing from the sow. These “office views” are awe inspiring and make a day on the farm that much sweeter.” – Amanda Eben, livestock specialist who is active on her family farm near Rock Rapids, IA
“From the time our children could talk, they would watch out the window every morning and we would hear “Grandpa’s here!” as they ran out the door to greet him as though they hadn’t seen him in years. Though retired, he has always been protector, teacher, trainer, baby sitter, disciplinarian and confidant. No amount of money could buy that opportunity for our children. The family farm is the only institution I am aware of that can provide that opportunity and solid foundation for life.” – Jerry Schmitz, farmer from Vermillion
“What I enjoy about farming is being able to work alongside my husband every day with our kids playing around us. It’s what I love most about the life that we live.” – Morgan Kontz, farmer from Colman
“No amount of money could equal the pride I feel when my parents and grandparents tell me I’m doing a good job of managing our family farm. It’s a joy to work alongside all the generations of our family. We have so many memories that make me smile when I think about them, like laughing about lessons learned the hard way, our children talking to the animals, and me shouting, “Come boss!” to the cows as I bring them from the pasture to milk, just like my Grandpa. I love remembering the smile on his face as I gave it my first call, and wished he was here to see my kids and me doing the same thing today.” – Todd Hanten, farmer from Goodwin
“I love being a part of a farm passed down through four generations and working to pass it on to the fifth. The best part of it all is passing on my passion for farming to my children.” – Josh Kayser, farmer from Emery
Read more about family farms in South Dakota:
We’re daydreaming of warmer days and our beautiful Farm-to-Fork Dinner from last summer! It was such a fun night connecting the food on our table back to the farm and hearing from local farmers about how they raise their crops and livestock. Today, check out a few more photos from that amazing night and pretend like we’re still enjoying the summer breeze and sunshine. You can see a full recap of the event here and read Sioux Falls blogger Kaylee Koch’s post about her experience at Apple of My Ivy.
P.S. We will host our second annual farm-to-fork dinner again this summer, so be on the lookout for more info this spring!