By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Alan and Anne Schroepfer wouldn’t be farming if it weren’t for Val Arceneau, the man who sold his farm to them in 2000.
“He deserves our thanks,” said Alan. “He sold it in such a way, by contract for deed, that a younger man could afford the payments.”
Alan grew up on a dairy farm near Sleepy Eye, one of 12 children. Anne grew up near Melrose. Although she was not raised on a farm, both sets of grandparents farmed.
Alan went to South Dakota State University in Brookings but decided his first preference was to farm. When that worked out, he didn’t pursue anything else.
After meeting at church in St. Cloud and marrying, the Schoepfers farmed near Sleepy Eye for a time before renting a farm near Sauk Centre for two years. Then they happened to run across their present farm listed for sale.
“Val wanted to keep it as a family farm; that was very important to him,” Alan said.
The farm was not operated organically then, but two years later Alan decided to convert.
“The biggest reason was having it brought to my attention all that was in some of the chemicals I was using to farm,” he said. “That’s the way we’d always farmed, but I didn’t care to use those any more if I didn’t have to.”
Alan was a bit intimidated by transitioning to organic, not being sure it would work, but he received a lot of information from Ag Resource Consulting in Albany.
Until just a couple of years ago, Arceneau helped the Schroepfers throughout the cropping season.
“We’ve learned a lot of things, and we continue to learn every year,” said Alan.
One thing he’s learned is that it’s possible to get decent weed control without chemicals. The drawback is that it is a lot of work and is time-consuming.
“But not applying chemicals benefits the soil,” he said. “And the runoff doesn’t contain the chemicals that pollute.”
Alan learned how to use his livestock’s manure to fertilize effectively and not have to use a lot of extra fertilizer.
“I use soil tests, and put the manure on the fields that are going to need it most, in proper amounts,” he said.
He also uses soil tests to determine which crops should be planted and in which fields.
“Crop rotation is a big part of being successful with organic farming,” he said.
The Schroepfers have a total of about 150 head of cattle.
“Forty-five are milked now, since I have more help than I used to,” said Alan.
The Schroepfer family includes three sons and eight daughters. The eldest, Anthony, is 20.
The cattle include about 50 head of beef, an Angus/Hereford mix. Alan also raises his own steers for slaughter. While he buys a new milking herd bull every one to two years, he rents a beef bull.
The farm’s milk and cull cows are sold to Organic Valley. The company’s website explains that it is the largest organic dairy cooperative in the United States, with farm family members in 35 states.
The Schroepfers grow soybeans, oats, barley, a wheat/pea mix and underseed with either alfalfa or red clover. Most of the beans are sold, while nearly everything else is used for the livestock.
“The wheat/pea mix is a more nutrient-dense feed,” said Alan. “The advantage to the livestock is that they’re eating a balanced diet.”
Anne’s father, Joe Oevermann, helped on the farm as time allowed, but now that he’s retired he helps pretty steadily.
Alan’s nephew, James Schroepfer, also helps part time when he can get away.
Anne maintains five vegetable gardens. “It’s good eating,” she said.
“We save a considerable amount of money growing our own,” Alan said. “And the biggest bonus is that we can grow them the way we want.”
“It’s good to be able to raise our family on a farm,” said Anne. “The kids learn to be responsible. We eat really well and the kids have lots of room to play.”