HURON, S.D. — Rock hound and fourth-generation Dixon farmer, Terry Springer, 65, says when he’s outdoors he’s always on the lookout for a stone that catches his eye.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been walking around with my head down,” explains Terry, who over a lifetime has amassed a rare and extensive rock collection.
Terry’s collection boasts ancient arrow heads, mammoth bones, fossilized wood, rose quartz, moss rock and other unique geologic specimens.
Many of the rocks were discovered on the land his great-grandparents and great-great-uncle first farmed in the early 1900s – the land where today, he and his brother, Wayne, 60, continue the family’s farming legacy. Together they raise corn, small grains, forage and a cow/calf-to-finish-direct-marketing beef operation, Springer Farms.
“I like living in the country and being my own boss. I enjoy working with cattle and being out working in nature,” says Wayne, who at 19 bought the farm neighboring the land his great-great-uncle Hans homesteaded near Gregory.
When the neighbors were ready to retire, Wayne explains that they asked him if he was interested in the land because they knew he would take care of it.
“Even in the late ’70s investors were buying up farm ground around here. They sold the land to me because, in their own words, “they wanted their farm to remain a working farm and didn’t want it to become an abandoned homestead,'” Wayne says.
He adds that the land he owns was originally purchased by his great-grandfather Carl in 1904, one year after it was homesteaded.
Carl lost the farm during the Dirty Thirties.
The brothers can empathize with the challenges their grandfather faced.
During the Farm Crisis of the late 1970s and early ’80s, Terry drove truck to help keep the family’s farm afloat, while Wayne and their dad, Verlyn, farmed.
Today, with crop and livestock markets at barely breakeven levels, the brothers are making some creative changes to the way they farm and ranch.
“Nowadays, a traditional farm is not self-sustaining. You either need to increase volume or do what it takes to reduce inputs and cut out the middle man,” Wayne explains.
To cut input costs, this year the brothers planted 14 acres of open-pollinating corn, which they will harvest this fall and set aside for 2018 seed. They increased their forage acres and planted fewer acres to Roundup Ready corn.
“We’re doing some old-school things,” says Terry, who farms the land Hans homesteaded. “Our grandpa used to raise his own seed,” explaining that this change alone will save the farm hundreds in input costs.
“Traited seed is selling for $300 a bag. We can’t justify that when corn is only bringing $3 a bushel,” Wayne adds. “We’re experimenting this year. I’ve been told the yields won’t be as good as the hybrid corn, but I want to see for myself.”
Instead of marketing their calves through the local auction market, they have begun to direct-market their beef as antibiotic-free, grass-fed and finished on GMO-free corn.
“From the day the calf hits the ground, we can tell our customers exactly what we fed it. We are the ones who go out in the blizzards to care for cattle and muck through mud to pull calves the packers should not be the only ones bringing home a profit,” says Wayne, a strong advocate for country-of-origin labeling, otherwise known as COOL.
Wayne and Terry explain that prices forced them to look beyond the norm, to find new ways to keep their farm profitable.
“I don’t know if it’s plain stubbornness we really don’t want to do anything else,” Wayne says.
To hear a radio interview with the Springer brothers and view a photo gallery, visit www.sdfu.org. To purchase their farm-raised beef, call 605-830-9274.
— Lura Roti for S.D. Farmers Union
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