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Schneiders use conservation programs to enhance their Foley farm

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 12/06/2012 2:35 PM

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FOLEY, Minn. — Roy Schneider had a vision for the farm he and his wife, Cindy, purchased in 1989.

"I wanted to have a clean farm," Roy said of the farm nestled next to busy Minnesota Highway 95. "At the same time, I wanted it to be functional."

Roy also had a litmus test for his farm's operation.

"In everything I do, I think, "How will I do this when I am 70? How will I manage it,'" he said.

Through planning and foresight, Roy has used conservation programs as he's developed the operation. He uses strip tillage to farm 320 acres of row crops. The 25 to 40 cows in his beef operation are pastured in an intensive grazing system. A settling basin holds manure from the feedlot.

The Schneiders are Benton County's Conservation Farmers of the Year.

Roy hasn't thought of it as conservation — it the right thing to do, he said.

He grew up on a dairy farm south of St. Cloud near Luxemburg. Roy was one of 12 children who learned about animal husbandry and caring for the land from his parents. The family took a common sense approach. It's the same mindset Roy and Cindy use.

He first mentions the pasture when talking of the conservation practices they've initiated. Of the farm's 70 acre pasture, Roy had around 30 acres that were a challenge. He noticed that when he let it rest, it came back strong.

Through a conservation cost-share program, he was able to fence the pasture into paddocks. For more than a decade, his cow/calf pairs, a mixture of black and red Angus, have grazed in the intensive rotational grazing pasture.

He designed the farm to be something he can handle himself. However, his children help with daily chores. During the school year, he insists they focus on education. Their five children help with fencing. They range in age from 22 to 12. It's not one of their favorite chores, but Roy encourages them with a fatherly smile and a reminder that someday they can point to the fence and tell their children they helped with it.

Once he'd completed the pasture project, Roy turned to the feedlot to address areas in the yard that were brown from run-off.

"It bothered me," he said. "I was always thinking about how I could change that so I wouldn't have that eyesore."

A conservation program was available.

"Using that program, establishing filter strips, putting in a settling basin and a clean water diversion project helped me get to where I wanted to be within a shorter period of time," he said. "The program was a natural fit for what we wanted to do on the farm."

That's been true of many of the projects he's implemented, including tillage practices.

He was impressed by a friend's conservation tillage. He sought the friend out and started to ask questions.

"I paid attention to what he said," Roy commented.

Naysayers said it would never work, but Roy pressed on. Through another conservation program he built his own unit using a Gandy dry fertilizer unit and Dawn row units to put dry fertilizer into the strip where he places the seeds.

Some said he might not see a return in the first three years of conservation tillage, but Roy saw immediateresults. He now has fewer passes in the field and saves fuel.

Roy also raises six to seven flocks of chickens each year for Gold 'N Plump. He didn't want the dried manure from the barns to be an eyesore so he built a 60-foot by 60-foot manure storage building with a stacking slab. He's composted the manure for the three years. His original idea was to haul the material to his fields once a year but now does that twice annually.

Finding the right mixture of litter to moisture was a learning experience. He recalls it glowing like hot embers when he made his first applications to the field. With dry litter management, he now has a nice composted material.

He would like to do something similar with the feedlot manure by putting it in rows outdoors. He's looking for a pull-type compost turner so he can achieve a more consistent product.

Cindy is employed as an accountant. Due to asthma, she doesn't work with the farm's day-to-day operation. She is a sounding board for Roy as they discuss projects and purchases.

"Sometimes it takes someone asking a question or talking about something on the farm that gets you thinking," he said.

Those discussions help him develop plans.

"It helps you see things that you can do to keep things running smooth," he said. "And it's always good to look at things from another perspective."