Custom work takes a family team

Farm Forum

Timing is crucial when deciding to take on additional custom work for neighbors, according to Stuart Wolter, 56, of Woonsocket.

This last year Wolter and his family expanded harvest work for those in the area, as he also runs a farming/ranching operation.

The eventual plan is to have his son Steve take over the operation with harvest help from his daughters.

Last fall, Wolter custom-harvested about 2,500 acres with his daughter Kristen Dodson, 26, running the Case 2388 and Case 2588 combines; daughter Lauren, 23, running the grain cart and Stuart running the truck or grain cart or doing what needs to be done. Another daughter, Meghen, 21, will sometimes come out to run the grain cart.

“Dad handles so much on his own and has such a positive attitude,” Kristen said. “If we can help him out, we’ll be there.”

Weather is by far the biggest problem when it comes to keeping the customer happy, Stuart said. It’s a real juggling act to take care of the customer’s needs and then those of the Wolter family. The family crop farms about 800 acres. With the pasture and hay ground, they have about 2,000 acres altogether.

“An important factor is the timing of getting the different operations done,” Stuart said. “We don’t want to let our crops get behind when we are doing custom work, it’s a tough balance and the weather can complicate that.”

Depending on the time of the year, there are cattle to take care of as well as machinery to get ready for the field.

Stuart’s son Steve, 28, is the assistant agronomy manager at CHS in Corsica, but also has some of his own equipment to do custom work. He concentrates more on planting and has rented 1,000 acres of his own.

The family decided that expanding custom work made more sense than buying more land. Rains have come in a timely fashion in the past few years, so crops were good even though they didn’t break records.

The custom work has been mostly for farmers who want to focus on cattle production. Some of those farmers didn’t want to invest in new machinery so decided to have Stuart’s family take on the harvest work. Others didn’t have enough people to concentrate on harvest. In that case, it was a matter of available labor.

Wolter does custom work within 30 miles of his farm. One customer has a large operation within 15 miles of the farm. Some of the grain is put in bins while other loads are trucked to the local elevator. Wolter said the rain last fall made the harvest unpredictable and stressful. He’s hoping for a better fall season this year.

Two-way radios keep the family in contact with each other. There is more to the harvest operation than running the combines, according to Kristen. There is a lot of coordination of positioning grain carts, driving trucks and running for parts.

Any time there is a breakdown, it’s frustrating.

Whenever there is a breakdown, Kristen says her dad can fix the problem. Sometimes that means tearing a machine apart. “We help when we can. I go through and grease all the zerks on the combine and the header. Dad is the iron man.”

“I’d always hoped the kids would come back to farm,” Stuart said. “I was never sure if it would work out. It’s tough to farm more acres without more help. A highlight for me is getting to work with the kids at so many different times.“

Kristen said that her brother and her two sisters always helped with haying, raking and harvest stuff when they were growing up. Grandpa Arlan Feiftner also helps out.

Kristen lives in Sioux Falls but plans to move back to the farm. Kristen said she always pictured herself out on the farm when she was growing up.

“It’s just been this year that I realized that ag stuff is what I want to do,” she said. “I didn’t think of it as a career even though I’ve been helping with haying and cattle. My brother wants me to learn to run the planter.”

Kristen says that the best part is working together and having worked the land for a number of years. “That makes it a lot less stressful,” Kristen said. “The hard part is that we’re so scattered and trying to schedule time at work and at home. Everyone is always juggling schedules. We manage to make it work, though, and we all take pride in what we’re doing.”