South Dakota Farmers Union celebrates December South Dakota Farm Family
To join with the United Nations in celebrating the International Year of Family Farming, South Dakota Farmers Union will highlight a South Dakota farm or ranch family each month. This month South Dakota Farmers Union features the Deiter family who farms near Faulkton.
When Roger Deiter returned to join his brother, Doug, on their family’s diversified crop and livestock farm in 1979, the men were the fourth generation to farm the land near Faulkton.
While pursuing an Animal Science degree at South Dakota State University, Roger had participated in collegiate livestock judging. The activity further sparked his interest in the cattle industry.
Once he returned home, Roger’s primary interest was on the livestock side, and Doug was diversified in all aspects of the farm.
The natural transition was for Roger to focus on the cattle operation, which allowed Doug to be more specialized on the cropping enterprise.
Each enterprise grew. By 2008, Doug was farming about 7,500 acres and Roger had taken the 200-head commercial herd and transformed it to one of the largest seedstock operations in the country. At its peak, the livestock operation included 2,000 registered cows, representing three breeds. It involved embryo transfer programs, cooperator herds and two annual sales.
To keep things running smoothly, Deiter Farms needed approximately 10 full-time employees.
In 1999, Doug’s son, Kevin, became the fifth generation to join the farm, helping Roger with the cattle enterprise full-time.
When the brothers, who were nearing retirement age, discussed transitioning the farm, the task was daunting. “Things had become quite complex,” says Roger.
He explains that each man was solely responsible for managing specific aspects of the operation. “When we thought about what would happen to the family farm if anything happened to one of us. It scared the … us.”
In order to preserve the farm for the next generation, the three men decided to simplify things. In 2008, the Deiters dispersed their seedstock operation and nearly doubled their farming operation.
Today, Doug, Roger, Kevin and Roger’s son-in-law, Adam Odden, farm 15,000 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and sunflowers with the help of one full-time employee, Darby Bowar.
To learn more about the Deiter family and view a photo gallery, visit www.sdfu.org.
Making Sustainable Changes for the Future
Doug Deiter had been managing the family’s diversified farming operation for about 10 years when his younger brother, Roger, returned from college in 1979. The two men quickly divided up responsibilities, each taking over the enterprise they were most passionate about.
“When I came home, I took the reins on the livestock side and Doug took the reins on the farm side,” explains the fourth-generation Faulkton farmer.
As the brothers expanded their respective operations, they needed more help and began hiring full-time employees. Doug expanded the farm ground to about 7,500 acres and managed the bookkeeping.
By 2008, Deiter Bros. Farm had about 10 full-time employees along with other seasonal help, and also supported three families: Doug and his wife, Sandy; Roger and his wife, Beth; and Doug’s son, Kevin, and his wife, Carrie, and their three young children. Doug’s son, Kevin, grew up helping his Uncle Roger with the cattle operation. Kevin joined his dad and uncle full-time in 1999.
Roger explains that the size and scope of the operation would overwhelm some, but for many years he says the challenge of keeping everything going was exhilarating and fun … until he began to think about the future.
“We were each responsible for certain things that had become quite specialized. I didn’t know how to do what Doug was doing, he didn’t know how to do what I was doing and we were both too old and had no interest in doing what Kevin did every day. Furthermore, nobody knew how to do what our office manager was doing in regard to the electronic registration, transfers and record keeping with three breed associations,” Roger says. “The thought of some day dropping this load on Kevin, without first giving him some more well-rounded experience across all segments of the operation, was scary.”
Together, the men decided the best option for their farm’s sustainability was to sell out of the seedstock business and expand their farming enterprise.
“Farming is the enterprise which takes less man power, and it is seasonal,” Roger says.
They began the transition by giving their employees nearly a year’s notice. “Letting go of our employees was the most difficult part. They had been with us a long time and were loyal employees. We gave them as much notice as we could, with the understanding that we would love to have them work with us until the end, but if they left for other employment, we understood. Everyone stayed with us until the end, which meant a lot,” Roger said.
When they publicly announced the dispersion sale, Roger says it shocked the industry. But the announcement also brought unexpected support from their peers. “Many let us know they respected us for taking such a bold step and said they were in a similar boat – when they stopped to think about transitioning to the next generation, they didn’t know what they would do,” Roger says.
Shortly after the Deiters decided to expand their farming operation, they had the opportunity to purchase an uncle’s farm that was entirely crop ground. This allowed them to reach about 15,000 tillable acres.
Deiter Farms Today
Although transition to farming fulltime dramatically changed day-to-day operations for Roger and Kevin, six years later both men say they have no regrets.
“We weren’t forced into this decision, and we got the ship stopped before we burnt out. There are no regrets,” says Roger.
Kevin, 37, adds, “At the time, it was a hard decision for me, knowing that the cattle part of our farm would be out of the equation, and that was all I knew. Today, I look at what our life is and the time I now have for my family, and I know we made the right decision.”
Together with his wife, Carrie, Kevin has three children: Avery, 13, Camryn, 10, and Charlie, 8.
In addition to Doug, Roger and Kevin, the management team now includes Roger’s son-in-law, Adam Odden, who joined the farming operation a year ago. An experienced agronomist, Odden’s role on the 15,000-acre farm is obvious.
And, Kevin points out that even though the farm’s sole focus is crops, he continues to implement many of the same skill sets he developed managing the seedstock operations. “We’ve always embraced technology and focused on record keeping to collect as much data as we could to make improvements,” he explains.
Looking to the future, Kevin says at this time the family’s overall goal is not to expand acres, but to increase the efficiency of each acre. They maximize yields on each acre through precision planting. They use grid sampling and precision ag technology to monitor the soil health and guide field management and planting decisions.
“Based on data, we manage each acre differently,” Kevin says, explaining that data collected from grid sampling and yield monitors this harvest will determine which crops are planted in what fields in 2015. “We focus on a rotation of corn, soybeans, wheat and sunflowers.”
For example, how much nitrogen is left in a particular field following corn harvest will determine whether or not they plant sunflowers or soybeans in that field.
All their data is stored on the Apple iCloud, so no matter where they are, the men can access yield and other field data. “Right now the custom harvesters are running and I can keep up with yield data whether I’m in my office, on the road or sitting at the FSA office,” Kevin says.
Like his dad and uncle, Kevin is focused on doing what is necessary to preserve the family farm for the next generation. “Charlie is only 8, but hopefully he will want to take over the farm someday – or one of Adam and Chelsea’s children. Whether that is what they decide or not, I want them to have the option.”
To join with the United Nations in celebrating the International Year of Family Farming, South Dakota Farmers Union will highlight a South Dakota farm or ranch family each month. This month South Dakota Farmers Union features the Deiter family who farms near Faulkton. To view a photo gallery, visit www.sdfu.org.