Farm Horizons, Nov. 2006

Farm family of the year

By Linda Scherer

Since they married 23 years ago, Larry and Deb Dreier have been farming together in Norwood Young America.

They met in 1981, while Deb, who was the reigning dairy princess, happened to attend a twilight farm meeting that was hosted at Larry’s parents’ farm. Carissa, their oldest daughter, described it as, “the prince meeting his princess.”

That fairy tale beginning began a farming partnership that is still successful today, and has been made even more prosperous because of their children’s contributions.

Having received the 2006 Carver County Farm Family of the Year award is proof of their success.

The Dreier family, Larry, his wife, Deb, and their four children, Carissa, 21, Derek, 18, Dayna, 16, and Makayla (Bubs), 9, were chosen farm family of the year because of their significant contributions to Minnesota agriculture and to their community.

“I feel honored for us to receive this award. I take pride in my family,” Larry said.

On a recent October morning, it was a happy family that sat around the kitchen table laughing and teasing each other, ready to begin the day, and to share their thoughts on farming.

“Fall is my favorite time of the year, but this hasn’t been quite as nice a fall. It has been extremely busy for us,” Deb said.

“We have had enough challenges this fall,” Larry added.

Included in those challenges was a late night hunt for 40 of their cows that had gotten out the previous night, and that same day, Deb’s mom, who had recently had back surgery, was released from the hospital and needed a ride home and 24-hour supervision for a few days until she got back on her feet.

The fall harvesting was progressing though, thanks to a number of outside helpers. The Dreiers employ four full-time workers. The day before, they had 12 people helping out with various projects, some for only a few hours.

“We have been fortunate to have guys who have worked for us for many years,” Deb said.

“John started working for us when he was riding his bicycle over at just 14, and now is 29. He is very gifted, and a reliable person. We can’t say enough for all the guy has done for us,” Larry said.

A couple of other men, one retired and another with lots of accumulated vacation, love to combine and plow. One of them has been with the Dreiers for 27 years.

The Dreier farm is an impressive sight. They raise 250 acres of high moisture corn and corn silage, 160 acres of alfalfa, and 70 acres of grass hay to meet the forage and feed needs of their dairy operation. They also have 1,500 acres of cash crops which are split between corn and soybean rotation. They are currently milking about 200 cows, and have another 290 head that includes mature cows, young stock, and steers.

For this particular Saturday at 8 a.m., the farm was a busy place. The telephones were ringing, help was arriving to continue harvesting the 700 acres of corn left in the field, and the huge dryers outside were steaming as they dried the corn harvested the day before.

A day on the Dreier farm begins at 2:30 a.m. with outside help arriving to milk the cows. At 4 a.m., Larry is out feeding the cows, and 5:30 a.m., Deb, with the help of one of their children, feeds the calves. At 2:30 p.m., the milking begins again.

Deb, whose maiden name is Stoeckmann, grew up on a 120-acre dairy farm in Hamburg. She is used to helping out where needed.

She recalls saying at 15 years old, “I will never marry a farmer,” then added, “but I fell in love with one.” Even though she works part-time at the Lakeview Clinic in Waconia, Deb takes care of feeding the calves every morning, and does all of the bookwork for the farm.

Larry is farming on the same farm that his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father had farmed before him. He began farming full-time when he graduated from high school in 1974. He has had various partnerships with his dad and an older brother, Dennis, but in 1988, he became the sole owner of the farm.

“I like the variety of farming. I spend time with the cows, their feeding, farm equipment, but a lot of my time is spent working with the guys who work here, planning what we’re going to do next,” Larry said.

Many changes have been made to the farm since Larry first began farming, including numerous changes in the last three years.

“Larry likes change,” Deb said. That brought laughter from all of the children.

Although there have been many variations in daily routines and to the farm setup itself, Larry has managed a kind of balancing act that has always kept the farm profitable. He is not afraid to try new things, and works to maintain a steady profit while doing it.

An example would be 1993, when they were milking about 80 or 90 cows. Two to three years later, they were up to 200 milking cows.

Then, they decided to raise calves for another dairy farm. They built greenhouses to house the calves and dropped the number of cows they were milking to 115. When the dairy farm that wanted the calves went broke, Larry moved his own calves into one of the greenhouses, and cows that have special needs into another. Today, they are back to milking about 200 cows.

There was also a time in 1999, when they tried milking the cows three times a day. They had less help then and the kids would work with them. That ended after a short time.

“We wore the cows down. I think it could be done, but our milking parlor was too small. They spent so much time in the holding area and too much time on their feet,” Larry said.

Another reason they went back to milking just two times a day was personal. “It felt like there wasn’t ever a break,” Deb added.

The Dreier children have all taken their turns helping out wherever they are needed. However, they are growing up, and their careers and interests will be taking them away from the farm.

Carissa is a senior at Concordia College in St. Paul. She likes coming home to the farm because it is so peaceful. She helps out when she can if there is time available, but she also has a part-time job.

Her future plan is to become a missionary when she graduates, leaving the country for two years. When asked if she will share her farming experience wherever she goes, Carissa seemed uncertain,

“I worked in Guatemala on coffee farms for one week, and planted banana trees – things that I don’t know a lot about,” she said. She will be in either Mexico, Peru, Equador, Guatemala, or Honduras doing missionary work.

Dayna is a junior at Lutheran High School in Mayer and has a part-time job at the Dairy Queen. She plays volleyball and is in track. She helps with the calves, sprays weeds during the summer, and helps out when she has free time.

Makayla helps with the calves, especially when her brother and sisters aren’t available. She attends school at St. John’s Luthern School in Norwood-Young America.

Derek is a senior at Mayer Lutheran and has a part-time job at two other dairy farms. His plans are to go on to school for agriculture. On his parents’ farm, Derek feeds calves, names each of the calves and registers them, makes a lot of the breeding decisions, and has been responsible for the calving since he was about 15.

“Delivering the calves is my favorite thing,” Derek said.

Derek knows all of the animals by name and quotes statistics like, “Merna produced 40,000 pounds of milk this past year, and Lightfoot produces 120 pounds of milk a day.”

The Dreier farm dates back four generations and the original deed was signed by Abraham Lincoln.

It’s impressive that a family can own land and keep it operational for four generations, and with Derek going on to study agriculture, possibly five.

Both Larry and Derek are doing their part to protect their farm’s future and other agricultural land in the area as members of the Carver County Ag Leadership Team.

“The team is working to try and protect agriculture so that it has a future, and protect the land for future agricultural use,” Derek said.

That sounds like the voice of a future farmer of America, and perhaps the fifth generation of Dreier to farm the land.

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