Family farms are the foundation of the agriculture industry and local communities around the world.

The vast majority of farms in Nebraska are family owned and operated. Often, the same family has been farming and caring for the same land for decades—in some cases for more than 100 years.

One of those family farmers is Ted Schrock, the District 6 director of the Nebraska Corn Board. His family has been farming the same area of Phelps County near Holdredge for four generations. It’s soon to be a fifth, as Schrock’s son, Jacob, plans to join the operation after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The family has approximately 450 mother cows that raise babies every year in addition to growing corn, soybeans, alfalfa and some wheat.

Schrock talked to Nebraska Corn about his family’s farming operation, how everyone works together and what he sees for the future.

My great-grandfather, Sam, moved to the area and bought his first crop land, it was actually pasture at the time, in 1908 for $17 an acre. I still farm it today. I’m the fourth generation.

There’s six of us: my dad (Ed) and my two uncles (Sam and Robin), and my brother (Tom) and I, and a cousin (Trent). And, we have six employees now. I’m excited, my son’s coming home from college to join the crew, and he’ll be the fifth generation.

We got all commercial field corn and soybeans. We used to grow some specialty white corn. We also grow some alfalfa for our own cow-calf herd.

A lot of our corn goes to make ethanol right here in Nebraska. We’ve kind of got the trifecta: we’ve got corn, ethanol plants and cattle feeders that use the ethanol byproducts. So, that’s usually what happens when we sell our corn to the grain elevator.

Harvest is fun—you see the crop actually come in, and we’re all kind of focused on a single purpose at that point [and] doing one thing. That’s just kind of when you see the fruits of your labor … It all seems worth it at that point.

Planting takes about a month and a half, and harvest is about a month and a half also.

We do sort of specialize in some things. I spend more time with the irrigation pivots, especially ones with the engines. I couldn’t set up my brother’s 24-row planter if I had to—I could run it, if he sets it up. But at the same token, he’s not good with the pivots.

So, we’ve all specialized in things we’re better at over time. My uncle brings us out the seed and chases the four planters with his seed tenders. We’ve all got something we’ve figured out anyway.

It’s different every day. That’s what’s exciting! We had a little rain shower last night, but of course, it’s Nebraska, [where] you’ve got that steady 30 mph wind, so, the stalks [and field debris left over from last year’s’ harvest] dried out, and we were planting pretty much by 10-11 a.m.

Usually, [we start] between 7-8 a.m. We’ve still got our cow herd out grazing on cornstalks. So, we check on those at daylight and then everybody else starts planting when they can.

If you’re [driving] a planter, and you want to finish [planting the area served by a] pivot, you will go until 8-10 p.m. But, if you get moved, and you don’t really want to edge out [start planting] a new field because the forecast looks like it’ll rain on you, then you kind of hang it up at a decent time.

Every day is different. That’s, that’s the only constant in farming—every day is different.

We start planting in mid-April, and it’s pretty crazy for me until probably the end of June. Most of our fertilizer is applied through the irrigation pivots, so that’s a lot of babysitting the pivot. It’s time consuming. There’s all these checks and safety measures associated with that.

Probably the busiest time for me is May and June because I’m getting all the irrigation equipment working and fertilizer doing the right thing. But really, it’s pretty nonstop until we’re done with harvest. By the first week in November, we’re usually done with harvest.

There’s always something to do and we start calving in mid-March, so we hope the weather cooperates. Then, we’ve got a machine shed, which allows us to work on equipment most of the winter when we’re not taking care of cattle. But it’s definitely toned down until the planters roll [for spring planting].

There’s always trucking our grain too. [In addition to going to the local grain elevator, it goes to] local feed yards and local ethanol plants. We can only store half our crops, so it’s about half [stored on our property] and half [taken to customers right away].

Usually [the wheat] goes to a co-op around Edison, Nebraska. My 80-year-old dad still does the marketing for the most part. He does a good job of it. He talks to other brokers and finds out where the price is right, and that’s where we go.

Our soybeans go to the local grain elevator in Elm Creek. We will store some of them and haul them to Ag Processing Inc. in the winter. They process them into oil right there in Hastings, Nebraska.

We don’t feed them ourselves—they are at a neighboring feed yard. There’s a friend of mine that runs a feed yard north of Holdredge, and when they weigh 500-600 pounds and we’re done backgrounding them [weaning, vaccinating and giving them time to adjust], we take them there.

I think he was driving a loader tractor picking up alfalfa bales when he was in his teens. I’d put him in a field all by himself where he couldn’t run into anybody. He’s been grain cart help during harvest since he was 16 or 17. I’d take him with for a stuck irrigation pivot and things like that.

I don’t know. He always knew it was here if he wanted it, but there was no pressure if he wanted a different career. But he went to college and took agriculture classes and that seems to be his path.

I’m assuming he’ll go out west and help with the cattle some this summer, but it’s kind of up to him. He’s in that stage where he’ll have to find his niche and we’ll go from there.

It’s just an honor to promote my industry. Whether I’m good at it or not, that remains to be seen (laughs). But I enjoy it and it’s interesting to me to see where our grain goes around the world. Our livestock producers are a big part of Nebraska, where a lot of our grain leaves the state as red meat—and that’s interesting to me also.

Everybody needs to get involved in commodity boards. They do a lot of things that you don’t know or realize or see. There’s a lot that I had no idea that happens behind the scenes to promote our industry that I wasn’t aware of. It’s great to have a younger perspective and there’s a lot of younger guys on the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and the Nebraska Corn Board. Being 54, I feel like one of the older guys now, but I guess that’s a good thing!

I don’t really want to expand much, if any, but just to be able to maintain what we’re doing now. What we do now works, and I hope it continues to work!

Well, there’s really no corporate farms in Nebraska to speak of. People will talk about corporate agriculture, but as far as the actual cow calf, farmer and growing the grain, they’re almost all family operations in Nebraska. Any corporate farming is just some finishing operations—not the boots-on-the-ground, cow-calf guys and farmers like me.

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