Prairie Farms plants seeds of success
Albin— Prairie Farms was established in 1887 when Leonard Anderson’s grandfather unloaded his family off an immigrant train in Pine Bluffs and traveled 19 miles to his previously staked claim. Leonard’s grandson, Ty, is the fifth generation to live and work on the farm.
“There wasn’t any water and they dug a hole in the ground to live in,” explains Leonard of his grandfather. “My dad can remember all the dead livestock laying around from the winter of 1887, and the cattle barons that went bankrupt from that winter.
“If they found water in a pond they would bring it home and boil it for personal use. They had livestock and carried water for a couple horses and a milk cow. They would walk five miles to the creek and carry water back. Then my granddad dug a 90-foot well by hand and found water. It was really tough,” he notes.
Leonard explains that to market crops his family would load them in a lumber wagon and haul them to Pine Bluffs, where there was a railroad.
“They experienced things like pulling horses into the elevator and having some fall through. There was excitement back then, too,” comments Leonard.
Today Prairie Farms specializes in seed production, followed by specialty crops.
“We are certified seed growers and sell our seed to neighbors and other planters. About one-third of our crop is harvested for seed and the remainder goes to the elevator and is sold on a farm market,” explains Leonard’s son, Tim.
“Selling seed basically started when people would drive by our farm and say, ‘That’s a nice looking field of wheat, would you sell me some seed?’” explains Leonard.
“It usually wasn’t certified, or even inspected when we started. Then pretty soon someone commented that we should get our seed certified. We started with registered and built from there. We had a little cleaner that was just a tub thing and we would put seed in and it would remove most of the undesirable matter. Then we bought a cleaner and parked it outside. We would put grain through it and cover it when it rained. Now we have one that’s indoors,” adds Leonard of their progression to today’s operation.
“We put this seed cleaner up in 1996 so this will be our 15th year at this scale,” says Tim.
Ty adds there is a certification process and part of it is planting either foundation or registered seed.
“Foundation seed comes from private breeders such as universities or public breeders. When the foundation seed you plant is harvested that seed is called registered seed. The next generation, harvested from the registered seed, is called certified seed. Following one year of planting certified seed the crop is no longer marketable as seed,” explains Ty.
“You have to keep working a rotation and plant registered seed continually so you can market certified seed,” adds Tim.
The Andersons put a lot of time into researching what their customers will want to plant three years out when they’re selecting what varieties of wheat to produce.
“If you want a specific variety in three years I have to plant it today. If, in three years you no longer want that variety, I basically throw it away. You have to be forward-minded and out-guess everyone by three years all the time,” says Tim.
“There have been several times we have sold seed varieties in town as plain old wheat. You might have two good years and the third year the demand is gone. We do a lot of research, mostly on variety trials done by universities and finding seed varieties that will work in our area. Then we plant it. If it doesn’t work for us it won’t work for the next guy,” explains Tim.
Ty explains that right now the Andersons are producing a Clearfield wheat variety produced by Agripro, known as AP503CL2.
“There’s only one two-gene variety of Clearfield wheat and AP503CL2 is it,” explains Tim.
“It’s a herbicide-resistant wheat producers can spray to kill cheatgrass, rye and goatgrass,” adds Ty.
“Before, with one-gene resistant wheat, you had to be careful when you sprayed it. Cold weather before or after spraying would cause problems. If you overlapped it wouldn’t kill it, but it would turn brown. You couldn’t put crop oil additives on it because it would burn the crop; you had to use a spray adjuvant instead. Now, with two-gene Clearfield wheat you can do all those things and you don’t have to worry about anything. If your pocketbook could afford it you could spray at twice the rate and it wouldn’t hurt it, although that isn’t recommended,” explains Tim.
An additional aspect of producing seed is the increased attention to cleaning of both equipment and the crop.
“Part of what you have to do for foundation, registered and certified seed is clean anything that seed comes into contact with before moving on to a different variety,” says Ty.
“You have to clean every combine, truck, bin, elevator leg and everything else between each variety. If a variety is contaminated, it becomes useless as seed,” adds Leonard.
“The first thing that happens with a crop is a state inspector walks the field and ensures that everything is clean. After it’s harvested, seed is sent to a state lab for germination and purity testing. This process informs us how many seeds per hundred will grow and if there are any weeds we need to take care of,” explains Tim.
In addition to oat, hay millet and Proso millet seed, Prairie Farms also raises irrigated dry pinto beans and alfalfa.
“Irrigated will produce triple or quadruple what dryland will. We irrigate beans, alfalfa and any certified seed varieties we really want to push,” explains Tim.
“Pinto beans are a big market up here because we have a lot of hot days and cool nights. That keeps the beans the perfect color and they will maintain that color longer,” explains Ty.
“You get a higher quality bean in southeast Wyoming, western Nebraska and parts of northern Colorado than anywhere else in the United States. Beans from this area are kept separate and considered a premium product,” adds Leonard.
“The haying aspect is fairly new, as is the straw,” comments Ty. “I baled and sold straw last year for the first time and was able to market it by myself. I’ve been working to establish hay and straw markets in addition to maintaining our seed production.”
As Prairie Farms continues the tradition of family production, new crops and practices are being added to time tested traditions that work. Leonard, Tim and Ty all work the land together to ensure the continued success of the generational operation.