SLEEPY EYE - Being recognized as one of the Minnesota Farm Families of the Year 2014 came as a total surprise for the two brothers Michael (Mike) and Dan Steffl, as well as Dan's wife Lisa of Sleepy Eye. But during the 141 years of existence of their family farm, every family member in charge has always been very passionate about their work. That is also the reason why the Steffl's farming is still successful today.
"The University of Minnesota has a nominating process for the Farm Families of the Year. After that was done, they called and told us that we were the winners for Brown County. We had no idea and it was very surprising but of course it is an honor," Dan Steffl summarized the event. The Farm Family Recognition Program has existed for over two decades and honors farm families from throughout Minnesota's counties for their contributions to the agriculture industry and their local communities.
The Steffl farm, which both brothers would consider fairly average in size, has been in the family since 1873. It was homesteaded by John A. Steffl, their grandfather.
Staff photo by Elena Kretschmer
This is the Brown County Farm Family of the Year 2014: Mike Steffl, his nieces Grace and Sarah (the two oldest were not present due to their return to school/college), as well as Lisa and Dan Steffl.
"The government had parceled out land for farmers. Grandpa then worked on it for a few years and finally acquired the property for a small fee, if I remember right," Dan explained. The original transfer deed, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, still exists.
From John A. Steffl, the farm was passed to John L. Steffl, Mike and Dan's father, and Jerome, their uncle in 1953 and 1954. The two of them farmed the land until their retirement in 1996. That year, Dan and Mike took over, although they had been working on the farm since the mid '80s already.
They have always been very passionate about farming and the family heritage, especially after their dad passed in September 2012.
"I always knew that I would be a farmer just like my dad. As a little kid, I'd always ask my mom before having to leave for school 'can I just stay home and help dad?' He taught us a lot and was a great role model," said Mike. Dan added: "The best thing was that he let us make mistakes, so we could learn from them. He also gave us an opportunity to start when he committed us the farm."
When Mike looks back, he remembers lots and lots of dairy farms all over the county when he was young. "In a stretch of one mile, there were three or four. But times have changed, now we only have that amount in one county," he says. Dan agrees: "A lot has changed. Back then, our dad was raising more crops, it was more diverse. Since then, our farm grew a lot and now it is more specialized."
Today, the brothers raise corn and soybeans as well as sweet corn and peas. They work with a local cannery, grow corn for ethanol plants and seed beans for a leading supplier. They have separate operations not even a mile apart from each other, and work together sharing some equipment and labor to each run a portion of the family farm.
"It is definitely an advantage to share the cost of our machinery. Dad and grandpa wouldn't believe how the size has changed and how expensive they are. Together, we own four tractors, a combine, planters and field cultivators", Dan said. On the farm, Dan does the agronomy part, Mike does the tillage.
The younger brother, Dan, also custom feeds pigs but will be transitioning out of it shortly. He also holds cattle on his part, the homeplace, of the family farm.
"I did that for the kids, so they could learn how to handle livestock and to take responsibility," he explained. Dan also works as a Seed Sales Representative for Pioneer. Along with farming, Mike, the older brother, has worked for 3M in New Ulm for the past 24 years as a production operator.
"It would be possible to live on the farming but we like what we do apart from that", Mike said. "We have been very fortunate since we've never had any major struggles or challenges. Of course, there were periods of droughts that affected our crops. But we have some pretty heavy soil", added Dan.
This year they predict to be a good year. "It was wet at first, which was kind of a challenge. Now it's almost too dry, but all together, it's going to be good," Dan assumed.
Dan's wife Lisa, as well as their four children Katie, Sarah, Andrew and Grace help on the farm with miscellaneous tasks. "Our son Andrew is going to school for agriculture and it looks like he might be taking over the farm, but we don't know yet. We don't want to put pressure on him. It is his decision in the end."
All together, the farm has been a great place for them to grow up. "We used to sit in the pea fields until we got sick from eating them. And it is a great place to raise kids as well. The wide open spaces, the nature, the learning," Dan said.
"I enjoy living here. It is a lot of work but it keeps you busy," added his wife Lisa. The brothers are proud of what they were given and what they made of it and will continue their passion in the interest of their father and grandfather until they can no more.