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Fred and Jeanie Schields
Products Raised or Grown: Corn, sunflowers, wheat and wheat seed
Size of Operation: 15,000 acres
Years in Business: 35
Farm Credit Partner: Farm Credit of Western Kansas
Years Working with Farm Credit: 10
Three generations ago, Fred Schields’ great-grandfather came to Western Kansas from Switzerland to homestead. Fred himself started farming when he finished college, buying his first piece of property in 1972 and expanding ever since until he and his wife, Jeanie, reached 5,000 acres of corn, wheat and sunflowers. “We figured that was a good size because it worked well with the employees and the equipment we had,” he says.
However, in 1992 an unexpected encounter led them to quickly and dramatically expand their farm operation even further. “We ran into a party that wanted to buy land but not farm it themselves, so we joined our ventures,” says Fred. “We got to 10,000 acres pretty quickly.”
In the process, they created an innovative business approach that shares risks and rewards between the landlord and the farmer. “It’s a cash lease that’s flexible based on yields and prices,” Fred says. In this approach, owners are guaranteed a base return that they’ll receive, even in bad years. In good years, though, when yields and prices are high, both parties reap the benefits. “They’ve probably gotten 40% higher returns based on this flex-lease approach than they typically would have,” Fred says. After receiving approval for the arrangement from the state Farm Service Agency, a required step, this novel approach has since been taught in seminars for other farmers.
To ensure that each year’s return is as good as Mother Nature will allow, the Schields embrace technology to increase efficiency and yields, including grid sampling, GPS-guided planting, and variable rate seeding and fertilizing. The Schields also create test plots to identify seed varieties that will perform well in their area, and have launched a certified seed wheat business, financed along with their farm expansion by Farm Credit of Western Kansas. In addition, they store much of their grain in their own on-farm elevators and market it themselves, following the commodity markets and selling when they can get the best price.
Despite their significant success in growing their operation, a few years ago Fred and Jeanie had decided to slow down their expansion program. “We started thinking that we were getting older, and our four daughters were all working off-farm jobs,” says Jeanie. “We weren’t as enthusiastic about growing the farm as when we started.” When their daughter, Tiffany, and her husband, Scott, decided to return to the farm, their enthusiasm renewed and they significantly increased their acreage in 2011 through another flex-lease arrangement. The family has also since added their first grandchild. “Having Hudson in the family just revived our spirit,” says Jeanie.