Scheevel Family Farms, a dairy operation run by Dave Scheevel and his wife Kathy, is located atop a windy ridge with a beautiful birds-eye view of the rolling landscape near Preston, Minn. Dave and Kathy, along with the help of one full-time employee and up to three part-time employees, oversee the farm operations.
They milk about 100 cows, most of which are Holsteins, in a milking parlor and house them in a free-stall barn. To conserve farm space and labor, the Scheevel’s heifers are custom raised at a neighboring location until they’re 6-9 months old. “It’s just easier to get them custom raised,” said Kathy. They also rely on farm management technology, including heat detection technology and a computerized herd management system.
A few of the Scheevel’s dairy cows assembled in the parlor for milking.
Photo credits: Lydia Westedt
Dave grew up on a multi-family dairy and crop farm that originally belonged to the Preston Cooperative Creamery Association which merged with Wisconsin Dairies Cooperative and then became Foremost Farms in 1995. “We were put to work when we were young as farm kids, and we learned the value of hard work,” said Dave. He considered becoming a teacher but soon changed his mind.
Dave earned a degree in Ag Economics from University of Wisconsin-River Falls and returned home in the mid-80s after college for a partnership in the family farm with his uncle and brother. In 1993, Dave and his brother started farming separately, splitting the herd and leading Dave to begin leasing the farm where he currently runs his dairy operation.
Dave and Kathy have two adult children who both pursued off-farm careers; but two of Dave’s grandchildren enjoy making hay and milking the cows. Dave advises those who plan to hand their farm down to future generations to start preparing early for the transition. “If you want to have the opportunity to bring in the next generation, do some planning and get some outside advice.”
Dave does all he can to ensure soil preservation for future generations. He serves as a member of the Midwest Forage Association and strives for minimal tillage on the farm by using no-till and cover crops. “We use contour farming because of the hills,” Dave said. “We grow corn and soybeans and then winter rye right after that.” The crops supply the dairy herd with corn silage and hay.
“I really enjoy the dairy farming business, and my favorite part is seeing a newborn calf,” said Dave. “But one of my true passions is the business and policy of the dairy industry.” Dave serves on the National Milk Producers Federation (NMFP) Board of Directors as its Treasurer. One of the most significant projects he worked on for NMPF was the Dairy Margin Coverage Program, part of the 2014 Farm Bill, which benefits farmers by providing a cushion when margins are negative. “It helps keep producers in business,” Dave said.
Dave also belongs to the Southeast Minnesota Ag Alliance, an advocacy group for the industry; and he is the former Foremost Farms Chairman of the Board of Directors, where he served for more than 14 years. “I first got on the Foremost Farms board because I was interested in the business aspect, and I wanted to learn more about and have a say in what happened to the milk after it left [my farm],” Dave said. He said he appreciates the honest and forthrightness of Foremost Farms.
“We’ve always believed in the direction that the business seems to be going in,”
When he isn’t farming, you might find Dave and a few of the Scheevel family members in the sky pursuing a shared passion – they carry on the tradition of farm aviation as a hobby. Dave’s father, two of Dave’s brothers and Dave’s son are all pilots. However, even Dave’s hobby has a connection to farming. “When I was growing-up we had an airplane on the farm,” Dave said, which his father would take-off and land in the farm fields.