On this regional public affairs program, MPR’s Rich Dietman presents a sound portrait of "the farm." Includes various interviews with a Minnesota farm family outside of Cannon Falls.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
We begin in the barn. It's about 5 in the evening outside. The last of the day's light is fading from a clear sky and it's already very cold around five below and getting colder by the minute. Now the sun is down but inside the barn even though it's not heated to temperature is around 60° the heat comes from Rogers. Philman's 38 Holstein cows cows. He's now beginning to milk it twice daily ritual when he performs 7 days a week 365 days a year a small electric motor on a shelf in the middle of the barn drives an air compressor which creates a vacuum and pipes with run down each side of the bar in front of the Stalls at regular intervals on the pipes. There are valves to which a rubber hose is attached the other end of that hose is hooked to a stainless steel milking machine, which makes the regular sucking sound as it draws milk from the cows udders milk is Spilman's livelihood each year, his cows produce about three hundred thousand pounds of Grade B. Milk gravy milk is used.Make butter cheese and powdered milk products while grade-a is reserved for drinking the standards of production for Grade B are somewhat less stringent the creamery to which Spillman sells his milk does keep a close watch on the cleanliness of his operation the barn in which the cows now stand side-by-side their heads and metal collar Affairs called stanchions has a low ceiling above it is the hay mouth filled with bales of this year's Alfalfa. The Barnes brick walls were laid in place almost 50 years ago by Spilman's father. He started the farm on some 240 acres of Rolling Land a few miles west of Cannon Falls and just south of the cannon River The Farmhouse and assorted other buildings to the top of plateau overlooking the river valley. You can see Northfield 8 or more miles to the west from the kitchen window when Rodger Spillman father retired. He passed the farm on to Rodger and Rodger then joined with his older brother Fillmore in a Cooperative of sorts, which is lasted almost 30 years.scholar big equipment then we bought a farm down the road your ways and she lives down there and I live up here. Do you share the profits from those two Farms then or does she have his that's his farm in this is yours. You do. He's also got a dairy operation. Freeport, some years. I can beat him some years. He beats me. How does that work? I'm curious to know you do your share the put all the funds in the one part and then you just split it. Rodger and his brother share the cost of all major equipment purchases, which substantially Cuts their operating cost is cooperation also reduces the debt they would otherwise incur if they Farm separately the two brothers have discussed going their own ways. But for the time being have decided to stay in the dairy business together, they also talked about selling their herds and raising crops for cash because in many ways keeping and raising livestock is the most demanding type of farming Summertime the college. Can you get out? You have a sick call. Call Claire. Maybe the water got a seat at the gods feed and water and maybe there was Thailand motor don't work. That's all machine and it's all final offer it to some sometimes that stuff's got to be repaired the fixed so that in some senses. You're not only caring for the animals, but you're also you got to be a repair person and and all that too. When milk first comes from the cow, it's so warm. It steams when poured into a portable pumping machine from the individual milk or Spillman uses in the barn after receiving the milk the transfer pump as it's called propels the milk through a plastic tube on the barn ceiling to the milk house adjacent to the barn. There are the milk flows into a large holding tank. It's picked up every other day by a bulk truck from the creamery milk has cool down about 38-40 degrees. So when we started off and we'll switch it on and it's got a thermostat on so it'll keep that in with that. What is the Summer where that is green? And the creamery sets the standards for for your milk and checks it today so you don't have to worry about that, but you don't have to test for Italy. No call to take a sample every time he picks up the milk using every time you take a sample for something other than me running through the land of lakes. They check it out down there. Do they see your? You got a high bacteria count or got some problem way. I'll let you know. They got a few menu come right out and and see if you got a problem or not. See what's the trouble they work right along with you. Where could those problems come from Princeton to high bacteria, You mentioned sedimentation plan transfer. You don't keep that clean. Where is the buck tag wouldn't happen. If you forget to turn the lock tank on the summertime that'll Rogers wife. Rose is a short bubbly woman. She keeps the milk house and all milking equipment cleaned Creamery specifications. She also manages the family's Hen House in recent years this film an egg operation as many others in the area has been reduced to a fraction of its former size. To go for them. Is that right that I don't have that many. I thought we should have got rid of my gift really just for the winter. You just raising for yourself does age have anything to do with too many vacations? How many do you have now? Oh, I maybe got 50. I'm pretty confident, but I think it would be about that money. I used F350 a case big Case 39. When is the holiday just passed so there is no place for us to stay Lake sometime anymore? I suppose it's got more to do with just a big operation. The Stillman Farm has two silos. Each is filled with corn that has been chopped stocking all into bits and pieces none larger than a man's thumb every morning and evenings filming starts an electric motor which drives an auger and blower system in the top of the Silo and Machinery transfers the feed down a chute mounted vertically on the outside of The Silo at the foot of the shoot Spillman collects the silage in a large hand cart when it's filled. He moves it into the barn and feeds the material to his stock abroad Pitchfork full for each animal in addition to cyllage Rogers filming also feeds ground corn and other grains as well as hay for the most part they are. Cropsey produces himself after chores were done. We talked about the cost of producing feed. 40 $50 a bag that's capable flat in the butt. 4 Acres 324 Acres and then you have your fertilizer. and then you have If you're going to plant corn on corn, then you should use some. Some good worm killer when you say corn on corn. What do you mean? Well that's corn. Corn planted on the same piece year after year after year. We try to stay away from you as much as we can, but there are times when we have to go back corn on corn on corn too so we get enough corn. that's a pretty important crop for you is because we use it for silage and also for the corn for feed to so it is corn is a Is a major crap as far as we're concerned? So you mentioned that one sack of seed corn will plan 324 acres and it's raining and used to divorce husband argues about any thousand kernels per bag with the $50,000. Now, they'll go by the number of kernels in the bag at about $1,500 last spring on seed for this year's corn crop. But because he purchases additional fees to supplement what he grows it cost a lot more than that $1,500 to keep his herd going. Runner on $4,000 little over 4,000 fertilizers another big item that run put her over 3/4 here. Repairs maintenance and supplies. I don't run around. Orwell / 15 1600 That isn't buying any new Machinery. That's just repairing the old machinery. You do a lot of that repair work yourself all weekend. We've got our own welders and We do the most with less. It's a major overall job more than then we'll take it to a dealer and have them fix it. But otherwise the ordinary run-of-the-mill stuff way. We do ourselves. We do our own welding and are fuel oil and gas is a pretty big item. I usually over. It was $1,600 but was this year? It'll be 2004 fuel bills that's gasoline oil and diesel fuel. Let's go over that again $4,000 for feed another 3004 fertilizer to ensure an adequate crop about $1,600 for repairs and maintenance of equipment which range from tractors to pump sagres and generators and 2 that add $1,500 more for seed corn in about $2,000 for fuel to keep the tractors and other equipment running that brings us to a total of $12,000 and a Spillman says that does not include the purchase of any new equipment nor does it include expenses. We all encourage consumers expenses like groceries health insurance and electric and telephone service. Of course Billman is taking in money to most coming from the sale of milk. He receives payment based on butterfat content of that milk the higher the content the more money per hundredweight his most recent Creamery check showed spielman's milk. Have a butterfat content of 3.5% for which she receives $8.80 per hundred pounds last year his Dairy herd produced over 300,000 pounds of milk. That means assuming the butterfat content was the same as for this last check. He would have taken in somewhere in the neighborhood of $28,000 adjusting for a few thousand extra dollars in both expenses and income the ladder coming from things like a sale of extra Cavs and the modest amount of soybeans Rodger and his brother raised his total income probably centered around $15,000 comfortable. Yes, certainly not extravagant. Another major factor in Farmiga nomics is the price of land Spielman says the cost of acreage in his area like most Minnesota Farmland has skyrocketed in the last few years is going to sell for $200,000. hilly and roll N2 there is one set of buildings on there, but the buildings is stupid. So this land better I tell you it's so. Its sky high. How can it be controlled? I don't know how you really could control it. Tell the truth. Big investors coming out and buying it. That's that's it's a bad example for one thing. You can take Kaiser well airplane pilots for 1. They can pay an enormous price for a piece of land where the average farmer weigh. No way. Could it come out on it? An investor. It's got a lot of money way. He could come out on cuz of the way the economy is going to price land seems to be going up and up and up and up all the time with the average person. There's no way that you can make it pay for itself. Is some of that going on around you here now. Definitely definitely people from from the Twin Cities area for instance. Yours are going to buy it for little or nothing and no. No, you have to pay open 2014 off as anybody ever approached you a developer ever approached you and and it was was that kind of a deal not yet, but I haven't you don't make any remarks or somebody be knocking on your door to see if he could be one of the seller know. That's right. You better definitely have your mind made up if you intend to sell or not because it don't seem to take very long before somebody got a buyer on so you better make sure you know what you want to do before you start anyting. Even with Farms that don't necessarily border on Lakeshore. It can be a hillside farm or anything nowadays because of developer come in and make it put a development on there and and put houses in there and turn around and sell it so it don't have to be It don't have to be Lakeshore property or something like that or sit Lakeshore property and things like that and bring more money no doubt, but even this other land just angry Jewel. Will bring an enormous price. It makes it tough for somebody to get started going to get going to satisfaction with things like rapidly rising land cost is led many farmers to organize protests and even plan a strike Rodger Spillman is a quiet conservative independent sort of man and will not be driving his tractor to the state capitol despite that he's sympathetic with those who will it isn't quite it isn't quite right because they should be paid for they should have a profit to like everybody else. I mean, you can't run a business at a loss because after while you are going to be in business and priming is going to be the same thing. You can show little profiter. What happened Well, you aren't going to be in the business anymore so I can be sympathetic with him to some degree. Weather straightens you answer not I don't want that. I don't know. What other kinds of things could be done to get people's attention to the problems that are facing farmers do you think? Or do you think those problems are serious enough to get people's attention? Well, maybe that's the way they will get attention if they try something like that seems to seems like it takes something like that. It seems like these other businesses. Your coal miners are on strike still was on strike. It seems like Everybody's got to go on a strike to be noticed or that's the answer. I don't know. At 33 Roland Spillman is the eldest of the five Spielman children, he and his wife and their two daughters live on the outskirts of nearby Cannon Falls just a mile or so down the highway from this bill on Farm rolling commute daily to and from Saint Paul where he works in the adhesive tape Department of a large manufacturing firm. Despite. His City job is Hart still seems to be in the country. You often comes out to the farm to help his father with chores and he helps with planting and cultivating and harvesting as well because of his clothes attachment to the farm. He has some strong feelings about the small family farm in America s wall Farm. Family Farm I think is kind of going downhill as far as ways out of that. I don't. Know what can be done because the economy is growing and everything seems to be getting bigger. All the time machine is getting bigger. The cost of Machinery is getting bigger and I'm leaving place like when I work in the city's that's growing getting bigger. They're always expanding everything is expanding. Play the farm will have to expand in order to make a living right along with the rest. Tell me a lot of these. You get a lot of companies that are getting into the farm business on the other end tool that are like raising their beef and selling of Corporations and stuff that her orapharma can't do that. He can't raise his own beef and turn around butchered sell it right out. It's got to be inspected. things like that But what actually can be done about it. That I don't know. if it go back to the Are you always going to have your corporations in your corporation farms in that? I think that's what's going to eventually come to with. Just getting to be more and more of it all the time. I think eventually and probably take a long time because it's a lot of smaller Farmers it. Harwell setting Heather land and that are set up are all right, but for a young person to go out and start right on your own with nothing. I think you got a pretty Real hard uphill battle are because you don't take so much investment to land is getting expensive and Machinery sure is expensive. Then if you would happen to have a bad year to right off the bat. You're fighting an uphill battle. But for some reason it's well situated. Can get by without it was one year with a bad cough or something. I know it's hard, but you can still get along with somebody in a while you're making payments and then you have to have that income to Get that to make the payments. Are those some of the things that you would consider before you go into farming? Yeah, I'd have to give enough a lot of serious. Just where I'm at my job and my the seniority I got where I am. in retirement and all that and just how the economics work going into a farm with have I gone with the address of eventually if he retires or whatever will my brother's doing I have to give a lot of serious. Really what the financial end of it to Nick and I'm at the end of it. Just see how it would work out. What would it be like to for you to try and do both? Run the operation as it is right now and keep your job as well your other job as for City operation right now would be impossible with dairy cattle cuz I think Derek is a full-time job. dad puts in at least 10 hours a day. in the wintertime on the cattle and in the summertime hits Well, it'll spoil 6 hours you might as well say it. Sometimes it don't take $6 what time you figure in the feeding and all that. I mean, that's a full-time job. You can't be some people that have tried it may run into a lot of trouble. Could you start cutting Corners here and cut the corners and then you run into disease and things where I should live do this today, but I'll let it go for another day and it just doesn't really pan out. The first cash crop in that maybe a guy could do just want to cash dropping it. And maybe even a few beef. Personalized to go into something like that. The neighbor over here. His son is fireman and he's got a few because he finds with his dad between the two of my day. Seem to get along pretty good at it. What are the dairy cattle according to Rolling believed to be successful in farming today a person must keep close track of finances. You says Farmers have to keep up with the latest developments in agriculture and use common sense when making major Investments. If you need a new piece of Machinery that you have to have one, you can buy that one if there's another one you like that you don't really need all that can get along without. The time comes when you can afford it. I need a farmer a stew. Really be careful. Ciolino's first things come first then. have a good overall look of the situation and keep records to Whidbey. God has a lot to do so, you know, you know where you're at at all times. It's not clear yet whether rolling Spillman will take over the family farm when his father retires, but despite the problems facing the small farm in America. It's clear the way of life appeals to him. Are you still have to do things when you can't just say what I'm not going to do this today, but I don't feel like doing that. You still have to in order to keep hear your business going into business and you have to put your time in but You very from things you do from day-to-day and if your time off of changes sometimes from day-to-day and you more less on your own you can pick what you want to do for up like where I work in the cities you've got this to do when I have to do and not to do when your scheduled way ahead of time you going to do so much and you going to run this today run that the next day and at the next farm farm and you to do one thing one day and maybe something else next day and maybe the next day you fix a broken pipe or something you didn't plan on butt. Ending to me the biggest advantage and I come out here a lot. You do something. And you can see that you're really accomplished. Me a lot of self-satisfaction what you're doing rather than making tape you make so much tape and why you get so much hate me today tomorrow you guys just got that much more tips to make no matter what day of the week it is here you get satisfaction of us getting up field plowed or piece of corn picture. Hey put up before it rains. Tell me there's some satisfaction in the difference in. I guess for me. It's kind of a relief to get away from different. I enjoyed it. If you think you don't enjoy with that goes longest flight. This program about a Minnesota dairy farm was produced under the technical direction of David Carlton felland special. Thanks to Rodger Rose and rolling Spillman for their cooperation and Hospitality. Thanks to Jones building who made the arrangements and to Marge Wagner who selected the music which was performed by Bob Hadley. I'm rich dietman.