South Dakota Farmers Union celebrates Schaunaman Family | TSLN.com

South Dakota Farmers Union celebrates Schaunaman Family

Lura Roti
for S.D. Farmers Union

Raising crops and a commercial cow/calf herd, the Schaunamans have slowly expanded their acres and herd size to support their growing families and support two employees, one of whom is their nephew Chad, 42. Photos by Kaylee Speck

Brothers Craig, 55, and Kirk, 54, Schaunaman have farmed together since they were kids. In 1993, the brothers took over their family's farm when their dad, Don, retired.

Although their daily routine was interrupted in 2009 when Craig was appointed by President Obama to serve as the State Executive Director for Farm Service Agency, the crop and livestock farm near Aberdeen continues to run smoothly with Craig working off the farm five days a week.

"We've all been here working together long enough that we know what needs to be done," Kirk says.

"And we are fortunate that our nephew, Chad, has been working on the farm since he was a young teen and our other employee has worked here since he was 14 – we all clearly understand how our operation works and what needs to be done," says Craig, adding that no matter where he is in the state, he's in daily phone and text communication with the farm.

He jokes, "Some days they probably wish my phone would die."

Looking back on their years farming together, the brothers say even though they have expanded both their crop and livestock operations, not a whole lot has changed since they took over, other than the standard improvements in input and equipment technologies which have improved yields and their conversion to no-till farming in the mid-1990s.

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They both attribute the ability to expand their farm to the labor-saving technology – not to mention its environmental benefits. "No-till has improved our soil health, as well as greatly reduced soil erosion," Craig says. "I vividly remember in 1988, which was a very dry year, seeing our black top soil just blow. There's nothing worse for a crop farmer to see than black dirt blow."

Conservative is the term the brothers use to describe the farm's expansion over the years. Today the farm helps support the brothers' families: Craig, his wife, Carolyn, and their two children; Kirk, his wife, Kim, and their three daughters; as well as their nephew, Chad, his wife, Mysty, and their two children; and another employee, Levi Anderson, and his children.

"We have grown slow and steady," Kirk explains. "Don't get me wrong, we're in a business that just happens to be a family business. Like every business, every decision we make is based on whether or not our operation will remain sustainable."

Since the beginning, everyone works together in all aspects of the farm, with Craig taking the lead on the grain and marketing side of the operation and Kirk taking the lead on the cow/calf herd.

"When it comes to the farm work, we all do everything. But Kirk and I do split up some decision making," Craig says. "Once a guy asked me which bull a certain calf was out of and I said, 'Check Mark,' because Kirk sent me to the bull sale with a catalog full of check marks and told me I could only bid on the bulls he marked."

Being good neighbors

Listening to the brothers visit about growing up together on their family's farm near Aberdeen, it becomes evident that along with caring for land and livestock, the Schaunaman family places a lot of stock in family, 4-H and giving back to the greater community of agriculture.

"We were raised to be community-minded," Craig says. "I always felt I was raised to be a part of our community."

Their parents served on cooperative and community boards and the entire family was active in Farmers Union and 4-H.

Now that Don and Hazel are in their late 80s, they have passed the torch to the next generation and their sons eagerly continue the family tradition of service.

With their own children, they are actively involved in 4-H. They attribute the youth organization with enhancing their own and their children's work ethic, sense of responsibility and community involvement.

"Whether it's responsibility for your own projects or the responsibility 4-H gives youth to set a good example for others and giving back to the community, the organization has made us accountable for all these good things," Kirk says.

Along with 4-H, the brothers have been actively involved in promoting South Dakota agriculture through involvement in several agriculture organizations on the local, state and national level.

It takes a careful balancing act to farm full-time and actively participate in agriculture policy and support industry organizations, Kirk explains. He says this is one reason he and his family are Farmers Union members. "As full-time farmers, we can't be everywhere we need to be when policy that impacts our livelihood is being discussed. This is why Farmers Union is so important. It is a grassroots organization that speaks on our behalf. If we have ideas or concerns, Farmers Union carries these to the decision makers on the state or national level."

Currently, Kirk serves on the Brown County Farmers Union Board. Along with Farmers Union, Kirk was in Class 1 of South Dakota Ag & Rural Leadership and serves as a delegate for South Dakota Wheat Growers.

Craig served 10 years in the South Dakota State Legislature; a role he says led to his current position with FSA. In this position, he oversees the administration of all farm programs associated with the new farm bill, as well as the state's overall budget. "I feel my past experience in the legislature, as well as experience on our family farm, prepared me for this role," Craig says. "Some people don't enjoy policy, but Kirk and I were raised to be involved and give back."

Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota's farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, South Dakota Farmers Union will highlight a South Dakota farm or ranch family each month. In February, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Schaunaman family who farms near Aberdeen.

To view a photo gallery, visit http://www.sdfu.org.