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Tara and Nick Meyer provide a glimpse of life as young Minnesota farmers

Meyer Dairy in Sauk Centre, Minn.
Courtesy of Meyer Dairy
Meyer Dairy in Sauk Centre, Minn.

Earlier this week, YPN profiled this year’s Outstanding Young Farmer winners, Nick and Tara Meyer of Meyer Dairy. Today, we interview the Meyers to gain a more in-depth look at their work and lives as Minnesota farmers.

Audra Otto: How long have you two been farming?
Tara Meyer: Nick grew up on this farm and has farmed here all his life. He continued to farm while going to college at Ridgewater in Willmar, Minn., where he received his dairy management degree.

Nick’s parents transferred the farm to him in 2003.

Of the six children in his family, Nick was the only one who chose to farm here.

I also grew up on a farm and went to school with plans to stay involved in agriculture.

I earned a B.S. in applied economics, with a minor in dairy science, from the University of Minnesota and then worked for the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota Farm and Food Coalition.

Most recently, I earned an M.B.A. in business administration from the University of Phoenix and joined Nick working full-time at Meyer Dairy.

It has been a blessing meeting Nick and raising a family on our farm.

AO: Why have you chosen to be farmers?
TM: Farming has always been our passion. We enjoy working with our cattle, producing a quality milk product for our consumers and working the land.

We’re excited to raise our children on our farm — it’s a great lifestyle.

AO: Do you two do all the farm work or do you have help?
We have six part-time employees that help with the milking. Nick’s father also helps with feeding the cattle daily.

AO: Can you share a little bit about the process of your farm?
TM: We milk 175 Holstein cows. The cows are milked twice a day: at 4:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. They eat a balanced diet that follows guidelines set out by our dairy nutritionist.

AO: How you go to market?
We produce about 1,500 gallons of milk daily. Our milk is sold through Land O’Lakes; it travels 10 miles from our farm to Melrose, Minn., where it’s made into parmesan cheese.

AO: What are your relationships like with the older farmers in your community?
TM: We are fortunate to have several mentors that we go to for advice and answers to our questions.

We live in Stearns County, which is the 17th-largest dairy county in the nation. The majority of our neighbors are farmers, so there is a real camaraderie that has been built.

Both our fathers are excellent farmers and we rely heavily on their opinions and advice, as well.

There are also many resources and networking opportunities we can utilize through the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Nick and Tara Meyer receiving the 2009 Outstanding Conservationist award from Paula Mohr (right), editor of The Farmer magazine
Courtesy of Nick and Tara Meyer
Nick and Tara Meyer receiving the 2009 Outstanding Conservationist award from Paula Mohr (right), editor of The Farmer magazine. The Outstanding Conservationist awards program is run by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

AO: What do you think are the challenges of starting a farm in today’s economic landscape?
TM: Farming is very capital-intensive. It can be very difficult for a young farmer who is trying to get started on his/her own to get financing.

AO: Regarding start-up funding, of the alternative options that exist to using savings bank loans to start an agricultural endeavor, have you found grants, sponsorships or other financial assistance programs to be accessible during these initial years?
TM: There are many beginning-farmer programs that can help farmers start-up. For example, Minnesota’s Rural Finance Authority administers the Aggie Bond Loan Program, a federal bonding program that offers affordable financing for beginning farmers.

In Minnesota and Wiscosin, AgStar Finance offers the GroundBreakers
program — designed to provide ongoing access to credit and related financial services — to young, beginning and small farmers.

AO: Are you involved in any farmers unions or other farmers or young farmers groups?
TM: We are members of Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, as well as their Young Farmers and Ranchers program. We’re also members of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

There are lots of organizations out there to help young farmers. The Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program helps young farmers develop the skills to tackle the challenges of farming and aims to mold agricultural and rural leaders for tomorrow.

The Farm Beginnings initiative — run by the Minnesota-based nonprofit Land Stewardship Project — provides young farmers with opportunities to learn about low-cost, sustainable methods of farming through farmer-led, community-based training and support programs.

On the nation level, there’s the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, a farmer-led partnership between young farmers and innovative beginning farmer service providers. Their mission is to work toward young farmers’ collective success — raising issues faced by beginning farmers, lobbying for policy change and bringing farmers together in person and online to learn, share and build a stronger community.

AO: How are family farms doing in Minnesota versus corporate farms?
TM: Corporate farms only exist in the eyes of the media. There are no corporate farms in Minnesota — this is a huge misconception.

Since 1973, our state has had a corporate farm law that bars corporations, limited liability companies, pension or investment funds, trusts and limited partnerships from farming, owning or leasing farmland in Minnesota. 

AO: What’s one thing you want people to know about Meyer Dairy?
TM: We take great pride in our animals and the quality milk that we produce.

We give tours of our farm to interested members of the public; we’re just a short distance from the Twin Cities!

Stay tuned tomorrow as we continue to feature profiles of the 2011 OYF finalists. Up next: Central Minnesota cattle farmer and cold-pressed sunflower oil producer, Tom Smude.

The “YPN5Q” interview series will resume Friday, Jan. 6, 2012.

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