Economic troubles force Missouri farmer to sell business

Friday, September 17, 2010 | 12:53 p.m. CDT

COSBY — For more than 150 years, a little farm just outside St. Joseph has been home to a family-owned, local dairy operation. But following the downturn in the economy, Duane Schneider, 56, part of the sixth generation to own the farm, has made the decision to sell his cows and move on.

"I've always enjoyed the work," Schneider said. "But to work as hard as you do and all those hours when you're not making a profit anymore, it just takes a toll on a person."

Along with his wife, Lori, 49, Schneider ran the farm with little or no complaints until about four years ago, when the economy began to decline.

"This is a big decision," Schneider said. "It's just a decision to get out while we still can."

They began to discuss selling four years ago, but instead added onto the farm with hope the economy would turn around. Instead, Schneider said he found himself and his wife working on the farm alone, unable to afford more help and handle the workload by themselves.

"We just ended up with a higher debt load that had increased way over our heads, and we were barely making ends meet in return. Unfortunately, a lot of dairymen are in the same position," Schneider said.

The final decision to sell came after struggling through last winter's harsh weather. "In this business, the cows are the first and last thing you see every day, and some days last winter it was just too big a load to get there," he said.

Since 1854, Schneiders have owned the land Duane Schneider has farmed his entire life. Schneider was born and raised on the farm and never considered anything other than being a farmer — like his father, George, and his ancestors before him.

"I started feeding calves when I was big enough to hold a calf bottle," Schneider said. "I'd put three gallon buckets in my little red wagon and drag them back to the calf pen and dump them in the feed trough for them, and carry a small hay barrel. I'd put that in my wagon and take it out there."

His words trailed off and he took a deep breath, wiping some tears from his eyes. Lori Schneider sat next to him, removing her glasses and wiping her eyes as well.

"It's been my life, let's put it that way," he said, fighting back the tears. "I'd probably continue to do it if it were still profitable, still could make a living at it. But really, up until the stress and the strain of the debt load we got, it's been fun. We've been excited for each day that we had and were always looking forward to what each day would bring."

Schneider said everything raised on the farm went through the cows, following the pattern his father had started when he went to only dairy. Before that, the farm had housed chickens and some row crops as well. He said with the exception of spending four years in the Pacific after being drafted during World War II, his father lived his entire life on the farm.

The only vacation Schneider and his wife have taken was their two-day honeymoon to Kansas City.

"Other than going to see her parents in Indiana, we haven't been anywhere in the 15 years we've been married," Schneider said. "We've been lucky to get away from the farm for six hours, let alone a whole day."

They would like to get away in the future, but only if the money is there to do so. They have both applied for jobs in St. Joseph and hope to be hired soon, but know they face obstacles by not having college degrees.

"Being a farmer, I know how to do a lot of things, but I'm not really certified to do anything," Schneider said. With a laugh, he said he's a welder, veterinarian, animal handler, mechanic, businessman, cook and a large equipment operator — but on paper, he's just a dairy farmer.

"Both of us feel like after the kind of schedule we've led and the kind of hours we've worked, anything's going to be a heck of a lot easier than what we've been doing," Schneider said.

The Schneiders will continue to raise their young calves for another year and a half until they are old enough to sell. They plan to rent out the farm acreage and hope to reduce their debt load with the money they receive from selling their livestock and machinery. They plan to remain living in the house and maintain it, to pass it on to the next generation.


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