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Farm Living

Keeping a farm in the black takes more than it used to, says farmer Rudy Shrader
Friday, August 17, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:00 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Steven “Rudy” Shrader pushes his wheelchair out of the way after pulling himself onto his four-wheel assist tractor.

Many of Steven “Rudy” Shrader’s farms are littered with what some might consider an uncommon item: broken-down wheelchairs.

“I’m pretty hard on anything with wheels,” said Shrader, 38.

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Shrader, a farmer, drives combines, tractors and four-wheelers. He curses taxes and chatters constantly about the weather.

Shrader manages several thousand acres of land in eastern Saline County with his father, Vince Shrader, and a couple hired hands.

Shrader and his father look almost identical, but 64-year-old Vince sports a bit more gray hair. And though the elder Shrader has been a farmer all his life, there is no doubt Rudy is in charge.

Rudy Shrader bought the patch of ground several years back and has increased the farm’s acreage from about 500 acres ten years ago to about 4,500 acres of row crops, hay and livestock.

“My dad didn’t want to go into debt like I was with equipment,” Shrader said. “So I bought all his old junk and traded it for new stuff. Dad still owns the land around his house, but now I pay him salary to help with the rest of the farms.”

Rudy Shrader became paralyzed after his back was broken in a car crash. At the time, he was working toward an agriculture management degree at Maryville College.

For the past decade, he has carried out the daily tasks that come with running a farm. A couple of dirty, four-wheel drive pickups are outfitted with hand controls, and Shrader can drive any of the machines on the farm.

“Most of the time, one of the morons drives the 18-wheelers or other stuff,” Shrader said, using a nickname for the farm’s hired help. “But if I have to, I drag myself into the cab and drive with an old piece of pipe or a stick.”

Like generations of farmers before him, keeping the farm in the black is Schrader’s ultimate goal. But doing so is a challenge, he said.

“The amount of money that one has to invest keeps getting bigger and bigger, but the return seems to stay the same,” Shrader said, shaking his head. “It’s sad when one sells a million or a million two worth of crops and ya’ still struggle to stay afloat.

“That’s why we have to keep getting bigger — we have to sell more each year to stay in business.”

On a typical summer day, Shrader leaves his house a little before 7 a.m. and gets home between 10 p.m. and midnight. He’s not much of a socialite. He said he likes to go out and have a beer. His best friend is a six-year-old border collie-blue heeler mix named Kelly, after one of his sisters.

“If I would have known this dog was going to turn out so good, I wouldn’t have named her Kelly,” Shrader said with a big grin. “(My sister) had her first kid, a girl, and named her after my youngest sister. But when she had a boy, she didn’t name him after me. It seemed only right to name my dog after her.”

Kelly is always by Shrader’s side — in tractors, on four-wheelers and in the passenger seat of his truck. She sleeps in his house and shares his lunch.

And with Kelly by his side, and some help from his friends, Shrader plans to keep on farming.


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