Harold and Dirk Schlothauer, Sugar Valley Growers
Dave Schlothauer, of German Russian descent, left his home In Colorado at the age of 13 and made his way with a buddy to Fairview, MT, starting the farming operation that continues today. He worked for various farmers and then rented some land after he married his wife Frieda. Eventually, they purchased their own small farm.
Two of Dave and Frieda's sons, Ken and Harold, took over the farm and worked together until their sons were older and wanted to join in.
Harold and his son Dirk now farm a total of 520 acres in the Sugar Valley growing district, with approximately 260 acres devoted to sugar beets.
The biggest changes Harold has seen over the years involve equipment. He remembers harvesting beets by hand, two cylinder John Deere tractors and four row planters. In the early days, a knife on the digger cut and saved the tops, which were used for livestock feed. Schlothauers fed a lot of lambs at one time, plus a few calves, just like many growers in the valley. They abandoned the livestock operation just before Dirk came on board. Now defoliators make the job cleaner and easier, with the digger following closely behind. As equipment got bigger, Schlothauers switched from 22" spacing to 26" to accommodate wider tractor tires and allow more room to cultivate and irrigate.
Machine leveling of the land was a vast improvement, allowing for longer continuous irrigation rather than having to allow for all the bumps in a field. Schlothauers use approximately half flood and half pivot irrigation. The pivots were put in areas that were more difficult to flood irrigate. "It took a lot of labor out of what I was doing," Dirk said with a smile.
Yields have increased dramatically even since Dirk became involved. A really good crop in 1987 was 27 tons per acre. This year, their yield was 33 tons per acre, which is now average. They also had average sugar content this year.
The major challenge Dirk sees to growing beets is disease. However, he appreciates the continued research and development that results in new chemicals and other measures to fight those diseases. "There's always something new," he said. Weed control on the other hand, is much better with Roundup ready beet seed. "As to the rest, we're at the mercy of Mother Nature," he added.
When it comes to decisions, Harold says "Dirk's the boss. I'm the helper." The men work well together with obvious respect for each other. "It's nice to have someone to bounce things off of, even if it's just to reassure me that I'm doing it right," Dirk said.
Kathryn Cayko, Sidney Sugars agriculturalist for the Sugar Valley area, enjoys working with the Schlothauers. "We did some research plots with them. They are an excellent example of the farmers in my area. They maintain high standards, produce quality crops and are a pleasure to work with."
Harold is married to Loretta and, in addition to Dirk, they have a daughter who lives in Bismarck. Dirk and his wife Laurie have 14 year old Jade, 13 year old BayLee, and an adult daughter Ashley.