VS Inc. Makes Farming Work with Trust & Co-operation
The Steinbeisser family of Sidney, encompassing three generations, makes their huge farming and ranching operation work using mutual trust and co-operation. Brothers Jim, Don Jr., Craig, and their cousin Russell run VS Inc, with each one contributing their expertise to a given aspect, and helping everywhere when needed. "It works because of the way we grew up," Don Jr. explained. "Dad and Uncle Joe each had areas they took care of with Uncle Joe taking care of the cattle, hay and small grains; and Dad taking care of the sugar beets and corn." Now, the men tend to work in the same areas as they grew up in. Jim handles the ranching, Russell primarily does hay, small grains and soybeans, Craig handles spraying and finances and Don takes care of sugar beets, corn and chemicals. Steinbeissers hire the flood irrigation work done but everyone in the family helps with the pivots. "If we have a problem, we talk through it, maybe very loudly. But five minutes later we can be outside working on a piece of equipment and not throwing hammers at each other," Don Jr. said. The cousins grew up right across the road from each other so they fight like brothers, but work through any problems.
The Steinbeisser legacy started when Joe G. Steinbeisser Sr., a German immigrant, and his wife Mary moved to Sidney from Colorado in 1930. He worked for relatives and other farmers before purchasing their own piece of ground south of town. He cleared the land himself. "The thought of Grandpa with dynamite, clearing stumps, scares me," Don Jr. laughed. "They were just an example of almost every immigrant who comes to this country. They wanted a better life and worked hard to get it."
Joe G. and Mary had five children; Don Sr., Leo, Joe, Doris and Mary. Don Sr. and Joe worked into the farm and eventually took over operations.
VS Inc. now encompasses 3000 acres of irrigated land with about 1000 planted to sugar beets each year. There are also 400 acres of dryland crop, plus pasture land. They run 650 cows and have a feedlot where they feed their own calves and a few more that they purchase.
Don Jr. has seen significant changes in the beet farming industry. He remembers as a kid the 2-row diggers and how they would frequently plug up with mud and need to be scraped out. In the 70s, it started getting better with the new John Deere diggers. The old diggers were built lighter and had more bearing problems. Engineers improved the digger, with heavier bearings resulting in far less down time. Even the old digger he remembers was a far cry from when his Grandpa started farming. Digging was done by hand back then. 25 to 30 acres was a huge farm at that time and it took lots of people, including migrant labor, to farm 20 acres of beets. By the time Don Jr. was a kid, it took 2 weeks to harvest 65 acres. Now they harvest 1000 acres in the same amount of time.
Defoliators were also a big improvement over the old diggers with top savers. "The separate machine does a way better job and the operator only needs to watch one thing instead of three," Don Jr. commented. Trucks were single axle then and he remembers fighting with his brother over driving the truck at night after the regular drivers had gone home. "Trucks are a big deal to drive when you're only 8 years old," he reminisced. He also remembers riding on the fenders of a 4020 open cab tractor, saying, "When it's 38 degrees, and windy, it's cold. Farming is much more pleasant with cabs."
With all the improvements Don Jr. has seen, he said, "If it changes as much in the next 50 years as it has in the last 50, I have no clue what they might be doing."
Craig's son Ryan is now involved full time in the Steinbeisser operation. Don Jr.'s son Michael also thinks he would like to come back after he finishes his enlistment in the US Army. "He found out how much he misses farming and finds farmers to work with wherever he's posted. Those are the only two older kids at this point but the option is open for all to be a part. They all helped with everything as kids," Don Jr. commented. Jim has two young sons in grade school, Liam and Corbin who help out at the ranch, leaving open the possibility of more Steinbeissers continuing the legacy.
VS Inc. hosts tours of their beet fields to 3rd graders each September, helping them understand more about agriculture. "They're full of questions and we enjoy helping them see where sugar comes from. We slice pieces of beet and they can't believe that they're actually sweet!"
Vanessa Pooch, Sidney Sugars agriculturalist for the Sidney area, enjoys working with the family. "Steinbeissers are easy to work with and always willing to help. They have done test plots with us and are part of our ongoing lime trials, now in their 4th year. They're always willing to do ongoing studies with us."