2016 Cattle Drive - Bernie Fehringer: chemist, lawyer, farmer

 

After careers as a chemist and then patent attorney, Bernie Fehringer returned to his roots near Peetz, Colo., nearly three decades ago to become a farmer.

"He always talked about returning to the farm, and I thought, well, this will never happen," said his wife, Sharon, with a laugh.

Fehringer and his family had lived on both coasts of the U.S. – any many places in between – before his father passed away and the future of the family farm was left uncertain.

"My dad got cancer and died, and it was sell the farm or somebody come home to farm it," he recalled. "My brother and I both said, 'Don't have any sales.'"

After farming together for three years, they realized the one farm couldn't support two families. So when a farm south of Sidney was put on the market, he and Sharon purchased it.

"Our experience, having lived elsewhere and worked elsewhere, I think this has really been good for us when we came here," he said. "I've enjoyed farming. I've enjoyed the challenge of this."

Over the years, Fehringer said they intensified their operations.

"We've worked hard over these years," he said. "Some years, the weather has treated us well. Some years it hasn't."

While they initially farmed crops typical of this area – millet, wheat and corn – they switched to organic methods in 1992.

"We finished the conversion, so we were 100 percent organic, in 1995," Fehringer explained. "And we've been 100 percent organic for 21 years now."

A variety of crops are grown on the farm, including sunflower, millet, wheat, barely, oats and alfalfa.

When they first converted to organic, the largest hurdle was marketing the products, he said.

"Once you've got organic products, even today, you don't just haul them down to the elevator," he explained.

Combined with having to comply with rules requiring crop rotations to maintain the organic certification, Fehringer said organic farming requires a lot of planning.

"You've got to plan not only your farming operation, but you've got to be looking out a year or two ahead on what's likely to be marketable," he said.

Over the past year, Fehringer has handed the farm over to his son.

"In the last year, they've pretty much taken over full-time operations," he explained. "I will still help them a little bit, but not as much any more. Usually it's advice and paperwork."

Reflecting on his transition to farming and move back to the Panhandle, Fehringer said it was a great decision.

"It's a good place," he said. "It's a good combination of everything."


 

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