This month we are pleased to introduce you to our very own Russ Shroll. Russ has operated Sweet Hills Farm, our homeplace, for 10 years. He takes outstanding care of our farm, as well as all the other land he farms. We have long wished to tell you about him, and finally, here he is!
Russ was raised in Nampa on the land that his great-grandfather homesteaded 107 years ago, in 1907. When Russ was a youngster, he began farming with his dad and his grandfather. This makes Russ the 4th generation of his family to farm his family’s land. Other than his time in college, he has lived his whole life on the farm.
Russ farms with his dad, Norman; their business is called Shroll Farms. Also, he has operated on his own since 1992, under the name of RS Farms.
Russ and his wife Brooke, built a beautiful home on their family land, where they live with their daughters Hayle, age 10, and Ruby, who is 8. Brooke is a speech pathologist; before the girls were born, she worked fulltime in that field, but now she works as a substitute for other speech pathologists, staying home to raise their girls most of the time.
When not farming, the Shroll family enjoys skiing in the winter, and both girls play soccer and basketball. Russ and Brooke have both been soccer coaches for their daughters’ teams at different times. AND, last summer, Russ hiked with some buddies to the top of Mt. Borah, elevation 12,600′. This is the highest peak in the state of Idaho!
Russ grows a wide variety of crops, including sugar beets, field corn, seed beans, carrot seed, onion seed, wheat, hay, and fresh peas.
All of Russ’ farmland is irrigated. Amazingly, his operation uses 4 different types of irrigation methods. His fields are irrigated with handlines, wheellines, center pivot as well as siphon tubes, (also known as gravity flow). Siphon tubes are an age old method, using gravity to carry the water into furrows, through the field. Siphon tubes must be set by hand and are very labor intensive, though they use no power to operate pumps, like other irrigations methods use.
Russ says that center pivot irrigation is so much better; while pivot systems are expensive to install and maintain, the labor and water savings, and the ability to place the water exactly where it’s needed are far superior. In the summer Russ and his hired men spend their days just irrigating.
We mentioned smaller fields; we were amazed at how many fields Russ farms. He has over 1,200 acres spread out in 95-100 separate fields. They range in size from 6 to 82 acres. Keeping track of each field – what is planted where, each field’s irrigation schedule, plant dates, fertilizer, weed killer and cultivation schedules, soil conditions, harvest schedule and yields is monumental.
Just a few years ago, all that information was kept on paper. Now, though, farmers have modern technology on their side. Russ uses his trusty iPad and his iPhone to help him track all of his data, to help him to make constant, critical decisions.
Russ has 4 full-time employees who work almost 7 days a week during the spring and summer planting, irrigating, spraying, cultivating and harvesting. They try to take most of Sundays off – only irrigating on Sunday. Everyone takes the entire month of December off, and they all work shorter days in January and February, maintaining equipment for the upcoming season. Russ says he tries hard to treat his employees how he would like to be treated; for example, he doesn’t take time off during the high season if his men are working.
Russ uses GPS on tractors; this aids in his practice of minimum till, hard–to-strip or no-till soil preparation. The GPS system is in 5 of his tractors; GPS fine tunes the planting, spraying and fertilizing very precisely. It also makes the field rows perfectly straight, and helps driving big machinery much more efficient; his tractor drivers don’t overlap or leave gaps between the rows. This results in less fuel, chemicals, time, wear on his men and machinery. For example, the sprayer will automatically turn on and off when it comes to the edge of a field, because the GPS tells it to.
Now, for the question and answer portion of our interview with Russ:
Tell us about how you use new technology, and use what works for your area.
My first tractor purchase was 150 horse power. My grandpa asked me why would I ever need a tractor that big, he couldn’t believe I would ever need that much horsepower. Now tractors are 275 hp. My smallest tractor now is 150 horse. So many things have changed so much, even since I started farming.
Can you tell us about something interesting, cutting-edge, fascinating, you would like readers to know?
All the genetics which have evolved with seed. Since we’ve gone to GMO sugarbeets, we’ve increased crop yield tonnage by 10 times per acre. We now get a harvest yield of 32 ton to 42 ton per acre average. The biggest benefit to us and our consumers is that we use little-to-no weed killer chemical compared to what we used to use. GMO is what we’ve been doing forever, I mean, we’ve just speeded up both natural and man-made hybrid evolution.
Also, seed technologies and seed research – it is fascinating at how fast it’s changing, and how much better it makes our operation. We can grow so much more food with so much fewer chemicals; we now use 75% less chemicals to grow our crops!
What are the biggest challenges you face as a farmer?
Mother Nature; water is a daily and annual challenge. And trying to keep things efficient. There can be such a small profit margin that you have to keep things as efficient as possible. I don’t think people know how much agriculture contributes to the economy. Ours is a family operation; my business is just myself, and my dad, yet our budget is over a million dollars a year, and hopefully, we bring more than that.
One thing that we do to help make our operation pay: If we have enough water, we double crop fresh peas, then plant again in June to another crop, which we will harvest in the fall. However, this year, I will have to allow about 100 acres fallow (unplanted) because of the drought.
When ag is good, the economy is down. When ag is down, the economy is up. Interesting, don’t you think?
What are farming’s biggest rewards for you?
Being my own boss. Time to do family things if I want to, I can make it to most of my kid’s soccer games. Being outside. Making my own decisions.
Do you participate in any civic or industry organizations?
I am a member of the Nyssa-Nampa Beet Growers Association Board, and am a past member of the Canyon County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. Also, I am a member of the Snake River Sugar Company, which owns Amalgamated Sugar, who buys and contracts our sugar beets.
Are there any stories about farming that you’d like to share?
One time when I was pretty young, no more than 5th grade, we needed to cut beans early in the morning. We would cut from 3 till 9 am when there’s a dew on the ground. My dad was really sick, so I cut beans for him for two mornings, and each morning, I would tear the bean cutter up. I guess I backed up with it into the ground and bent all the knives up. So, each day, he had to spend the rest of the day fixing it. He decided it was easier to do it himself even though he was sick.
Anything you would like our readers to know?
I think the general public wouldn’t classify me as a family farm. I would classify me as a business that I run with my father. Most people’s perspective is that their food comes from some big corporation that destroys the land and doesn’t care about the consumer, or else their food is grown by some farmer in overalls with just a few acres. The public’s view of family farms and corporate farms is skewed and incorrect.
Most of us farmers, though, are small, independent, individual businesses. Farming is a business. We might be a corporation, but that is only for taxes and liability purposes. We’re working to put food in the grocery stores for everyone to eat.
We applaud Russ Shroll and Shroll Farms for their hard work and expertise, to provide abundant, delicious and safe food for all of us. Thank you Russ and Norman Shroll!