SDFU Celebrates Colome Farm Family

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by Lura Roti for S.D. Farmers Union

 According to Joel Keierleber, flexibility is the key to success on his and Audrey's Colome farm. "I am flexible and do what looks to be the most profitable way to use our farm ground," explains the third-generation South Dakota farmer, of the strategy that has kept his farm more or less in the black the last 40 years. "Instead of trying to get bigger, I work to add value to the acres I already own. This has been my philosophy all along." 

It's late fall, and Joel walks out into a field of cover crops to explain. "This was crop ground two years ago. Then, I put in cover crops and a good stand of alfalfa and hayed and grazed it this year. I will probably do that again next year. After that, it will go into corn." 

He doesn't plant just one corn hybrid. "I always have to try something different. I want to plant several and see what will do the best. Some guys are content to do the same thing over and over - even for generations - not me," Joel says. 

This mindset carries over to his cow/calf herd. In the early '90s he started finishing out his own cattle. But, if the feeder market was higher than fat cattle, he would sell at the feedlot. 

"I never have one plan and stick to it. I sit down and pencil it out to see what will be the most cost-effective way to farm. That is what I go with," he explains. When it comes to his family and his farm, Joel is resolute to "stick to it." "I knew I wanted to farm from the time I was 5," he explains. 

Growing up on a dairy farm near Clearfield, the fifth of nine children, Joel was driving the the pickup to help dad feed small bales before he started kindergarten. "Back then, you got started early. I also had the calf chores." 

After high school, he took a course in diesel mechanics and returned home to help his dad, who was in poor health. About that time, his older sister introduced him to Audrey, a college student. Her first teaching position happened to be in the area. Four years later, they were engaged. 

With a plan to save up money to buy their own farm, the couple eagerly anticipated their June 1977 wedding. Then, in March, Joel was in a serious farm accident - his arm was caught in a silo unloader. 

Joel was home alone and had to drive himself to the neighbors.' "I met him on the road. The son was in the National Guard and in the medic unit. They took me to the hospital, 25 miles away," Joel recalls. 

His injuries were severe. "They told me when I was in the hospital that I would never lift my arm above my head again. They told me to go back to school so I could get a desk job.”

But, Joel wouldn't listen. He was determined to farm. "I figured I had not failed yet. You have to fail two or three times to see if you can succeed." 

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