What does a farmer do after sixty year in the business? Some would retire. Some would sell out to the neighbor or the kids. Some would rent out the farm. That is not the case for Owen Froerer of Nyssa, Oregon owner of Froerer Farms, Ida Spear, and Owyhee Produce.
After sixty years in the farming business, he celebrated with a birthday party of sorts. The party was organized by his three children and four grandchildren who are now closely involved in the family business of farming. The event was to celebrate sixty years of farming and all the changes and challenges that have come over those years. The celebration gathering included a dinner for family, friends, and business associates and was followed by square dancing to a live band into the early hours of the morning. All told, more than 250 friends, family, neighbors, and business partners celebrated the event with Mr. Froerer.
During dinner, Froerer talked to the group about his early days as a child and running a team of horses with a sickle bar cutting hay on his father’s farm. A similar horse-drawn sickle bar was exhibited outside next to the newest windrower with GPS and hydraulic speed controls for all the moving parts. That team of horses actually spooked and ran away with him on one occasion and he narrowly escaped the runaway with only bruises and a lesson learned.
Froerer also spoke about other changes in the industry from the time he started. Most notably, technology has greatly impacted farming practices over the years. Also the technology and capital costs have added a tremendous entry barrier to the industry. From simply a cost standpoint alone, he is uncertain if an individual can even get a start in farming today. Second to technology, the regulatory changes have been the most pronounced changes in the past sixty years. A short history of the farm, and the family behind it, can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfFw_AH5HFo.
Following the Korean War, Mr. Froerer returned to the Nyssa area and married Colleen Bybee. His farming started while he worked for his father-in-law in his farming operation and gradually Froerer was able to purchase a small acreage and grow his own operation from a startup. Today Froerer Farms involves four thousand plus acres of production land, vertical integration of marketing components that include a mint still, an asparagus fresh pack operation Ida Spear, and an onion fresh packing operation Owyhee Produce.
More importantly to Froerer, the business involves his wife Colleen, a son, two daughters, and four grandsons in the daily operation. He has always attempted to extend opportunity to family members to be involved in the business when and where possible. At the same time, each family member has a multitude of responsibilities to meet in the operation and have contributed to the success of the various entities of Froerer Farms.
Owen Froerer is still a very active part of the operation at 82 years of age has no intention of retiring. He is still the first one to the farm shop many mornings as the daily work assignments are planned and executed in the pre-dawn hours. He operates the mint still and frequently oversees the asparagus and onion packing operations as well.
Like many farmers, Froerer has seen sixty years of crops come and go and faced challenges such as drought, fuel costs, and labor shortages over the years. But with each challenge a solution has been found and as a true farmer, he looks forward with optimism to the sixty first crop on the farm and wonders what challenges the next season will hold. Most importantly, he also wonders how his great-grandchildren might be involved in farming and agriculture someday.