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LAKE GENEVA

As organizers of Walworth County searched for a farm to host the 2016 Farm Technology Days, Steve Snudden's name was often mentioned in conversation.

As a 'one man deal' running a large dairy operation just south of Lake Geneva, the 55-year-old farmer said he was much too busy to throw his hat into the ring. That is until his neighbor and former 4-H leader Becky Merwin (who also happens to be vice chairwoman of the show's fund-raising committee) came calling.

'I didn't apply; I was approached,' said Snudden with a laugh. 'People would often call me up and say 'I hear you're hosting the farm show', and I would tell them that was news to me. But I grew up in Walworth County and Linn Township has always been my home and I believe in it, so here I am.'

Eye on the future

Snudden's own personal farming philosophy dovetails closely with the theme of this year's show — Farming for the Future. As a young boy, Snudden was partial to the lifestyle of his grandfather, Harvey, who purchased the family farm in 1925. While Snudden's own father, Kip, worked off the farm, his parents took ownership of the farm in the 1960s.

Snudden began working on the farm in high school, cropping the land in 1978 and finally taking over the operation in the fall of 1977, milking 20 cows during his senior year in high school. For the next 20 years, Snudden made a go of the operation, growing it bit by bit with an eye on the future.

'When I started (major expansions) in 2000 I didn't have a lot of money, so I just built around what I had,' Snudden said. 'Every building on the farm is a Keller structure except for one. They've been fantastic to work with and have done wonders in bringing this into a cow flow situation.'

The most recent expansions include two free-stall barns that house 500- and 450-head respectively, a 1500-head heifer facility, a sand-separation system that has reduced Snudden's sand use from 15 semi loads per week to just three. Snudden said the reclaimed sand is used to bed the cows.

'Cow comfort is a top priority of mine,' he said.

Not more but better

Snudden Farms also utilizes a double-32 DeLaval parallel milking parlor. Snudden and his crew of 29 employees milks a herd of 1700 Holstein cows (with a few Brown Swiss mixed in) three times a day, with a rolling herd average around 27,000 pounds.

The family owns three milk tankers which haul their milk to a Dean Foods plant in Huntley, IL, and a Grande Cheese plant in Juda in Green County.

'I'm a one man deal here so it's important to use key people, including my herdsman, Randy Greisanus,' Snudden said, adding that the herd expansion should top 2100 cows by the end of the year. 'Once we've fulfilled that goal I don't want to expand again. Instead I want to start dropping the average age of our herd. I'm not looking for more cows, but better cows with a lot of longevity and production in them.'

Currently all heifers on the farm are being bred with sexed semen to build the genetic future of the farm.

The Snudden's presently farm 3000 acres — all within a 10-mile radius of the farm — of corn, alfalfa and wheat, in addition to custom farming 1000 additional acres. The farm has its own drying facility and has storage capacity for 140,000 bushels.

Next generation

Carly Snudden, 18, Snudden's oldest daughter, hopes to be a part of Snudden Farms' future someday. The recent graduate of Big Foot High School will be heading off to UW Platteville this fall (joining her older brother, Austin, 21, who is majoring in business) to seek a double major in agribusiness and agriscience. Younger sister, Abby, 17, will be a high school senior next year.

'I remember following my dad all around the farm when I was little. But now that I'm older I'm really interested in the animal aspects of the farm,' Carly said. 'As a child the farm was a playground to me filled with pets, but that's all changed.'

Austin says that his degree in business could also be useful to his father.

'I have a little more of a business mind, so it would be nice to see if he needs help with the bookkeeping,' Austin said.

Snudden has always made it clear to his children to follow their dreams.

'As I told all of my kids, this (farm) was my dream and if they want to be a part of it, that's great. If they want to find their own niche in life, that's great too,' Snudden said. 'I don't see myself ever retiring but that's just me. The farm will be here, and I hope someone takes it over at some point.'

Urban neighbors

Living near the upscale resort community of Lake Geneva, Snudden says the impression his farm presents to his urban counterparts it important to him.

'There's enough bad eggs out there and when people see that they get the wrong impression. I pride myself in ding the best and cleanest job I can, especially in how we apply manure,' Snudden said. 'But people need to know that real truth of what goes on on the farm.'

Snudden's fiancée and former Chicago resident, Yvonne Korbel, said the transition to rural life on the farm was eye-opening.

'Living in the city you just took it for granted that food was always there in the store, with no thought to where it came from,' Korbel said. 'Being around the farm, I've learned how much time and hard work it takes to keep a farm going. I'm reaching out to a lot of my city friends and would love for them to come and see what we do here.'

Wisconsin Ag Secretary Ben Brancel hopes the show's proximity to Illinois and the Windy City will entice urban residents to cross the border and check out the show. This year's Farm Technology Days show is the southernmost site in the show's 63-year history.

'We used to be focused on farmers and the farm public, and I think we need to tell our urban cousins about the story of agriculture so that the get accurate, factual information,' Brancel said. 'This show is a great opportunity to make sure the public has a true understanding of how their food is produced.'

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