Skip and Eileen Marland & Schaeffer Family Farms of North Platte, Nebraska
In the fall of 1979, Skip and Eileen Marland purchased a half section of sandhills valley land from Levi and Amelia Powell, approximately nine miles northeast of North Platte. This was in conjunction with a full section of land selling at public auction that Mr. and Mrs. Powell had owned from 1947 to 1979.
A farming relationship began with the Schaeffer Family Farms from Stapleton, Nebraska, to assist the Marlands in developing this half section to center pivot irrigation, eventually powered by a three-phase REA from the Custer Public Power District. The Marlands and the Schaeffers were very methodical in the development of this half section in an effort to focus on conservation measures, such as laying topsoil back down on areas where soil was excavated to accommodate center pivot irrigation. The Marlands and the Schaeffers have enjoyed an excellent working relationship, farming together in a landlord/tenant posture for 24 consective years.
Both the Marlands and the Schaeffers attitude has been to use every conservation practice practical and to “give back” to the land more each year than what “is taken off”. Through the years, practices such as liming, manure, and even valley topsoil have been added to the weaker areas of the approximate 260 acres. The farm has been in an alfalfa/corn rotation for several years. The soils are considered sandy, with the principle soil makeup being Valentine Sand, so farming practices have always been critical. Last years yields for the farm were in excess of 176 bushel per acre average for corn, and slightly less than six tons per acre yield average for alfalfa. Skip Marland has been quoted as saying “if it were not for the Schaeffer’s excellent farming practices, we would have little opportunity for these kinds of yields”.
In the spirit of conservation, as well as livestock protection and wildlife enhancement, a tree planting campaign of Eastern Red Cedar trees was started in 1986. Eventually, five tree groves were established, with 100% Eastern Red Cedars from the years 1986 through 1997. During this time, over 3,500 trees were planted and cost-shared under the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Program administered by the Twin Platte Natural Resources District. Skip Marland said, “We chose to plant only Eastern Red Cedars as they are indigenous to this area, and are much like the eight major species of sandhill grasses that can survive on very little moisture and in a soil with a low fertility rate”. Care and due-diligence was taken to replant any trees that had died through the years, so the end result are five groves of trees that are relatively consistent and picturesque.
The trees are now tall enough that they afford substantial livestock protection as well as a wildlife enhancement for deer, grouse, and some pheasant. On occasion, a large flock of Sandhill Cranes have landed to rest and feast on the cornfields.
An interseeding of 13 acres was planted with native grasses in two pivot corners in 1995, which is now well established. This practice was also cost-shared with the Twin Platte Natural Resources District. The 13 acre site had been grazed so hard that nearly all of the original native grasses had long since perished prior to the farm’s purchase in 1979.
Schaeffer Family Farms have been an important part of this farming operation since the beginning. Schaeffer Family Farms consist of Steve and Sally Schaeffer and their children, Rod and Pam Schaeffer and their children of the Stapleton area, and Gary and Linda Schaeffer and their children who live north of Thedford and manage the cow/calf enterprise of the Schaeffer Family Farms. The second generation of the Schaeffer family is now working into the operation, as two of Steve and Sally’s sons, George and Matt, help with operation of the farm. Other Schaeffer family members have also helped from time to time through the years. The operation of the farm has always been on a sharecrop arrangement between the Marlands and the Schaeffers. This arrangement has been a testament that farming is not for the faint at heart.
The trees have made enjoying the farm a little extra dimensional. Every year comments have been made on how the trees have grown. The five groves are approaching 8 to 10 feet in height. They were planted in a northwestern design so that cattle would naturally gravitate to the respective tree belts for protection.
Skip Marland has some quiet advice to anyone wanting to plant trees: Focus on the trees that are native to this part of the country. Eastern Red Cedars fall into that category and offer excellent protection. Next is spending the time and the effort for the second and third years after the initial planting to replant the trees that don’t survive. Tree planting is for someone who has the discipline, the energy, and the commitment to strive for a successful project. People say that planting trees is a selfless act which benefits the next generation. We can only hope that the next generation takes care of them as well as the prior caretakers.