From Pennsylvania to Idaho

Donley Farms

Published in the April 2012 Issue Published online: Apr 13, 2012 Nancy Sanchez
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The early 1970s were transitional in many ways for U.S. citizens. One of the more pleasant and notable things was that a Greyhound bus traveler could purchase a travel ticket for $72 and tour the country within a relatively short time frame.

Don Taber, a Pennsylvanian, bought one of those tickets and ventured out to find a farm away from the city and urban sprawl.

Back then he didn't think he could afford a farm with the acreage he wanted. But that bus took him out West and he found this place. "I talked to the county agent and he said this wasn't a good place to farm due to lack of water. We bought it anyway. That was in 1975.

"Beverly, my wife, and I wanted to find the most ground for the money. We didn't see a lot of things that were potential problems with the farm out here." It's sort of like knowing enough to get yourself into trouble but not enough to know you had trouble.

The Tabers had a very good thing going for them and that was tenacity and an inherent work ethic. Not to mention luck with a farm on top of good, deep, well water.

"If you had the money, you could drill anywhere for water as long as you could show the ability to maintain it, too." The Idaho Power company was promoting their power lines to farmers if they would get the wells drilled.

Don mentions another positive influence in the farm's success. His father-in-law, a traditional German who had wisdom and knowledge, loved coming out to visit. "He'd watch closely at how we managed our farming operations. And he never once mentioned that it was a dumb thing to do. He said after many years that he knew it was the place to farm."

Don never regretted moving out to Idaho. He says, "If you are a good manager, you are better off out here irrigating, but if you are a bad manager it will cost you more. You must manage the water in order to have enough for your crop through the growing season."

Don attended Penn State and studied Ag Business along with dairy science. Donley Farms is a family corporation with Don and Beverly Taber, parents, and Chris and Darren Taber, sons, as partners.

Together they work 5,000 acres with 4,500 irrigated in Roundup-Ready corn, alfalfa, malt barley, Roundup-Ready sugarbeets and pasture for the dairy.

Chris is in charge of the sugarbeet production, which usually takes up 350-400 acres. "We started growing beets in the Shoshone/Dietrich area in 1993. When I start thinking about planting time, I get ready. I insist on being ready by the first of April, even if it is too wet. We can't pick the conditions, but I can be ready to go. It's vital to have everything ready to go before you hit the field."

Maintaining the equipment is another important aspect of their successful operation. All their equipment is continually maintained. "You don't want to get out and work on something and have down-time during operations. Even if it is an old piece of equipment, it is still serviceable. We take good care of our equipment-the maintenance expense is a large part of our farming operation."

The dairy is also a big part of the farm. Darren and Don handle the dairy and Chris handles the crops.

"We each have certain jobs," says Chris. Darren is the baler operator-he puts up all the hay. Chris is the chopper operator, chopping the corn and hay, and he is also the combine guy. "Don, Dad, is the Boss! He is the Chief."

It's good to have a clear direction and assignments. It's another positive force in their successful business.

Challenges are certainly part of the deal. For certain, the issue of water in a dry climate takes a lot of managing. They have weeds, diseases and all the crop protection concerns.

Although, with the introduction of Roundup-Ready crops, the weed issues have been considerably reduced.

Chris has been satisfied with the records he keeps on fuel costs. "We kept track of our costs with fuel when we first started strip-till. Per acre we figured 1.4 to 1.48 gallons, which included some strip-till on the sandy soil. We seed, fertilize, insecticide and strip-till in one pass. And then we come back and top-dress a little fertilizer and that's it. I can get one crop started in one pass."

"Our Snake River Sugar Beet Cooperative has great people running the company. Anything new comes up and the leaders are on top of it. They are proactive on the best things that become available."

The Tabers have a very positive attitude for the future in farming. They ask theoretically-if the world keeps growing the population, how are we going to feed everybody? With biotechnology.

"Good farm ground is dwindling, farmers are dwindling and houses are popping up everywhere. Colleges are trying to get kids educated about where their food comes from, and it is amazing that people don't know the reality of where their food comes from."

Despite that daunting notion, there is a lot to be said for technology improving production of food.

"Raise more beets! We raise a safe crop, so we don't have any reason not to. But we need to respect biotechnology. Manage it correctly. It is here to stay and we must use it to the fullest extent. There is enough research that goes into this technology and it gives you the advantage. It's a very good advantage."

Chris admits that he says what he means and that dad is quite tactful. He has more wisdom and years. "He has weathered us kids on the farm and all our goof-ups, but we learned."

Ah, I must agree there is nothing like the lessons learned on the farm with a wise parent guiding the future of farm production managers.