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She steps out of the box

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Tina Troester

Throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, the Times-Register is again publishing a series of articles highlighting local women. Whether it’s through their careers, hobbies, volunteer efforts or unique personalities, these women have inspired others.

 

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

“Surround yourself with the right people and you’ll always be able to tackle anything that comes.”

 

Tina Troester has carried these words in her heart while growing a first-generation farm and business, and now a family, with husband Amos.

 

Tina grew up on a dairy farm in northeast Wisconsin, inspired by her mom, grandma and great-aunt, who took active business roles with their husbands and did everything from farm work to raising kids.

 

“I believe women can and should do everything. I can work cattle just like [Amos] can, and give meds and shots and see a sick calf. I can go out to a field and see how healthy that corn crop is and see what the soil is doing. I can have all these awesome experiences and do stuff at home too, whether that’s cooking, cleaning, raising kids,” Tina said. “The challenge with that is there are different seasons of life. There are certainly points where he taps me into this business and there are times when I tap on him and say, ‘I need you more.’” 

 

It’s finding that give and take—establishing a community support network of not only family, but friends, church and customers, who want to see, and help, you succeed. 

 

Because, as Tina has learned, “You can’t just strong arm your way through life.”

 

Tina gained early first-hand experience in agriculture on the family farm. She recalled riding on the tractor, combine and chopper, even standing on a hay bale to watch a cow have a twisted stomach surgery. 

 

Tina later took an active role raising pigs after the family sold the cows and continued row crop farming. It was in Calumet County where she also first learned about soil.

 

“In northeast Wisconsin, the soil is very different,” she explained. “It’s red clay, hard to work with. Quite literally you could make bricks out of it and build buildings. We were about 50 percent no till because you had to be.”

 

When Tina first started dating Clayton County native Amos, learning about crop production in the area was eye opening.

 

“There’s a lot of tillage, and so much erosion,” she said. “As someone who grew up with red clay, it kind of broke my heart. I’m sitting here going, ‘What we would give as farmers to be able to farm on land like that.’”

 

It wasn’t working for Amos either. After conventional farming the first year, in 2014, he transitioned to no till and started integrating cover crops.

 

“It wasn’t until a few years ago that we started grazing those cover crops and using them as a food source. But it also took us that long to realize cows have their own feet and can go out and get their own feed, versus bringing it to them,” Tina said. “From Amos’s standpoint, he looked at conservation as a financial play. That was how we were going to build our first-generation farm, our first-generation business.” 

 

The Troesters, who farm in rural Garnavillo, do sell/buy cattle, selling a group of animals and buying back in a group that’s undervalued compared to what was just sold to create an up front profit spread. They also raise corn, soybeans and small grains.

 

“We’re looking to do more with every acre we have, whether that’s production crops or small grains that are extremely important to break up that rotation and increase soil health. Multi-species cover is important in that too, both of which we can graze. You can really do multiple crops on a single acre instead of just one, like we’re used to,” Tina shared.

 

In addition, the family has established a full service cover crop advising, application and seed business which they hope to continue to grow.

 

Tina said she and Amos have had to be open minded and willing to step outside the traditional box in order to forge a profitable and sustainable business, not only for themselves, but someday their children.

 

“A sensible person who’s not necessarily keeping ends together probably wouldn’t run a 50-acre experiment, but here we are, we believe in it,” she said. “Financially, it was a sound decision—good for the soil, good for the crops, good for the animals. A win-win all around. We’re thinking about what’s a system we can put in place that’s going to last as long as it needs to, through multiple generations.”

 

“We haven’t arrived yet,” she added. “It’s a building process.”

 

Tina acknowledged the biggest challenge has been largely disregarding what they grew up learning. She has a bachelor’s degree in agri business and minor in soil and crop sciences, with an emphasis in marketing, along with a master’s degree in marketing and international business. She’s worked for Pioneer in seed production, was a retail sales account manager for Dupont and even took a marketing role in Indianapolis after earning her master’s. She currently works for Wilbur-Ellis in the wholesale division with independent retailers.

 

“It’s been hard because we both have college degrees, both worked for corporate agriculture, and you realize as you start learning about soil biology and learning about seed and learning about what’s really going on below the soil surface that all the things you’ve been taught is not what’s really going on,” she shared. “But we’re facing some of the most turbulent times the industry has ever faced, from consumer demands to extremely variable markets to legislation and oversight, so why not work with Mother Nature and at least stop fighting her. Be willing to look at that system and see what it’s doing for your animals, for your crops.”

 

It hasn’t been without sleepless nights, Tina acknowledged. Especially as she and Amos have grown their family. Daughter June is 4 and son Sage is 21 months old.

 

Sage was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. Having a child with extra needs caught the couple off guard.

 

“What Sage has is a spectrum and it’s hard because every kid has different symptoms and has to tackle different things. At the time, we thought, ‘Maybe this kid’s never going to be able to go out to the field with us.’ All these awful thoughts go through your head,” Tina admitted. “Now, he’s doing great—walking and thriving. He loves the skid steer, loves equipment.” 

 

Tina believes having a child with extra needs has made them better people.

 

“We’ve had to choose what’s most important to us, where we’re going to spend our time,” she said. “We’re making decisions today that we would have said we were going to make two years ago, but we never would have. Now we have to make them. We are doing the tough work so our family can have a much better life.” 

 

They hope their Facebook page, “Saved by Sage,” helps others going through similar experiences and inspires them to see how life can change for the better. Tina acknowledged that’s something she needed when Sage was a newborn, eating through a feeding tube.

 

“What I would have given to hear someone say, ‘A year from now, it will all be different. Everything you think of today that could go wrong, those thoughts won’t exist in your mind because it will be so good. These kids will do everything you could have ever dreamed. Don’t limit it,’” she reflected. “I continue to say you can’t strong arm your way through it. As moms, farmers, business owners, a lot of us fall into this bucket. You think working harder will make things better. But that’s not necessarily the case. You need to be thoughtful, you need to be efficient about every second you spend an ounce of energy on and you need to build that support network, because that’s what gets you where you need to go.”

 

Now, Tina is grateful to share the farm upbringing she valued with both her children.

 

While Sage is enamored of the equipment, June loves the animals and working in the field. Similar to the adults when she was a child, Tina finds it important to explain what’s going on at the farm.

 

“I was just explaining what artificial insemination was, so I hope the teachers have not learned about that this week,” Tina joked. “But I look at the things she knows and experiences she’s had and seen and can’t help but think it’s going to make her that much stronger of a person in the future. She knows about life and death, she’s seen how hard we fight with a sick calf to keep it healthy and keep it alive. If we have one that passes away, she says, ‘But, mom, heaven is a good place.’”

 

There’s no better learning than first-hand, Tina added. And no better time than now.

 

“Why wait until she’s older to teach? Why not have every day be a teaching experience? It’s been fun to foster that,” she said. 

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