Members in Focus: Amdahl Family, Meeker County
Each family chosen as a University of Minnesota Farm Family of the Year has made a mark on Minnesota agriculture. The Amdahl family, operators of Amcrest Farms in Atwater since 1892, have made theirs with each generation’s passion for the farm.
Homesteaded by Darren Amdahl’s great-grandfather, the farm now appears destined to land in the hands of Darren’s oldest son, Jaden, the fifth generation.
“It’s Jaden’s first year farming,” Darren said. “All he’s wanted to do since he was little was farm.”
“I want to be outside working with tools,” Jaden added.
For decades, this century farm has kept calling the Amdahls home, even if they leave it for a while. Photos in the farm office display how Amcrest has evolved over time, going from a dairy and crop farm to a beef and crop farm, with new bins and sheds popping up. No matter what changes, it’s still the land that they love.
The right timing
Before Darren took over the farm, he had a surprising first career: managing a funeral home in Excelsior, near Minneapolis.
“I went to school to be a mortician,” he said. “I always wanted to farm, but we weren’t big enough at the time and I didn’t want to take anything from my dad.”
His mindfulness toward the timing paid off: by spring 1994, Amcrest Farms had expanded after the retirement of a few neighbors, and Darren was able to return to farm alongside his father, Don Amdahl. He’s been there ever since, getting married to his wife Jen in 1995 and raising their three children: Jaden, Ryan and Ashlyn. Jaden’s getting started farming full-time, while Ryan goes to school at South Dakota State, majoring in chiropractics, and Ashlyn is a junior at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School. The younger two help on the farm as they can. Jen works as a realtor. Darren’s mom, Sandy, was the parts runner for the operation for many years, which Jen is also taking on now.
Farm transitions are a struggle for many families, but the Amdahls were lucky on this front.
“I was fortunate that when I got home, I didn’t have to fight for the farm,” Darren said. “My one brother is a teacher up in Albany.”
It remains to be seen how Jaden’s two siblings will feel about farming, but for now, Jaden is confident he’ll be farming for a long time.
“I’ve always helped my dad through the years, so it’s easy to slide right in,” he said.
‘A sign from God’
Adaptation has been key for the Amdahls over the years. Don, who became primary operator in 1968, milked cows there for most of his life. Darren kept going with that until 2003, when a barn burned down.
“I took that as a sign from God that maybe I should get out of milking cows,” Darren said with a chuckle. “In February of that year, I sold the cows.”
It wasn’t just one event that ended the Amdahls’ dairy career. Darren knew at the time that his dad would be phasing out before too long. It made sense to move on from it and bring in beef cattle instead. They now have 70 head combined between cows, calves and steers.
Don, Darren and Jaden plant a lot of ground between themselves.
“We are farming about 4,000 acres after expansions,” Darren said. “We own close to 3,000. We grow corn and soybeans, and a little bit of wheat on lighter ground south of Atwater every other or every third year.”
They grew peas and sweet corn for Seneca and Green Giant a long time ago, before standards on irrigation changed. Darren has also hauled peas for Seneca and still hauls silage for some dairy farmers.
As expected, Don is moving towards retirement from farming. Darren prepared for that not only by transitioning from dairy to beef, but by expanding their planter to become more efficient.
“The plan (for harvest) is that my dad will be the combine guy, Jaden will be the cart guy, and I’ll be the grain guy, running the grain dryer,” Darren said. “In spring Jaden does the planting, I do a lot of the field work and spray. Last year was the first year my dad hadn’t planted corn since the 1960s.”
Amcrest doesn’t have any full-time employees beside the family members, though that hasn’t always been the case.
“I had a great hired man until last year,” Darren said. “I had him milking cows when he was 15, part-time, then full-time the last 6-8 years. He’s almost like a son to my dad. Now it’s just us three, and I’ve got a guy that helps at fall harvest at night. It’s going to be fun having Jaden here to put in the hours.”
Don and Darren each joined MFU when they took over the farm. They’ve been active in a number of organizations, including the local Corn Growers and Soybean Growers and Meeker County Extension Committee. It’s important to them to make sure their voices are heard.
“I think (farm organizations) work for everything we believe in,” Don said. “There aren’t that many of us. We’re a small majority of the people farming. Farmers Union is a good organization that believes in what farmers stand for.”
It’s especially important now, knowing that young people like Jaden face extreme difficulty getting started in farming without the help of family, largely due to the financial burdens of it. MFU is working on policies to make it easier, in the Farm Bill and the State Legislature.
Being named the Meeker County UMN Farm Family of the Year came out of nowhere for Don and Darren. Jaden and Jen submitted the application back in the spring, without telling them, until they won.
“I didn’t even know how it worked,” Don said with a smile.
Darren was more familiar with it after serving on the Meeker County Extension Committee in the early 2000’s, when he nominated one of his neighbors for the award. They were recognized at Farmfest in August alongside the other families and been featured in local publications for their accomplishment.
Family farms like Amcrest are the backbone of our state. We congratulate them and all the UMN Farm Families of the Year for their great contributions to family agriculture.