Doug and Traci Steffen have a mission for their farm near Crofton, Neb., “Regenerating families, attitudes, practices and soils for a flourishing future.”
Their mission began in the union of two hearts connected to make the soil and ultimately, the world, a better place.
Eight children make up the welcoming committee in the Steffen household, from oldest to youngest they are; Abby, William, Anthony, Natalee, Becca, Heather, Trenton, baby Patrick (more aptly known as PJ) and the family puppy, Scotch (short for Butterscotch).
Trenton seems anxious to head out to move cattle with his dad. The eldest, Abby, expresses one way the entire family started to learn about soil benefitting practices from their father, “On car rides, dad would find no-till books and read them to us.”
There is an unspoken but ever-present understanding that their father is onto something lasting on the farm. Doug explained, “My faith is deeply-rooted in this. It’s not about being a farmer. It’s being a steward. I believe in everything there is a union, a system created for us to provide for us. If we take the time to listen to, study and understand what is being given to us, therein we will find the opportunities.”
As stewards of dryland crop fields, Doug said, “The big thing was preserving the water in the soil. If I can manage the moisture in the soil, it can give me an advantage over the tillage that dries the soil out.”
The Steffen family is now residing on the farm where Doug grew up and are working through transitioning the farm over from Doug’s parents, Ed and Arlene. His father is still heavily involved with day-to-day operations, and Doug is employed by the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Today, the farm consists of custom-finishing hogs and finishing their own cattle with a cow/calf operation. A recent venture is sheep, as Doug wants to see multi-species grazing on the land together again. It’s all hands-on deck when it comes to chores with his wife Traci and the children more than willing to help.
“I grew up in South Sioux City, Neb. Yes, I was a town girl. But I can tube the lambs faster than you can say, ‘tube the lambs,’” Traci said.
After growing up working on the farm, Doug headed to study communications at the University of South Dakota and later switched to a degree in Business Finance. He finished his collegiate career at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and then worked at a bank as a teller and manager. Doug also met Traci during college, and they were married in February of 2000. She was a double major in Mass Communications and Psychology. Traci said with a grin, “After all the children are raised, I will have the additional experience I needed to be a Family Counselor.”
Doug eventually became a Farm Loan Officer with FSA out of Scottsbluff. Then the couple purchased 12 head of cows from a neighbor back in the Crofton area, Wyman McCain, who was rotationally grazing. Doug explained, “Wyman was studying rotational grazing practices and setting up a cell grazing system. He is the one who has really helped spur our interest in these practices. We ended up moving to O’Neill, Neb. in 2005, and we could run our cows with my parents’ cows.”
“It was knowing what my purpose is and seeking out people who were already doing what I wanted to do. It’s just knowing that the reason I am here is to be a steward of the land,” Doug said. “My whole goal is to leave it better for them; because I am only here temporarily. It is a gift that I have been given, and I better make the best of it.”
In 2013, Doug started working with Jeff Steffen who helped them incorporate seed oats, “We started contract growing the oats, and I recognized I could come back with a cover crop mix after that.”
One thing led to another, and Doug’s soil health studies led him to the opportunity to take part in the Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Health Initiative. “Life begins in the soil,” Doug said, without a shadow of a doubt. “The soil is my savings account that I need to invest into. There is life within the soil, and the life within the soil feeds the life above the soil. It is my responsibility as a steward of the land to keep that life going. You must view the soil in a different way. Soil is not a place where you just place a root – it’s life. That is what drives me. That is my purpose.”