Pictured Above: Leslie and David Meuer own Meuer Farm, an agritourism operation in Chilton, Wis. “On our farm, we believe in three things: farming, educating and conserving,” says David.
David and Leslie Meuer transitioned from milking 40 dairy cows and farming 150 acres to hosting as many as 25,000 visitors on their agricultural tourism (agritourism) operation near Chilton, Wis. They have successfully tapped into the “locavore” movement — consumers who seek locally grown or produced food — while fulfilling their dream of a sustainable farming operation.
The Meuers have received many accolades, most recently the 2016 Wisconsin Governor’s Tourism Award for Stewardship, the 2016 Wisconsin Land & Water Conservation Farmer of the Year and the 2015 Leopold Conservation Award.
David Meuer turns to local dealers and dealers of specialty equipment, searching for reliable, versatile equipment. “On a busy Saturday, we’re almost the same as a big farmer with a lot of acres because we have the public waiting for us. It’s the urgency of the moment. The public is our commodity,” says Meuer.
Service Motor Co., which has 6 locations in northeastern Wisconsin, is one of the dealers that Meuer works with. Service Motor carries Case IH, Kubota, Land Pride, Woods, Meyer Farm Equipment, Thunder Creek Trailers as well as other lines and they recently featured the Meuers in their “My Story” video promotion series. (See the sidebar, “Partnering for Promotion”)
Transitioning a Farm
The farm has been in the Meuer family since 1969. In the early days, they milked cows, raised chickens and hogs and grew vegetables, later transitioning to a dairy operation. In 2009, they were milking 40 cows and raising corn, but Meuer, as a fourth-generation farmer, knew the operation needed a new direction to support the fifth generation. Diversity, sustainability and agritourism were the answer.
Meet Leslie and David Meuer
Operation: The Meuers own and operate a 150-acre sustainable farm and agritourism operation in Chilton, Wis.
Equipment: Kubota RTV 1100 diesel utility vehicle; Kubota MX5100 with a loader; Montana R4344; Gehl skid steer; and specialty equipment including a Highline Manufacturing bale processor and Holland transplanter; as well as a vintage Van Brunt grain drill.
Priorities: Equipment that is reliable during long days of continuous use and that can handle production of traditional and specialty crops.
View a video of created by their dealership, Service Motor Co., http://bit.ly/MeuerFarm
Their agritourism operation began with 1.5 acres of strawberries and a corn maze. “It was a horrible fall in 2009 — rainy, wet and cold and road construction led everyone to believe there was no way to get here. We had 6,200 visitors, but it was still tough. The following year was our first year for strawberry picking and we also began making maple syrup. Thirteen thousand people came through the farm that year, many asking for products, so we kept expanding. Some people have called our farm ‘a diversified farm on steroids,’” says Meuer.
“The public is our commodity…” — David Meuer of Meuer Farm
The farm now includes 190 acres, 40 of which are rented from another farmer. Of the remaining 150 acres, 45 acres are devoted to rotational grazing of their small cow-calf herd; 35 acres are woods, half of which are black walnut trees that Meuer planted 35 years ago; 5 acres are in strawberries; 15-20 acres are used for crop production using no-till methods (standard crops such as corn and alfalfa as well as ancient grain varieties like emmer and spelt for artisan flour) and an acre is dedicated to sugar snap peas. They also raise broiler hens, laying hens, beef cattle, hogs and honey bees and collect maple syrup.
They built an education center and retail store and host farm-to-table dinners, “Art on the Farm” and other special events. Meuer also serves as president of the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Assn. and president of the Wisconsin Berry Growers Assn.
- Keep an open mind when you are approached for sponsorships and look for ways to make those sponsorships do more for your dealership.
- Agritourism and the local food movement is a growing trend. Find ways to tap into those opportunities.
- Take the time to learn about the operations of smaller acreage farmers and specialty crop growers to uncover their equipment or aftermarket needs.
Their primary tractor in the early stages of their agritourism operation was a Montana R4344 tractor, which they purchased in 2009 from Rogers Haven Farms, an equipment dealer in Omro, Wis.
They added a Kubota RTV 1100 diesel utility vehicle in 2010 from Service Motor’s Fond du Lac, Wis., location. “They sponsored our corn maze during our first year and I have to give them credit for giving us a try. They brought out an RTV for me to use the next year. I tried it for two days and I bought it.
“That vehicle is a workhorse and it was the only vehicle that was able to do what I needed it to do. I have almost 2,000 hours on it now. I count on it to run because it’s the vehicle that pulls the strawberry tram. Twelve people ride on the tram and five more sit in the vehicle,” Meuer says.
He turned to Service Motor again when he needed to add a tractor. In 2014, he bought a Kubota MX5100 with a loader. He purchased the Kubota model for its capabilities to handle hay production, planting and pulling implements like a three-point sprayer. “I bought it based on the specs and the dealership’s reliability. All of my employees that drive the Kubota love it. It’s not too big, but it’s a little bigger than the Montana tractor and can do more things,” he says.
Meuer also appreciates that this model doesn’t have a regeneration system. “I can’t do regeneration when I have hay rides. I’m running it from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., so I need it to run for 10 hours and not have to sit and regenerate,” he says.
Meuer Farm was originally a dairy farm and small cropping operation. Today, the farm hosts as many as 25,000 visitors each year, educating them about rotational grazing of their cow-calf herd, no-till farming practices, fruit and vegetable production and more.
Working with Dealers
Meuer and Service Motor have built up a relationship over the years, which includes cross promotion and equipment support. Jim Haltaufderheide, store manager of the Fond du Lac location, says, “Right from the start, they approached us and we thought it would be a good way to get our name out there. We saw what they were doing and the ideas they had. So, we said, ‘We’ll partner with you and donate what we can.”’
They loan the operation an extra tractor and RTV during their peak fall season and are ready to help with a loaner when the farm’s equipment needs repair. “Last year, I had trouble with my RTV and I gave Service Motor a call. They picked it up and brought me a replacement. I had 100 people waiting for me to pull the tram.”
Meuer searches out specialty equipment from dealers throughout the U.S., either through internet searches, talking with other farmers or by attending trade shows for fruit and vegetable growers.
A corn maze is a big draw for Meuer Farm. Service Motor Co. was an original sponsor and donated the use of a Kubota RTV 1100 diesel UTV. In appreciation, the farm cut the dealership’s logo into the maze for the dealership’s 100th anniversary.
He purchased a Highline Manufacturing bale processor from Steinhart Farm Service, Platteville, Wis., which is located about 3 hours south of his farm. The bale processor breaks up the bales and then he blows the straw on the strawberry plants. He purchased a Holland transplanter (for strawberries) from Ag Resource of Detroit Lakes, Minn., and a multivator from La Crescent Orchard Supply of La Crescent, Minn.
Meuer also traveled to Montana for an oat roller and even to Austria for a stone mill. “It’s difficult to find the equipment we need for a smaller operation. That kind of equipment is just not being built in the U.S.,” he says.
Service Motor Co. is one of the dealerships that agritourism operator David Meuer works with and the two have established a cross promotional partnership. The dealership has 6 locations in northeastern Wisconsin and carries Case IH, Kubota, Land Pride, Woods, Meyer Farm Equipment, Thunder Creek Trailers and other lines.
He also holds on to older equipment that keeps getting the job done. For instance, he still uses his Gehl skid steer, which he purchased about 15 years ago from Waupun Equipment, Waupun, Wis. For drilling grain and planting sugar-snap peas, he turns to his early 20th century Van Brunt grain drill. The company was bought by John Deere in 1911 and Meuer is still able to purchase parts.
Meuer says the visitors to his farm represent a variety of demographics. “Our visitors are hungry for information. The 20- and 30-year-olds want better quality food grown by sustainable methods and the ‘baby boomers’ have extra money and are willing to pay for better tasting food,” Meuer says.
His farm is not certified organic and he explains why he follows certain non-organic practices, such as applying fungicide on strawberries. “Fresh, good quality and good tasting food is what’s most important to consumers. And, it’s important to them that the money they are spending is going back to the local farmer,” Meuer says.