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FFA Star Farmer: Better is better than bigger


When FFA Star Farmer Tyler Schnaithman graduates from Oklahoma State University this spring, he will return to a farming operation he has been building up since he was 11 years old.

“One of my biggest goals as a young producer was to establish an operation that would allow me to return to the farm full-time after college,” Schnaithman said. “Although it has been difficult to balance at times with school and other activities, after graduating in May of 2017, I will be returning to my farm as a full-time fifth generation farmer.”

The Garber, Oklahoma resident was recently named the 2016 American Star Farmer, one of the most prestigious honors awarded to a student by the National FFA Organization. And it’s no wonder why …

When Schnaithman was just 11-years-old, he purchased half interest in a swather and began putting up custom hay with his brother. The duo routinely swathed for seven to 10 customers and put up around 800 acres per summer.

After enrolling in a supervised agricultural experience class in eighth grade, Schnaithman realized his passion was really sheep. He started out with 10 Hamp/Suffolk ewes for meat production. The young entrepreneur also strived to utilize breeding lines, to raise as many show lambs as possible. By his senior year in high school, Schnaithman had 45 ewes and three rams.

When Schnaithman started college, the young farmer sold his sheep due to the amount of labor needed to keep the operation afloat. But that didn’t stop him from growing his operation. Schnaithman started his cattle enterprise in 2009, and expanded in 2011 when he looked for alternative ways to add value to his beef enterprise.

“I started out purchasing stockers to run on my wheat pasture during the winter months,” Schnaithman said. “However, in 2011, I started purchasing Angus heifers, running them on wheat pasture or back grounding them with corn silage, breeding them, and then selling them as bred replacements the following year.”

Today Schnaithman’s beef business consists of some mature Angus cows that are used for cow/calf production and a bred heifer development program.

An agricultural economics major at Oklahoma State, Schnaithman is currently focused on crop production, where a majority of his acres are on a no-till wheat/canola, double crop soybean, and corn rotation.


Courtesy of Tyler Schnaithman
Courtesy of Tyler Schnaithman

“This rotation allows me to harvest three crops in just years,” Schnaithman said. “This rotation really fits my operation because I feel like every crop benefits the next.”

The FFA Star Farmer has also obtained his Oklahoma Genetics Inc. license and sells registered and certified seed wheat as well.

“This is another area that I have been able to add some value to my products while striving to be more of a price maker instead of a price taker,” Schnaithman said. “In addition, I also have a forage enterprise that primarily consists of alfalfa. The alfalfa I produce can either be utilized in my beef enterprise or sold in large squares across the state of Oklahoma or Texas.”

The business hasn’t always been fruitful for Schnaithman. As a young producer, he soon realized the enormous amount of capital involved to start an operation, acquiring several loans from his local bank or other ag lending companies to get started.

“Through the years, I have been very profitable at times, but have also faced some very challenging years as well,” Schnaithman said. “One of those examples occurred in 2014 when there was a terrible drought in north central Oklahoma that caused all of my crop yields to be well below normal.”

Schnaithman has been thankful for his time in FFA as the organization has strengthened his operation.

“First and foremost, it has taught me the importance of keeping accurate records and how to run a business. With today’s commodity prices sometimes margins can be very thin,” Schnaithman said. “With the help of my ag teacher, I have a much better grasp on where I’m at financially, the exact dollars I have invested in each enterprise, as well as the profitability of every area of my operation.”


Tyler Schnaithman
Tyler Schnaithman

His goal to give back to the organization and always be willing to help younger FFA members.

“My best advice to give young individuals trying to get started is to focus on being the best manager you possibly can be. When I started out, my main goal was to simply be big. I wanted to farm as many acres as I possibly could and expand my cattle operation to being as large as I could possibly handle,” Schnaithman said. “However, over the years I have come to realize that being ‘better is better than being bigger.’ Many times, it can be the smaller, well-managed operations that are the most profitable.”


357: The number of chapters.

27,166: The number of students who are members (Oklahoma ranks fourth nationally in membership).

1928: The date the Oklahoma FFA program started. It was the seventh state to charter.

10: The number of American Star Farmer winners, the most of any state (Tyler’s brother, Travis Schnaithman, was the 2008 American Star Farmer).

8: The number of FFA presidents who have come from Oklahoma.


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