Our Family of Farmers
in Sprague, WA
Rudolf and Robert Sheffels emigrated from Germany and started on a homestead in Montana. Robert had three sons Henry, Robert Jr, and Lew. Henry stayed in Montana and Robert Jr. and Lew ended up farming together near the town of Wilbur Washington and expanded near the town of Davenport Washington. Robert Jr. married Margretta Cline and they had two sons, Robert and Gilbert that farmed together their entire time in farming. In the mid 1900s, Lew and Robert Jr., (the second Robert), divided up the operation but both stayed in the Wilbur area. Robert, (the third Robert) is now retired, (except for some book keeping), and Gilbert spends most of his time helping his son Steve who operates a split off farm by the name of "West Hill Joint Venture" in Sprague, Washington. My name is Mark Sheffels. I am Robert's youngest son. My wife Becky and I live in the same house that my parents lived in during their life on the farm, which is the same house his parents lived in when they farmed. I continue to manage the Wilbur and Davenport farms to this day. Our oldest son Trevor is a recently married post graduate student working on a PhD in Environmental Management at Portland State. Our youngest son Corbin will soon start his senior year at Seattle Pacific University. He will graduate with a degree in literature and education.
How has the transistion from conventional gone?
My farm has fully been converted to Direct Seed production since 1996. That means we do not till the fields. Our fuel usage is one half of conventional fallow production and erosion is no longer a factor. In fact we are building soil for the future in both quality and quantity. As happy as I am with my Direct Seed system I know that is never wise to say "that's good enough." We are currently experimenting with winter peas in the hope that we can reduce chemical and fertilizer inputs further through rotational benefits. Insect control at this point in time is 90 percent plus biological.
What do you find most enjoyable about agriculture?
I am enjoying farming more than I ever have now that I have a truly sustainable production system. I'm also very excited about Shepherd's grain effort to find consumers that also appreciate good stewardship of agricultural lands. Even so biology and economics never cease to offer new challenges to life on the farm. In spite of the fact that I am the eternal optimist I should admit the humble beginnings of my ancestors that gave me this opportunity. Four generations ago, Rudolf and the first of four generations of Roberts were having a tough go of farming in Montana. Both had taken about as much bad luck as a farmer could take. They decided there would be a coin flip. The outcome of the flip would determine who would stay to farm, and who would go back to Germany. My great grandfather lost the flip.