Farms We’ve Protected

Frier Farm

Geneva, NY

Doug Freier’s grandfather came to the U.S. from Germany when he was only 16 years old. He wound up in Wisconsin, got married, and started a dairy farm. As the story goes, he did not like all the rocks on his farm, so when real estate agents started advertising about the opportunity to grow wheat with giant heads in the finger lakes region of New York, he jumped on a train to start his next journey. After hopping between several different trains, he eventually made his way to Geneva, NY where he found a 146-acre farm that he liked. He bought the farm and sent for his wife and kids who were awaiting word from Wisconsin. The year was 1921.

Doug’s father, along with his 8 other siblings, grew up on Freier Farm and the times weren’t always easy. First there was the depression in the 30’s; “Nobody had nothin”, Doug’s father would tell him when recalling that period of time. Then there was WWII in the 40’s; Most of the boys in the family went into the military, including Doug’s father. Finally, by the 50’s, life was seeming to calm down and Doug’s grandfather was able to help 8 of his 9 kids buy their own farms to get started in farming. Doug’s father remained on the “home farm” and took it over after getting married. His father managed to scale the farm up to 520 acres as Doug was growing up.

By the time Doug became the third generation to take over the farm, his uncle had passed away. He decided to buy a 380-acre swatch of land that his uncle had owned about 4 miles away from the home farm. Doug chose this section to put into an easement because his uncle was always adamant about keeping farmland as farmland and never selling any of it off for development, despite the many offers he received over the years. It was a way to honor his uncle’s memory for a cause that they have both always felt strong about. Doug would have liked to put even more of his abundant farmland into easements, but at the time funding was short from the state and he actually ended up selling his development rights for less than the full value of the parcel in order to complete the project. Because his uncle’s parcel backs up to the old railroad tracks and walking path along the Seneca River and borders the village of Waterloo, he figured it had the most pressure to be developed and therefore the best chance at being approved for the conservation easement. If the state had the capacity, he would do that for all of his land, he said.

Today, Freier Farm is a whopping 1,800 acres and the business has been almost completely taken over by Doug’s two sons. They grow 500 acres each of corn, soybeans, and hay, and still produce about 300 acres of wheat.  Doug made the conscious decision to begin transferring the business and land to his children while he is still alive and they are still young enough to grow their careers in farming. Too often he has seen fathers hold onto the reigns until they pass away, leaving the children with little stake and experience in the business, which sometimes leads to the farms being sold out of the family. Now he can be pretty confident Freier Farm will stay in the family.

As the farm continues to scale up, the family has been very invested in improving their soil conservation practices. Doug has learned a lot through the years about the effects of different techniques. For example, when he was younger, they always spring plowed until discovering that fall plowing resulted in higher yields in the following season. For a while, fall plowing became the priority but it also came with increased erosion. Doug started doing no-till practices in the 80’s to address this issue. He credits his father-in-law for introducing zone-till practices to the area, which they started implementing along with no-till. After a few years of doing either zone-till or no-till, they determined that zone-till was a stepping stone to realizing that no-till is the most effective option for increasing yields and maintaining soil health. As Doug’s sons have taken over, they’ve turned their attention to cover crops as the next technique to combine with their no-till practices. After all, they want to preserve the quality of the land for generations of their family to come.