Eric Schroeder is Spudman’s 2018 Emerging Leader of the Year
It would be accurate to call Eric Schroeder, assistant manager at Schroeder Brothers Farms, a jack of all trades. Depending on the time of year, you could find him out on a tractor, at a tank truck filling the sprayers or watering the farm’s potato crop in Suring, Wisconsin. If it’s colder, he might be in the office tracking and sending invoices, monitoring the food safety program or keeping an eye on Frito-Lay’s crop tracking requirements.
However, jack of all trades might not be the best label, since it usually comes with the follow-up line, “master of none.” While Schroeder may not yet be a master at all of his myriad job duties, he is definitely putting in the time to become one.
That commitment to gaining considerable skill in multiple areas might stem from the fact that his hard work is helping his family and their business thrive.
“On the farm — I’m most proud that myself, my brother and cousin (and likely one more cousin) have all chosen to come back to the farm and hopefully continue our family’s tradition of being good seed growers,” he said.
Schroeder said growing up he was already around the family farm, whether riding tractors, harvesters or a combine with his dad or driving around all night checking pivots. His involvement in the family farm really became serious during college breaks, when he realized that he didn’t find anything at college that he wanted to do more than work on the farm.
“Whether it involves water, pesticides, GMOs, animal husbandry, drones or the ‘next big thing,’ Eric meets challenges head on,” said Tamas Houlihan, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. “He is able to interpret complicated regulations, monitor legislative activities, understand the implications of those activities, and at the same time promote his occupation to the public and keep them aware of all the good things farmers do.”
Houlihan said Schroeder embraces new ecological and sustainable methods of farming while keeping abreast of new technologies and growing techniques. That set of skills and abilities came to Schroeder through long hours on the farm and long hours working with other farmers.
He is the current president of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and is a past president of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association. Schroeder has also attended the National Potato Council’s Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI) and was elected by his peers to be the grower leader to return to the PILI the following year. He is also a Wisconsin representative on Potatoes USA, and serves on the administration committee as well as the potato research advisory committee.
That experience has taught him lessons over the years.
“I do my best to stay humble and keep my ego in check. It seems there is always somebody out there who has been doing this longer and bigger and is probably right,” he said. “Learn from your mistakes.”
Those lessons will be important for the health of his fifth-generation, 6,400-acre farm near Antigo, Wisconsin. The farm raises 2,200 acres of seed potatoes and is one of the largest Frito-Lay seed potato producers in the U.S. They are a four-time winner of Frito-Lay’s Seed Grower of the Year Award. Looking to the future, his operation along with the industry as a whole faces challenges.
He said those include continuing to please the customer.
“People want their food to be GMO free, pesticide free, environmentally friendly, local, visually appealing, use no water and at the same time affordable,” he said. “I’m not sure all of those can be done at the same time and also feed our growing population.”
However, Schroeder will continue to be driven to solve those problems by what brought him to farming in the first place.
“I’m proud of the family and life I have started with my wife and kids,” he said, adding that he’s finding ways to challenge himself away from the farm as well. “Also, I’m proud of myself for randomly signing up for a triathlon this February (results to be determined).”