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Stoen Farm Supply celebrates 50 years

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 03/12/2013 2:59 PM

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LOWRY, Minn. — Ron Stoen got his start as a custom applicator 50 years ago due to a field of mustard.

The owner of Stoen Farm Supply in Lowry recalls being greeted by fields of yellow when he and his wife drove to their new farm west of town.

"We didn't know if the mustard was a money crop or if it was actually a field filled with weeds," he said.

The farm was right for the couple. They made a $250 down payment and quickly put in their own sweat equity.

A neighbor told them the farm was "all rocks and weeds." He had a sprayer the couple could use, but said the rocks were something they'd have to dig up themselves.

The Stoens put in their first crop of mostly grain and the weeds started to grow. Good to his word, the neighbor showed up with the sprayer and told Stoen to help him fill it with water and 2,4-D.

"We went to our first field and he told me to stand on the drawbar and flip the shut off on the ends of the field," Stoen said.

The neighbor handed Stoen a toothbrush so Stoen could clean clogged sprayer tips.

"That happened about every 10 minutes," he said.

Stoen went on to purchase a Century sprayer from Lindsay Brothers in Minneapolis. He was familiar with the company because his father, Arnold, ordered and sold equipment for them.

The new machine had a 200-gallon capacity with a 28-foot boom.

After he milked cows one night, he jumped in his 1954 Ford truck, drove the Twin Cities, and dealt between two firms before purchasing 2,4-D and Atrazine. He made it home by 6 a.m. for morning milking.

Spraying four rows at a time with a 14-inch band took forever, he said. To speed up the process, he rented another 30 Massey, picked up another old sprayer with less boom and built another four-row bander.

He started spraying for others who also asked Stoen to purchase farm products for them. Buying and selling farm supplies was a natural fit for Stoen. He learned about that business from his dad.

His father contracted polio when Stoen was eight years old. Although Arnold spent two years in an iron lung and was paralyzed, his mind was sharp.

One of Arnold's first inventions was a lift used to put him into his bed. Money made from his invention he gave back to the Sister Kenny Institute to pay for his hospital stay when he first contracted polio, Stoen said. The invention can be seen at the paralytic store in Duluth. The invention was called the "Stoen Lift."

Arnold also developed a livestock concentrate called Minnewaska Feeds. A renovated hearse, complete with tracks for his wheelchair, became his mobile office. Someone would drive him so Arnold could talk to farmers about seed and farm products.

"That's where I learned about the business," Stoen said.

When Arnold died in 1960, 13 years after contracting polio, Stoen took his $5,000 inheritance and purchased a new 3020 John Deere Diesel power shift. He got a cab, put on a turbo charger and mounted a boom on the cab steps in front of the rear tires. Stoen pulled a 13-foot disk and mounted a 150 gallon tank on the three-point hitch.

He incorporated products like Sutan for corn and Treflan for beans. He'd start south of Glenwood, spraying for farmers, and work his way up to Donnelly. He did that for three years and continued to build his custom application business and farm product sales.

The Stoens moved to Pocket Lake in 1985 when their son, Gregg, took over the farm. At the same time, they moved Stoen Farm Supply to Lowry. Jeanette is the store's assistant secretary, the janitor and handles sprayer parts.

Stoen sold his custom application business to Jesse Jantz, who works out of Stoen Farm Supply. He's excited about the new equipment he's purchased for the job including a John Deere with auto steer, auto shut off, boom height control and computer technology for variable rate application.

Stoen Farm Supply sells baling twine, sprayer parts and herbicides.

He enjoys wildlife and watches the antics of a bald eagle that flies past the farm supply building located on Highway 55.

Stoen continues to farm as does his son, Gregg.

The Stoens have five children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren with another on the way, he said.

At 71, he doesn't anticipate slowing down any time soon.

"I enjoy working on things from different fertilizers and fertilizer placement," he said. "I like to see progress."

He hosts an annual workshop. The 2013 workshop takes place Feb. 28 at the Minnewaska House. The event starts at 9 a.m. with registration. For more information, call (320) 283-5283.