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Tim and Robyn Raile raise organic cereals and grains on their St. Francis, Kan., farm.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

February 14, 2024

9 Slides

At a Glance

  • Tim and Robyn Raile are members of the 2023 Class of Kansas Master Farm Families.
  • They raise organic wheat, proso millet, corn and other grains on their St. Francis farm.
  • Their grains can be found in major national food brands and stores, from Costco to Whole Foods.

The next time you pack a snack for the tractor cab, and you reach for a Kind Healthy Grains bar, or a Clif or Luna bar, give a nod to the Raile family of St. Francis, Kan.

After all, it’s their organic proso millet that you’re possibly enjoying in that midmorning energy boost.

Tim and Robyn Raile have been carrying on the Raile family farming tradition in western Kansas since 1980, adapting to market forces by adopting organic farming and guiding the next generation.

Tenacity and gumption

It takes a lot of tenacity and gumption to farm in Cheyenne County, Kan, which is located in the far northwest corner of the state. It’s hot and windy in the summer, with an average rainfall of less than 20 inches per year.

Tim’s great-grandfather Gottlieb Raile Sr. saw the potential in the area in 1885, and following generations built the farm bit by bit. By the late 1970s, though, Tim Raile was planning to do anything but farm like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him.

“I was looking to do other things,” he says. “I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to be a pilot. I thought I wanted to be lots of things other than a farmer.”

So, he attended Kansas State University, and even played on the Kansas State Wildcats football team.

“I actually bought my first piece of ground when I was still in college in 1978,” Tim says. “That tug of agriculture kept pulling me back, and I was resistant to it at first, and then I finally yielded to it.”

So, in 1980, he came home to farm with Robyn.

That Raile family tenacity had served Tim on the football field, and it was going to serve him well in expanding the farm. He and Robyn took every opportunity to learn about agronomy, finance and farm management through courses offered through K-State Extension, Kansas Farm Management Association and more. Together, they were building the farm and growing their family with daughter Jessica and son Michael.

Tim says he saw early the benefit of using personal computers to track farm records that could then help him improve his management decisions in a professional fashion.

“We had to maximize every dollar,” Tim says. “I’ve spent hours and hours in front of a spreadsheet, you know, running this scenario and running that scenario, and that was all basically self-taught. I had the determination to learn myself.”

Each time he approached a landowner with an idea, he would create a prospectus sharing their expected return and more. The data helped him communicate long-term goals and the plan to mitigate risk.

This professional approach, Tim says, helped in the 1990s as he and his father started to get into minimum- and no-till farming, as well as cover crops. Through the next 20 years, the Railes were able to expand the farm using no-till with intensive crop management. But by the time Michael returned to the farm in 2011, resistant weeds were starting to be a problem.

The opportunity to farm a plot of Conservation Reserve Program grassland in 2014, and transition it into organic wheat production, would be a pivotal calculated risk in the trajectory of the farm.

Organic grains

Today, Raile Farms is a 100% certified organic operation, growing winter wheat, winter durum, proso millet, and irrigated corn and sunflowers for the organic food-grade market.

They have found several management techniques that work for them, including using summer mulch till and proso millet instead of fallow as a rotational break. They fertilize with composted feedlot manure, and foliar-feed with a plant protein extract, seaweed and compost tea. And, Tim says, their yield history is as high as before they switched.

Central Milling in Logan, Utah, is a co-pack flour mill, and it has its own brand. It buys all of the Railes’ wheat, which eventually makes its way into Dave’s Killer bread, and the organic flour you can buy in Costco and Whole Foods.

The family invested in building a 336,000-bushel grain storage facility in St. Francis and formed Raile Organic Grain LLC. This way, all grain from the farm, including landlord shares, are sold to ROG for it to market to the end user under its Organic Certificate. This added storage makes it convenient for them to ship grain through the winter to Utah, too.

Each crop they add to their organic farm plays a role, from the winter durum wheat they raise for a growing organic pasta market, to their proso millet that doubles as a cover crop on what would normally be summer fallow acres.

Tightknit community

The population of all of Cheyenne County, at 2,616 people, could fit in K-State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium with plenty of room to spare. There are challenges, sure, in raising a family in a sparsely populated county, Robyn says. But there’s also plenty of good that comes with that, as well.

In those early days, with young children, Robyn says determination got them through the work it took to make their farming dream a reality in that season of their life. They approached it with a team mindset, she says.

“Everybody had a purpose, a role, and both kids were going to work with Tim when they were in junior high,” she says.

The St. Francis community is a tightknit one, and it looks out for each other. Tim and Robyn have tried to lead by example. Tim served two terms as a county commissioner and on several local boards, and Robyn, seeing that there was a need, got her EMT certification.

“I knew that they needed EMTs,” Robyn says. There was a time that the community didn’t have a doctor, only a physician’s assistant. That meant EMTs were really a triage, often helping transport patients to facilities in Denver, or as far as Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Somone needs to do it [volunteering], and we had the gift of someone doing that prior to us,” Robyn says. “I think it’s important to take a turn.” Whether that’s serving in county government or taking classes to help your neighbors in their time of need.

Or, raising the grains that will make their way onto the plates and into the lunchboxes of so many consumers around the nation.

Read more about:

OrganicMaster Farmers

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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