Lyle and Sharil Rollag live about as close to the South Dakota border as one can without being a South Dakotan. Their Rock County farmstead is located in the far southwest corner of Minnesota just one-half mile east of the Minnesota-South Dakota line. This is where they raised three children and from where Sharil commutes to Sioux Falls for her work as a research scientist at Poet.
Roughly a third of his acreage of field corn and soybeans and “a little alfalfa” is in Dakota territory. With a partner, he also has a cow-calf operation. Lyle says farming is all he ever wanted to do. “I started with my dad just out school,” then adds, “Since we were just at my 40th high school reunion, I guess that makes this my 40th crop.”
Lyle Rollag and a cousin are the two remaining farmers in a lineage of Rollags who settled in Rock County in 1873. Now in his 50s, Lyle suspects they will be the last of the line. But he is okay with that.
“The kids got their brains from their mother,” Lyle quips in his friendly self-deprecating Midwestern way. That could be true. But don’t let Lyle’s humor belie his own intelligence. He’s a sharp guy.
His tone changes when discussing children. Sharil and Lyle are proud parents for good reason. Their eldest son is an airline pilot. The middle daughter is a doctor of physical therapy. And then there’s the youngest. “Sure, there was a time when I hoped our youngest might come home to farm, but that changed the day he gave us a tour of his laboratory at Iowa State.”
The youngest Rollag, a graduate of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, is currently pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering at Iowa State. He holds process-related patents and looks forward to an eventual career in biorenewables. His dad says, “After seeing him at work, I knew he wouldn’t‒and shouldn’t‒come back to farm. His talents are elsewhere. I think the world will know his name one day.”
The Rollags are avid biofuel supporters, who were early investors in local ethanol and biodiesel production. Today, most of Rollag corn crop is trucked to the nearby Gevo plant in Luverne, where it is converted to ethanol, livestock feed and isobutanol. The soybeans are destined for production of crude and refined soybean oils or biodiesel at Minnesota Soybean Processors in Brewster. Their farming trucks and equipment run on a 50% biodiesel blend (B50) and the tanks of their flex-fuel vehicles are refilled with E85 or E15.
When asked about it, Lyle says, “Initially, we invested in farmer-owned ethanol plants because it eliminated the middle men‒allowing us more local control of our crops and keeping more dollars in our pocket. But I’ve come to understand it’s about more than that. Today, I know it’s the right thing to do for rural development and our nation…and we can help reduce the environmental and geopolitical problems tied to petroleum.”