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COL A farmer rolls with the punches

Dan Brandt is not politically amorphous. The farmer-philosopher's values and political perspectives are defined in articulate, concise and often humorous statements.

Political issues intrigue Dan. We spent an afternoon at his Eyota area farm, generally agreeing about politics, and, in my case, learning about agriculture, economics, fertilization, pollination, grain drying, aphids, crop dusting, and the energetic agrarian's inspirational philosophy of life.

Donna Brandt complements her husband, and displayed her own brand of congeniality and optimism before leaving for her shift as a ward secretary at Rochester Methodist Hospital.

On a tour of his 700-acre farm, Dan showed me a machine shed containing enormous and expensive equipment and vehicles. Brandt owns a semitrailer in which he hauls corn and soybean crops to an Archer Daniels Midland grain terminal in Winona. From there, the product is shipped on barges down the Mississippi River for export.

; The lovely Brandt home is surrounded by a manicured lawn bounded by woods. Dan's den and business office is complete with framed farm pictures on the wall, a computer, and files of financial records and cost and profit margin flow charts.

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These resources affirm that successful, modern farmers have to be technically proficient, mechanically sophisticated and well versed in agricultural economics and science, and must possess eclectic physical and intellectual skills.

; A former dairy farmer, Brandt now specializes in crop farming, which has included field peas, green beans, sweet corn, field corn, and soybeans. Soybeans, Dan informed me, are a lucrative crop for overseas markets, especially China. The beans are converted into human and animal food, soy sauce, soy oil, diesel fuel, and other products. Mexico, he explained, is a significant market for U.S. corn.

Looking out over vast windblown seas of corn and beans, one sees a fortune at harvest time. But Brandt informed me that in the last two years crop prices were below the cost of production for 18 months.

Supply and demand price and production factors govern the fortunes of full-time farmers who constitute, Brandt asserted, only 2 percent of the national population.

Brandt contracts with area packing plants, elevators, and farm implement dealers, and supplements his own knowledge and skills with their expertise and services in agricultural and mechanical matters.

The machine shed shelters a combine which today might cost $250,000. Brandt showed me machines that cultivate, plant and harvest his crops. A couple of tractors caught my attention. One huge tractor featured an air-conditioned, computer-controlled cab. The combine was similarly equipped. In those technological marvels, a plethora of planting, crop, harvesting and vehicular information can be recorded, displayed, and retrieved.

Crawling up into the vehicles was challenge enough for me, let alone trying to master the complex display and control panels which guide the actions of the farmer and the machines.

; A smaller tractor caught my eye and put a tear in Dan's. It was the 1960s era John Deere tractor that his father, who passed away a year and a half ago, loved to drive.

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Brandt got his initial agricultural training working on a family farm west of Stewartville with his father and grandfather.

Consistently highly rated among outstanding regional farmers, Brandt earned the Olmsted County Dairy Farmer of the Year award in 1979.

When not farming, Brandt works in agribusiness sales and as a certified dairy cattle nutritionist for Farm Country Cooperative.

Dan's farm fortunes collapsed in the 1980s when high interest rates, land prices, and loan payments forced the sale of his dairy farm. For 10 years, he and Donna rented a farm house, and he worked in agricultural sales.

As his farm was sold out from under him, Dan told a reporter, "We are going to be hobby farming for awhile." But he vowed, "I'll be back."

As hard on the psyche as the experience was, Dan kept his spirits up. "Why be bitter," he asked, "about things you can do nothing about?"

During the 1980s, the media covered the stories of bankrupt, depressed and destroyed farm families.

Looking back on it, Dan wondered if the media that covered the "young tigers" who lost their farms would be interested in finding out what eventually happened to them.

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"That," Brandt suggested, "would be an interesting story."

Tom Ostrom is a former Rochester Community and Technical College instructor who writes a regular column for the Post-Bulletin.

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