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Farmers for the Future: Going with the grain

Agriculture.com Staff 03/11/2010 @ 12:33pm

At times, the Sampson family wondered if they'd ever get the 2009 crop into the bin. After a cold and wet October caused historic delays, November weather cracked open a window of opportunity.

The final push came down to the wire, with Clint combining, his wife, Darby, driving the grain cart, Clint's dad, Alan, hauling grain, and Clint's mom, Kathy, taking her lunch hour to move them to the next farm. They crossed the finish line December 19.

"It was one of the latest harvests we've ever had," Kathy says. "Our typical goal is to finish by the first day of deer hunting, the third Saturday in November."

Fortunately, for this Melrose, Wisconsin, family, there was a silver lining. "The yields were good," Alan says.

After 32 years of farming, Alan, 52, is able to put weather setbacks into perspective. Both he and Kathy grew up near Melrose, where Alan's dad operated a milk-hauling business and a small farm.

They had their first date at the Jackson County Fair, married in 1978, and gained a foothold in dairy on a small farm 8 miles north. In 1980 they bought a larger farm overlooking a deeply carved valley near the Black River that empties into the Mississippi 30 miles south at LaCrosse. They moved there on November 20, and their son, Clint, was born four days later. The family also includes two daughters.

Alan milked and drove a milk route, adding crop acres when the opportunity arose. In 1987, he bought his dad's milk-hauling business, and he added another truck route in 1995. Today, Sampson Trucking includes four routes.

Kathy began working off-farm in 1982 at the Co-op Credit Union in Melrose, where she is branch manager. "After we bought the farm, the economy got bad," she says. "I continued working for health and retirement benefits."

Kathy does the bookkeeping for the farm, as well as the milk-hauling business.

Clint, 29, started his own beef herd in 1992 as a 4-Her, and expanded it through high school. He joined the operation 10 years ago, after finishing the farm short course at University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2001, he bought land when a neighbor's farm came up for sale.

"When I started farming, corn was $1.50 to $1.80 a bushel," Clint says. "It wasn't cool for guys my age to start farming. The first couple of years were tough."

With Clint's commitment, the operation began evolving. In 2004, the Sampsons sold their registered Holstein herd. Today they raise 120 head of beef cattle and finish their calves.

"I lean more toward raising beef and grain," Clint says. "But it takes time to acquire enough of a land base."

Darby, 28, grew up 25 miles away, near Pigeon Falls, where her parents had a hobby farm. She attended Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa, majoring in animal science.

"Clint and I knew each other since we both showed livestock at the Jackson County fair," she says. "But we didn't date until I finished college in 2002."

At times, the Sampson family wondered if they'd ever get the 2009 crop into the bin. After a cold and wet October caused historic delays, November weather cracked open a window of opportunity.

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