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Continuing a family tradition

Agriculture.com Staff 05/12/2009 @ 10:01am

Stretch your imagination a bit and you can think of the Dean farming operation as an interstate highway. When one family member signals an intention to move to the slow lane or to head down an exit ramp, another family member heads up an entrance ramp or moves into the fast lane.

When Gary Dean's father was ready to retire in the 1970s, Gary joined an older brother, Dale, and Dale's wife, Joyce, in the operation centered around Hector, Minnesota. Then a few years ago, Dale's son, Terry, joined the operation as Dale moved to a slow lane. Terry had worked as a commodities merchandiser in South St. Paul, Minnesota, for a few years after college.

Then five years ago, Gary's son, Erik, was ready to hit the road running when his father signaled that he was ready to slow down.

But first, Erik took a 13,000-mile detour through Iraq on active duty with the Minnesota National Guard. He belonged to the 1st Battalion of the 151st Field Artillery, but his company was attached to a regular army military police battalion in Baghdad and was tasked with training Iraqi police.

Back from Iraq, Erik started farming with Gary and Terry in 2006. Gary retired the next year.

"For as long as I can remember, I wanted to farm," Erik recalls. "But I knew the operation wasn't big enough to sustain both Dad and me at the same time."

Consequently, Erik spent a few years preparing himself. He earned a bachelor's degree in ag business from the University of Wisconsin River Falls and a master's degree in ag economics from Kansas State University.

"Some people get an education so they have something to fall back on," says Erik. "I got an education so I can make better decisions. So much of farming is analysis -- whether you are looking at fertilizer rates or machinery purchasing decisions."

Stretch your imagination a bit and you can think of the Dean farming operation as an interstate highway. When one family member signals an intention to move to the slow lane or to head down an exit ramp, another family member heads up an entrance ramp or moves into the fast lane.

Erik and Terry rent land separately, but they own most of the major equipment together and farm everything together. "We try to keep it equal as to how many acres we each run," says Erik.

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