Farm Horizons, May 1999

Keenans named McLeod farm family of the year

By Rich Glennie
McLeod County Chronicle

Fifth-generation farm operators Mike and Sue Keenan, who live along Highway 212 west of Glencoe, were honored recently by the University of Minnesota.

The Keenans, named 1999 McLeod County Farm Family of the Year, were recognized by the university at its Farm Family Recognition program March 18 at the Radisson Hotel Metrodome.

Mike Keenan said he was not sure why he was nominated in McLeod County, because he is simply doing what many other county farmers are doing - trying to make a living.

But Keenan said he thought he may have been selected because of the stereotypes of farmers that many urban Minnesotans possess.

Keenan, a 1980 University of Minnesota graduate with a degree in ag economics, has about 20 years experience as a current generation farmer. The Keenan farm has been in the family since it was land granted shortly after the Civil War.

But Keenan said a farmer is a combination of a lot of things, and production, sometimes, is not the main thing.

Farmers not only have to be good at production, they need to be mechanics as well, he said.

They not only have to feed their animals, they need to tend to them like a veterinarian.

Not only does the farmer have to grow a crop or raise livestock, he needs to know how to market them, too.

Keenan said a farmer wears many hats ranging from a nutritionist, agronomist, economist to a veterinarian, weatherman and market expert.

"Production is not the problem anymore," Keenan said of modern efficiencies. "What we do after production is more of a challenge."

The collapse of grain prices in 1998 is a prime example of irony - ideal weather conditions, a bumper crop yet no markets for the bountiful supply of grain. Thus many farmers are losing money despite the bumper crops.

Mike and Sue Keenan, along with children Stephanie, 13, Jeff, 9, and Mitch, 7, plant 700 acres of corn and soybeans (about half and half) as well as raise cattle. He said there is room for about 550 head.

His father, Jim, although retired, remains active on the farm, Mike Keenan said. "He helps daily and buys the majority of the cattle."

As to the downturn in farming in 1998, Keenan said his family may have fared better than most because the cattle helped them diversify. "We did not just rely on grain prices."

So with all the ups and downs in farming and the unpredictable role weather can play, why would anyone want to be a farmer?

"Independence," Keenan said. "I don't have a boss telling me what to do. But if you're not an optimist, not a gambler, you're probably not a farmer."

Keenan said there are a lot of pluses and minuses in farming, but the key is "keeping on top of costs."

As to a future sixth generation of Keenan farmers, Mike Keenan said there is some interest from his children. "I hope the boys would (continue farming), but should they?" he asked.

As complicated and unpredictable as modern farming has become, Keenan said it is difficult for young farmers to get into the business without a lot of assistance.

Joe Neubauer, county extension agent, said the Keenans were selected by an extension committee to be honored this year.

They were nominated to the committee by area co-operatives, implement dealers or other farm associations.

Neubauer said the extension committee was looking for a full-time farmer whose family was active in the community, in church and in school. "We were looking for a well-rounded family, who show a love for what they are doing."

Neubauer said this is his 18th farm family of the year, "and most don't feel they are qualified (for the honor). But that sets a good example.

"There are a lot of farmers doing a heck of a good job out there, and it's about time some get recognized," Neubauer said.

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