Farm Horizons, February 2008

Watertown brothers named 2007 Grain Farmers of the Year

Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Brian and Jim Neaton of Watertown like it when the grain prices “are very good, like they are right now.”

The only thing they would have liked better is if they would not have sold so much of their crop as early as they did, since grain prices have continued to climb. “It is a fact that has come back to sort of haunt us, “Brian said.

But grain is their primary business, and they seem to do a commendable job at producing it. In fact, they were named the Minnesota National Farmers Organization (NFO) 2007 Grain Farmers of the year.

Both of the brothers considered it an honor to win the award in December at the NFO convention in Wilmar. It was an even bigger surprise to them because their 2007 crop was not one of their best crop producing years in farming. The lack of rain last summer gave them a poor yield.

However, the brothers have sold a lot of grain through the NFO over the years, and their crop totals averaged out to be better then most, which was what the award was based on, according to Brian.

The NFO is a collective bargaining organization for farmers. The group bans farmers together with the primary goal of better prices for all farm commodities. The NFO’s disciplined commodity marketing program has placed grain sales in the top 1/3 of the market consistently since 1989.

It is a non-profit organization which began in 1955 as a way for producers to communicate agricultural and rural concerns to congressional and local leaders.

The vision of better farm marketing began in the 1970s, when national farmers created grain, livestock, and a dairy sales program.

The Neaton brothers are the second generation to farm in Watertown. Brian is married to Pam and they live in Waverly. Jim is married to Brenda and they live on the farm with their two children, Becky, 19, and Scott, 17.

It was Jim and Brian’s parents, Joe and Mary Neaton, that bought the original 80-acre farm in 1952 where they raised seven children, six sons and one daughter.

Jim and Brian took over the family farm in 1980 which had grown to 400 acres. Currently, they are farming 1,000 acres together. Another brother, Joe Neaton, farms near Delano. The three brothers help each other out quite a bit, according to Brian.

Their father died about three years ago, but up until that time he came out to the farm every day.

“Sometimes he would comment that he didn’t think we were doing things right, but he didn’t say we should not do them,” Jim said.

“He just let us go. He would comment on expansions and purchases and say ‘I am not sure you should do it,’” Jim said. “He just wasn’t used to things costing so much.”

In 1997, Jim and Brian made the decision to give up dairy farming and just crop farm.

“We had to expand the dairy or thought we had to get out. We were too small to make it in dairy for the two of us. At the time we were milking approximately 80 cows,” Jim said.

When they sold the dairy cows, the brothers started a trucking business which hauls grain for area farmers. They own three trucks and haul grain to places like Atwater where there is an ethanol plant or Gaylord where there is a big chicken processing plant.

“Most of our business is in the summer, but right now with the ethanol and good grain prices, we have been pretty busy right up to this week,” Brian said. “We haul grain where they want it to go.”

Annually they raise about 40 cows and about 100 steer.

For crops they raise corn and beans, as well as a few acres of wheat for straw and alfalfa for the cattle.

“We run about a 50-50 rotation so what is in beans one year, will be corn next year,” Jim said. “Unless the prices are really different then we would lean one way more than the other.”

For the future, the brothers are planning to keep the number of beef cattle the same but would like to see their property increase. However, that would depend on land being available. Both of them agreed that 1,500 acres 10 years from now would be a nice amount of land to farm.

“Oh yeah! If we could pick up more land we would jump on that tomorrow,” Brian said.

As far as crops, it would be difficult to know what they would be planting. “Maybe we would plant more wheat because the market is for wheat. It would depend on the market,” Jim said.

“If ethanol keeps up like this, we might plant all corn,” Brian said.

Jim and Brian seem to agree on pretty much everything that has to do with the farm.

“I don’t think we have ever disagreed on anything – nothing very major anyway,” Brian said.

Both enjoy farming.

“Working outdoors is nice and I get great satisfaction out of a good crop. I like working with the cattle. Jim doesn’t like working with the cattle as much,” Brian said.

Jim likes being his own boss and punching his own time clock, but he also finds that to be the hardest part of farming.

“When you are your own boss, you have to be disciplined enough to get the work done. It is easy to say, ‘I will do it tomorrow,”’ Jim said.

The brothers are definitely ready for spring planting and agree on the plan.

“We are not going to do anything different next year,” Brian said. “We will just try to get the best crop possible, just like everybody else out there.”

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