Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

It's a gift from God to be able to farm

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 08/21/2013 7:56 AM

E-mail article | Print version

MAPLETON, Minn. — There used to be a hill here, Mike Bauer said, pointing off in the direction of his corn field.

He shaved the hill and used the dirt to create a grassed retaining wall with a grassed waterway in front that catches water running off the field and funnels it toward a ditch he dug.

He purchased the farm from his father-in-law in 1969 or 1970.

"I don't have a 401(k); I've put every nickel I've ever made back into this farm," Bauer said.

He grew up near Cannon City, one of 10 children. His father gave him his grandfather's lunchbox, wished him good luck and sent him off to make his way.

Bauer worked on the pipeline, in construction and spent 30 years at Cochran in Waseca. He was able to purchase the 170 acre farm and delights in both the crops he grows and the wildlife who find refuge on his land.

His family has been farmers and fixers for generations, way back to Germany, Bauer said. He farms with equipment that others have given up on. His six-row 1971 International 400 air planter was bought from the junkyard for $300. He loves the return policy, he said.

It's a no-frills machine. No monitors or buzzers to alert him that something is amiss. Yet, it works just fine.

"I haven't missed a row in the last five years just by paying attention," Bauer said.

A private man, he shuns the spotlight and wouldn't ordinarily talk to a reporter. But, his concern for his land combined with his declining health overrode his inhibition.

Bauer has Parkinson's disease and shuffles as he walks. His feet sometimes feel like cement blocks, he said. He also has had skin cancer.

Mayo Clinic has done a fantastic job, Bauer said. He wouldn't be walking around living his dream if not for their help.

"This is my dream."

He used to work for a living. Sparks from the welder would burn the shirt off his back. Now, he farms.

"It's a gift from God to be able to farm," Bauer said.

But with that gift comes responsibility.

"People who don't care about the ground don't belong out on the ground. It's too valuable a resource," he said.

"We're standing on our biggest national treasure, and it's not gold."

Suddenly, a turkey bursts through the grass. Bauer apologizes for not giving a warning as the hen runs toward the water. He points to the nest the hen left behind. It's her second attempt at hatching this year, he said. Her first nest was flooded.

Bauer delights in the turkeys, deer, ducks, dragonflies and pheasants that share his farm. He parks gravity flow wagons down by the pond and the berm's outlet and puts straw underneath to give turkeys a place to nest; he's had up to two birds nest under one wagon in a season. He parked the wagons down there one year because he lacked room in the yard. He later discovered that turkeys like to nest under the wagons so he's parked them there every year since.

"As far as I'm concerned this is a privilege to take care of this. We live in the garden spot of the world, but it won't be if we don't take care of it."

He's bothered by the lack of conservation he sees. Renters who cut up grass waterways don't belong farming, Bauer said.

"People have to be more careful about who they rent their farm to," he said. Landowners who rent to a person who isn't good steward are just as responsible as the person plowing up the waterways.

"We don't have to plant every acre into corn and soybeans to still get good yields," Bauer said.

Out of his 150 tillable acres, he's set seven to 10 acres aside for wildlife, woods, conservation and water management.

"If we do this responsibly there's room for everything."

Farmers need to tend their farms better. Government policy has to change to protect our ground, Bauer said. It needs to encourage smaller farms.

"I may get in trouble for saying that, but I'm 64 years old, and that's what I believe."

Farming operations in this area of the Corn Belt shouldn't be larger than 1,000 acres per family, Bauer said. A lot of people will be angry with him for saying that, he said. Many others will agree.

Larger operations bypass local input dealers. They give nothing back to the community. Farmers learned this spring they can have too many acres; evidenced by the amount of acres that weren't planted. Farmers need to come back to what they can manage and do it right.

He's bothered by agricultural programs that awards farmers with the most acres. How about giving awards for the best farmer, he asks. How about recognizing the farmer who not only raises good crops, but also sets aside land for wildlife and enjoyment?

"We can have both and we're going to need both if we're going to survive."

He doesn't yet know who will tend his land when his is no longer able. Maybe one of his grandchildren will follow in his footsteps.