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Farmer of the Month - Technology aids Wagners
Crookston Daily Times
Written By:  Bob Frost

A computer calculates the fertility of their cropland and an expensive radio system connects their tractors to home base.

With such technology, and with good land and solid experience, the Wagner brothers of rural Crookston seem prepared to farm their way into the 21st century.

The brothers are young enough to do exactly that.

Wayne, 29, Gary, 26, and Daryl, 19, farm 2,400 acres around Crookston and Eldred.

Youth, experience and advanced technology are on their side. But last year was still as rough for them as for most area farmers.

The weather is still the bottom line for farming success or failure. The economic impact of last summer’s lack of rain may be felt in these parts for some time.

“We usually average about 54 bushels of wheat per acre,” Wayne said in a recent interview at the farm. “Last year we got an average of about 28 bushels.”

Gary added, “The rain about the middle of August helped our sugarbeets.  We replanted and did O.K. there.  But there’s no way last year can be called a good year.”

But the brothers aren’t too worried about one bad year.  They’re in the business for the long haul. They were prepared from childhood for farming by their father, Alvin, who died in 1976.  The farm is still owned by their mother, Maxine, who lives in town and would “rent to someone else if we didn’t do the job,” laughed Wayne.

“Our dad gave us a lot of responsibility,” Gary said. “He was preparing us all along.

“He had a stroke ten years before he died and lost use of one of his arms. So he would get frustrated sometimes out in the field when he couldn’t do something.

“In 1972 he talked us into starting a sideline--selling farm buildings.  That’s one thing he could really do. He could really sell those buildings.”

That business has prospered. The Wagners have a full-time assistant, Mark Sherry, handling building sales.

Gary Wagner uses a WANG computer to handle farm businessNear the sales office is the room where Gary has the item that some farmers, the brothers say, refer to as an “expensive toy”: a small computer that handles such business as farm bills and building business records, grain inventories and output per acre.

“The main thing is the time it saves,” Gary said.  “One time we had to know how much money we were losing on a certain piece of land with sugarbeets.  And how much we could make on it with sunflowers.

“It was a real eye-opener to watch the computer put it all down in black-and-white in just a few minutes.

“We could have figured it out in longhand,” Gary continued.  “But it would have taken considerably longer.

“If we hear about a piece of land up for sale, we can plug all the variables into the computer--the interest rate, crop yield, inflation--and figure out right away if we can afford it.”

The brothers think the computer system will some day pay for itself by making thing run more efficiently.  Eventually too they want to tie the system into UMC and the county extension.

Gary putters around with the computer in the winter as Wayne handles other chores. Winter is also the time youngest brother Daryl attends agricultural classes at UMC.

Each of the brothers has some college. His older brother are urging Daryl to complete a four-year agricultural program.

“It would be,” Wayne said, “to our mutual benefit.”

“I might do it,” Daryl said. “But I’m sure I’ll come back here to the farm to live.”

Another handy gadget on the Wagner farm is a UHF radio system that ties together the family’s five tractors and four trucks.

“You can’t put a dollar value on what it’s worth to us,” Wayne said. “If one of us is out in the field and we need a decision on what to do, we can just radio back and get advice.”

“One time,” Gary said, “during the beet hauling season, we had a breakdown in a truck. We were able to make a call and get a repairman out there in 20 minutes.”

The brothers said they communicated well in person too.  They expect to stay together.

“We have disagreements sometimes, yeah,” Wayne said. “Sometimes one of us has to try talking the others into doing something. The main thing is, we keep communicating.”

Wayne and his wife Kathy have a daughter, Kimberly, 7, and a son, Troy, 5, Gary and his wife Lori have a daughter, Amber, born in July.

Also living on the Wagner’s spread during the growing season is the man Wayne calls the “indispensable” farm foreman:  Isidore Guerrero, who for 32 years has come up to work from San Antonio, Texas. Guerrero now brings up his wife Carmen and four children and lives near the Wagner’s homes.

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