Bauer family enjoys many farm memories, looks to future
By Janet Kubat Willette
HAMPTON, Minn. -- For more than half a century Bernard Bauer has tilled the soil in southern Dakota County.
His family planted roots on the north side of 210th Street in 1916 and he grew up helping on the farm. He was the youngest of six children.
In 1951, he began farming on his own: milking cows, feeding cattle and raising crops. His mother, Clara, helped milk his 20 cows and he worked with two of his brothers to bring in the crop.
After five or six years of milking, Bauer sold the cows and focused on feeding cattle and raising crops.
He and his brother John worked together until John died earlier this year just three months shy of his 92nd birthday.
It was bittersweet that the family was named Dakota County's Farm Family of the Year just months after John died. All the nominations mentioned John, said Mary Lou Bauer, Bernard's wife since 1969.
John was still driving tractor last fall, she said.
The brothers owned separate land and equipment, but shared labor. They once ran about 1,000 acres and had 350 head of cattle between them, but now the farm includes about 880 acres of owned and rented land, five goats, five cattle and one dog.
Two of Bernard and Mary Lou's 14 children -- John and Michael -- farm with them. John feeds the cattle and works in the field.
"He farmed from the time he was 3," Mary Lou said of her son, telling the story of the year he wanted a shovel from Santa Claus so he could help his father shovel feed for the cattle.
John also works on a nearby dairy and would like to add more cattle to the family operation.
Michael said it's hard to get excited about putting $3 corn into cattle. He works in construction off-the-farm and takes care of the farm paperwork as well as physical farm work.
"I just enjoy working outside, working the land, working with my dad and my brother," he said.
His wife, Amy, shares goat milking duties with Mary Lou and homeschools their five children. They live on the home farm.
Bernard says he does the worrying and Mary Lou says he does the thinking and directing.
"77 means nothing to him," she said. "He farms like he always did."
Bernard, 77, has slowed a bit since a farm accident four years ago put him in the hospital for 10 days and in the house for three months of recovery.
He was checking the bins one afternoon and dusk settled in as he climbed the last bin. He jumped in the bin feet first, failing to check if it was filled with grain. He fell 18 feet, landing on hard concrete, Michael said.
After falling, Bernard's survival instinct kicked in. He climbed out of the bin and laid on the rooftop, calling for help and banging his pliers against the steel.
Son John, who was recovering from knee surgery, was in the shop and heard his father yelling. He didn't think anything of it at first and then went to investigate, driving the loader toward the sound of his father's cries. He was able to help his father from the roof into the bucket and then to the pickup, driving him to the emergency room.
It was the day before Thanksgiving, Mary Lou said. The doctor said his feet would never be the same and they haven't been, she said.
"He still hurts," Mary Lou said, but he goes like he doesn't.
The Bauers primarily raise corn and irrigate about 700 of their acres, which saved their crop this year. Bernard installed irrigation wells in 1976 and 1977. They also raise a few acres of soybeans and pasture grass.
They took three cuttings of grass this year, Michael said, but the crops weren't very large as Dakota County suffered through a drought for most of the summer. They sell hay in 800 pound large rounds.
They switched to mostly corn-on-corn three years ago, Michael said, because the return on corn was better than soybeans. Soybeans were also getting more difficult to grow with white mold, aphids and the detection of rust in the United States.
Corn also responds better to irrigation, Bernard said.