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Published September 04, 2012, 10:45 AM

Big Iron: Family affair

Three generations of the McLean farm family of Wheatland, N.D., have enjoyed the Big Iron Farm Show in the past three decades. Bud McLean, a retired farmer, has been coming to the annual show since it began 32 years ago.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Three generations of the McLean farm family of Wheatland, N.D., have enjoyed the Big Iron Farm Show in the past three decades.

Bud McLean, a retired farmer, has been coming to the annual show since it began 32 years ago. So has his son, Tim, who farms near Wheatland. Tim’s sons, Logan and Tyler, often have attended the show with their father and grandfather, too.

“There’s always just so much to see,” says Tim, 49. “And it’s fun to look at the new technology. It comes out, and then a few years later, we have it on our farm.”

Bud, 81, says he’s continually astonished by the size and sophistication of farm equipment at the show.

“Every year it keeps getting bigger,” he says. “I started out with small tractors and farm equipment. What they have now is unbelievable.”

Tyler, 24, and Logan, 21, also enjoy looking at the big equipment. But that’s only part of Big Iron’s appeal for them. They like spending time with their dad and grandpa, too.

“I really enjoy just wandering around and seeing all the new stuff for sale,” Tyler says. “But I also get a kick out of seeing how excited my grandpa gets. It’s sort of the same with my dad.”

Logan agrees. “Grandpa can never believe how big the machinery has become,” he says. “And Dad is always wondering how he can afford to pay for this in the long run.”

GPS, once a new technology displayed at Big Iron, has become increasingly common in area agriculture, Tyler says.

Tyler is helping on the farm this summer and fall, and Logan helped last year.

Both say they’re interested in someday becoming a full-time farmer, but haven’t decided yet.

“That’s still up in the air,” Tim says. “But I think they both enjoy it.”

Bud, Tim, Tyler and Logan aren’t the only members of their family who regularly attend the show.

Kari McLean, Tim’s wife, attended a few Big Iron shows with her family, but she decided her husband, sons and father-in-law would enjoy it more without her.

“It’s a guy thing,” she says.

Still, Big Iron is part of her life. Kari is an independent consultant for the Norwex line of environmentally friendly personal care and cleaning products and has been a vendor at the show for the past four years.

Useful information

Tim says he’s attended about two-thirds of the annual farm shows. Harvest sometimes has kept him away.

“But I always try to go. And when I can (attend), I find a lot of interesting things,” he says.

Tim built a new farm shop last summer, drawing on information he collected at Big Iron.

“I used Big Iron to shop around and look at different buildings,” he says. “They were at the same location, so I didn’t have to drive all over getting information.”

Big Iron also allows him to inspect machinery that could fit future needs on the farm, he says.

For Bud, who still helps on the farm during harvest, Big Iron is a chance to evaluate changes he’s seen during his lifetime in agriculture.

At one time, the McLean farm grew many crops, including wheat, “our money crop,” as he calls it.

This year, Tim is raising only corn and soybeans. Cass County, in which Wheatland is located, is the nation’s leading soybean producer. Corn is increasingly popular in the county, too.

“You’re getting $8 (per bushel) for corn,” Bud says. “Man, we never got more than $2 for it.”

Changes in farming

Bud says his grandfather had one of the first self-propelled Massey-Harris combines in Cass County.

“I drove that when I was 10 years old. But today, the combines are just so much bigger,” he says.

“I’ve gone from (farming with) horses to this. What can the next generation expect to see?” he wonders.

Driverless tractors are one possibility, he says.

“But why would you want to do that? You’re not out there, kicking around the soil. It would drive me nuts,” he says.

He’s reluctant to predict other changes that might be coming.

“Where it goes from here, it’s hard to say,” he says.

But the three generations of the McLean family agree that Big Iron is something they all enjoy.

“I’m going to keep going to it as long as I can,” Bud says.

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