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David Holt, an Elizabeth, Minn., farmer, continues to successfully battle his Parkinson's disease. He raises corn, wheat and soybeans; this year's crops, especially his corn, are faring well. (Derek Fletcher/Agweek)

MN farmer carries on, despite Parkinson’s disease

ELIZABETH, Minn. — Two important things will be changing in David Holt's life. But two even more important things will not:

He continues to farm near Elizabeth, west of Fergus Falls, Minn. And he continues to fight the good fight, and successfully so, against Parkinson's disease.

"I'm slowing up a little. Maybe you can say that's some age. Maybe you can that's some Parkinson's," says the 68-year-old Holt. "With Parkinson's, you can't stop it. But you sure can slow it up (with exercise and positive attitude) and that's what I am trying hard to do. I'm determined that I won't let this disease stop me from what I want to do."

Holt was profiled in 2016 Agweek and AgweekTV story that looked at farmers and ranchers who are battling Parkinson's. More than 1 million Americans live with the disease, which is most common in the Midwest and Northeast. Research indicates farm chemicals and industrial metals in those areas are believed to be at least partly responsible, according to information from the National Institutes of Health.

Agweek visited with Holt again on a late-June afternoon for an update on his health and to learn more about crops and pastures in his immediate area.

Crops in the Elizabeth area — where corn and soybeans dominate, with wheat and a few other crops grown as well — generally look good. Holt's corn was faring especially well; corn plants in some fields were neck-high when Agweek visited.

To put that in perspective: "It used to be that you wanted corn to be knee-high by the Fourth of July. Now you want it waist-high," he says.

Holt's immediate area is a little dry, receiving less than an inch of rain in April and May. Good rains in June and in the fall of 2017 helped, but Holt's crops will need regular rains during the rest of the growing season.

Pastures got off to a slow start this spring but rebounded nicely, he says.

Changes coming

This will be the last year Holt grows wheat, which has been a cornerstone of his farming operation. In 2019 he'll raise only corn and soybeans, both of which he grows now.

"I still like wheat. I'd like to keep growing it. But it just doesn't come out (financially). Corn and soybeans work a little better," says Holt, noting that many Minnesota farmers phased out wheat years ago.

"I stuck with it longer than a lot of people," he says.

And this will be the last year he has his cow-calf operation. Holt will be selling his cattle and renting his pastures to a young person entering ranching.

"I'll miss them. I've had them all my life," he says of the cattle. "But I'll have the winters off now."

One change already made. He's joined the Rock Steady Boxing program in nearby Fergus Falls. The low-impact, non-contact exercise program is designed to help people with Parkinson's fight the neurological effects of the disease.

Holt's wife, Lorri, is a certified coach in the program.

"It takes quite a bit of time. I'm just so proud of her," he says, adding that the couple celebrates their 20th wedding anniversary this summer.

The Holts are planning a party on their farm on July 21. They'll roast a hog, have several outdoor games for children and adults and end the day with a live band and dancing outside.

David Holt continues to participate in the Big and Loud exercise programs. The former involves big, or exaggerated, physical movements to improve balance and movement. The latter uses repetitive vocal exercises to improve the patient's speech and voice.

In addition to his farming, Holt has many ongoing projects, including planting trees and restoring old tractors.

"People ask me, 'Why don't you retire?'" Holt says. His answer to them: "I'm doing what I enjoy."

Information, please

Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disease first described in 1817 by James Parkinson, a British doctor. Medication and exercise can alleviate, but not prevent, symptoms of the disease. Though not fatal in itself, the disease can cause complications that shorten life expectancy.

David Holt, an Elizabeth, Minn., farmer with the disease, is participating in the Rock Steady Boxing program — an exercise program designed to help people with Parkinson's — in nearby Fergus Falls, Minn.

• To learn more about Parkinson's disease:

• To learn more about Rock Steady Boxing:

• To learn more about Rock Steady Boxing at Lake Region Health Care in Fergus Falls.: