Cutter Role is Leap of Faith for Farmer
By Amy Bickel - The Hutchinson News – 2010
As he rolled one of his three combines across a field in Lane County at dusk, Chad Brink talked about how he sank all his farming equity into an adventure he hopes is his saving grace.
It was a gamble of sorts, he admits, all in an effort to keep his 800-acre Minnesota farm. He saw the ripening wheat across the Midwest as a possible rescuer after three years of poor crops. And it didn't matter that he had just 400 acres of custom cutting in his back pocket when he and a crew of a half-dozen headed south to Oklahoma a month ago.
Along the way, he says, God has provided the acres for his small harvest crew - about 4,000 so far.
"A lot of this is faith," the 35-year-old said, adding that his passion for the lifestyle helped him take a daring move - to "jump off the fence and see how deep the mud is."
For some, it might sound crazy. Brink, however, doesn't know any other occupation.
He doesn't want to. Farming is in his genes. He grew up on a "paddy" wild rice farm in Minnesota, one that his father still runs today. His grandfather was the first to sell paddy wild rice to Uncle Ben's.
"I have a lot of dirt in my veins," he said with a grin, showing his passion for farming.
In 1997, in his early 20s, he purchased a farm from a retiring farmer, planting corn, soybeans and spring wheat.
Good years came, but the past three have been terrible, with weather conditions ranging from too much rain to early frost and white mold.
He knew he'd have to do something in order to save his operation. He began researching the custom harvest, which typically starts in Texas and Oklahoma and ends in northern states like Minnesota, Montana and the Dakotas.
Jumping into the cutting business was a difficult decision, he said. It meant leaving his wife, Lisa, and their four children, Naomi, 7; Samantha, 5; Holden, 3; and Abigail, 10 months.
"We prayed a lot about it," he said, noting he knew purchasing new combines, grain carts and a couple of trucks was going to eat what equity he had built up.
Now he and the crew are living on Ramen noodles and sleeping in campers instead of having home-cooked meals and the comforts of home.
Brink is among thousands who make the trip each year, according to the Hutchinson-based U.S. Custom Harvesters. The organization has about 400 custom-cutter members.
Those starting out in the business, however, are rare, Brink said, noting he attended the association's spring convention to network, and he didn't meet anyone else just starting out.
He may be a fledgling, but he hopes his farm background will connect him to his clients.
"I'm a farmer first and a cutter second," he said. "I know what it is like to struggle with $3 to $4 wheat prices and bad weather."
God has given the couple strength to endure the four to five-month haul, said his wife, Lisa, who surprised her husband with a visit this week.
It was through a Minnesota connection who now lives in Lane County that Brink got his current cutting job, which includes cutting triticale, a wheat/rye cross, she said. His high school football coach's sister lives near Dighton.
That's just one of the souls who have helped her husband along the way.
"We're very blessed," she said, adding, "God has a better plan for us, if this works out or if it doesn't work out."
For now, there is still plenty of wheat for the cutting northward, Brink said. A custom cutter he met along the way told him of a farmer needing a cutter around Bird City.
"I'm just happy to be turning circles," Brink said.