Red River Valley grower celebrating 20 years of raising beets.
“Out of over 100 people, I was one of two drawn for the Moorhead district. I got the letter [notifying me I was eligible to purchase the shares] in early December and I had to have the shares paid for before Christmas. So it quickly became a very tense time. It set my path on where I was going, though, because at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
In the winter of 1996, Aaron, who at the time was pursuing a Liberal Arts degree at Minnesota State University Moorhead, quickly had to change his mindset from school to getting everything ready for a season of growing sugarbeets.
“Finding the money was the biggest challenge,” Wetterlin said with a laugh. “I couldn’t just go up to my dad and ask for the money, it was just too much. For a kid in college to have to come up with $75,000 in about three weeks…it was definitely a wake-up call. Thankfully my godfather, Ronnie, worked well with me and we worked out a deal with each other. I farmed with Loren and Earl Ingebretsen my first two years before they retired. Then I started harvesting with Ronnie.”
While things run smoothly on the Wetterlin farm nowadays, they did not start that way when Aaron’s grandpa, Art, first broke ground at what is now the family farm.
“My grandpa came up here in 1950. The first year he had a crop get drowned out. Then the next year he had a crop get hailed out with no insurance. At one point my grandpa, when he first came up here, made a statement about how much the land cost. He said, ‘I thought any damned fool could make those payments and I found out any damned fool couldn’t!’ He had it pretty rough the first couple years that he was here, but eventually recovered from it.”
As the clock approached 1:00 a.m. on a warm evening during the 2016 sugarbeet harvest in mid-October, Aaron and his around-the-clock crew kept moving ahead at full speed. Truck after truck was filled up, one right after the other, to the tune of about eight tons a minute. Things are quite a bit different now compared to how the beets were harvested back in the 1940s when Art Wetterlin would custom haul for the growers near Hutchinson, Minn.
“He was back in the days when they rolled the beets onto the ground and the migrant help would come by with a machete and swipe off the top. Then my grandma, Agnes, would come along with a single-axle truck while Grandpa forked the beets into the truck. Then they would haul them in to get paid 50 cents a ton.”
Aaron and his dad, Jerry, have been farming together for about the last 30 years, dating back to when Aaron was still growing up. Aaron admits that he and his father are a lot alike in how they work, and the two have gotten along pretty well over the years.
“It’s been good. We have some differences, but everybody does,” Aaron remarked. “We have a lot of similarities whether we want to admit it or not, but we both like our equipment to be nice and we both take pride in a nice looking crop. I think any father-son team is going to have the same type of deal. For the most part, we don’t have too much trouble.”
Aaron holds high regard for his father as a grower, especially for the way he managed to make it through an extremely difficult time during the 1980s, despite his dad having many odds stacked against him.
“Any farmer to have survived through the ’80s is a miracle in of itself. Not only were they dealing with bad weather, drought, low crop prices, but they were paying 18% on their operating loans. They had everything we have today as far as poor prices, but they were paying four or five times the interest. I know some times the interest. I know guys who had to refinance just to pay the interest, let alone make a principal payment. Any farmer, whether it be my father or any other farmers in the area, who survived those ’80s are just amazing individuals. I can’t imagine the stress they were under.”
This past growing season was a milestone year for Jerry, as he completed his 50th year as a grower.
“I’ve always said I was going to keep working until I learned how to be a farmer and, after 50 years, I guess I’m still working,” bantered Jerry.
To this day, Aaron still works side-by-side with Ronnie. “I’m still working with Ronnie as well as his son-in-law, Danny, and they custom plant and harvest my beets. It’s an arrangement that seems to work well for both of us. I get to run nice, newer equipment and I provide a couple trucks for the operation, which allows them to maximize the efficiency of their equipment.”
As it lies on the eastern edge of the Red River Valley near Glyndon, Minn., the Wetterlin’s farm also consists of wheat and soybean acreage. Years ago their crop rotation also included corn, sunflowers, seed barley, seed soybeans and seed oats.
Aaron is a third generation grower on the family farm, but whether the streak will extend to a fourth generation is still up in the air.
“I do have a son, Alex, but whether he will want to farm or not, I have no idea. It would be kind of nice if he wanted to farm when he grows up and keep it going. I have a daughter for the matter, too. Maybe she would like to farm, I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.” – Mike Spieker