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Frank farm blends tradition with innovation

AUBURN — More than 40 years ago, Jeff Frank faced one of the most pivotal decisions of his life. This 1977 Lake View-Auburn High School graduate had an extraordinary opportunity to play college basketball, but there was something else — something big–influencing his choice.

“Legendary coach Lute Olson had recruited me to play basketball at the University of Iowa,” said Frank, a 6-foot 8-inch standout on his high school basketball team. “But I had always wanted to farm, and my dad was offering me that option.”

Frank chose to become the fourth generation of his family to farm in Sac County and didn’t look back.

“I never regretted my decision,” said Frank, who lives on his family’s Century Farm west of Auburn with his wife, Ellen.

The Frank’s Century Farm dates back to 1914, when Frank’s maternal great-grandfather, Albert Mohr, purchased 125 acres for approximately $126 an acre. The odd acreage number reflects the fact that a spur from the Illinois Central railroad ran through the property for years.

“As kids, we’d jump on the caboose and ride into Auburn,” said Frank, whose father, Raymond, purchased the land from the railroad in 1974.

Long before that purchase, however, the farm had passed from Mohr to his daughter Minnie and her husband, Fred Hess.

“Even after my grandparents retired from farming and moved to Auburn, Grandpa Fred was always out here at the farm,” said Frank, whose parents, Marjorie (Hess) Frank and her husband, Raymond, moved to the farm in 1950.

Frank loved growing up on the farm with his three brothers and one sister.

“I couldn’t wait to get home from school. I remember driving my dad’s 1941 John Deere A as soon as I could push the clutch,” he said.

After starting his own farming career full time and marrying Ellen, a fellow Sac County native, Frank began raising his own family in Sac County–just as the 1980s Farm Crisis intensified.

“We didn’t have much when we started out, so we didn’t feel all the effects of the Farm Crisis,” said Frank, who raised his three sons on the farm. “I remember paying 18 to 19 percent interest when I had to buy a skid loader and a field cultivator. It just killed me, but what could I do?”

After surviving the Farm Crisis, Frank continued to seek new opportunities in farming through the years. From 2011 to 2017 he sold Ag Eagle drones.

“It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet a lot of farmers in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska,” he said.

Starring in a movie called “Prove It To Me” about five years ago was also fun. The film featured farmers like Frank who use a liquid microbial product called Accomplish to boost their crop’s yield potential.

“The film crew came from all over the country, and many had never been to Iowa before,” he said. “They couldn’t believe the wide open spaces.”

Sharing his knowledge, focusing on continuous improvement, promoting conservation and giving back are important to Frank, who farms approximately 1,300 acres of corn and soybeans and offers custom planting, spraying and harvesting services. He serves on the Sac County Farm Bureau board and is an Iowa Soybean Association director. He also started farming this year with his youngest son, Mitch, 22.

“Farming is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Frank, whose family will have five Century Farms in Sac County within the next 10 years. “I love the rural lifestyle. There’s nothing like it.”