Family Farming

Six members of the Browning family — three brothers and their three sons — take care of most of the duties at their Franklin County farm. From left are Brad, Benny, Michael, Randy, Keith and Kendall.

Nat Williams, The Southern News Services

WEST FRANKFORT — Chances are, when something needs to be done at the Browning farm, it will be a Browning doing it.

Six members of the family — three brothers and one son each — take care of most of the duties at the 4,500-acre grain operation in the southeastern corner of Franklin County. That’s the way it’s been since they can remember.

“Dad put me on the planter when I got out of high school,” said Randy, the eldest of the three brothers.

That was in the pre-Roundup Ready era, when more labor was required on farms.

“We did tillage, and there were several passes over the field,” Browning said. “It took a lot of manpower.”

The farm has more than doubled from the 1,800 acres worked in 1990. Fortunately, the labor force has also expanded.

Randy’s two brothers — Benny and Keith — are an integral part of the operation. In addition, their sons — Michael, Brad and Kendall, respectively — are also heavily involved in the farm. Those six do most of the work, though some part-time help is contracted seasonally.

The farm’s ownership is legally divided into two limited liability companies, but the family members farm it together.

That’s basically the way things have always been.

The six work full time at the farm, which also includes a small cattle herd. Brownings have farmed here since around the turn of the 20th century, when the brothers’ great-grandfather first put a plow to the ground.

Randy, Benny and Keith began working alongside their father, Charles, as soon as they were able to help out. As the boys matured, they were given more and more responsibility. Things changed dramatically in 1990, when their father died.

The brothers then formed a partnership, which they converted to an LLC. Their sons farm as Browning Family Farms LLC.

“They have their thing and we have ours, but we all work together,” Randy said.

Before their father died, Randy did much of the planting, with his brothers taking care of other tasks.

Though farming was all he had known, Randy figured he would join some of his former classmates, who went to work in many of the coal mines dotting the region.

“We all farmed together; I grew up in it,” he said. “When I was in high school I thought I’d end up in the coal mines. It seemed like we were never going to get enough land for everybody to farm here.”

But things worked out. Neighboring farmers began retiring, and the Brownings gradually began expanding the operation. The boys were given the opportunity to farm newly acquired farmland, and when their father died, the farm continued to grow.

For most of the brothers’ farming career, Keith had done all the spraying. The family owns three combines, with Keith, Benny and Kendall usually in charge of harvest operations.

The farmers do most of their grain hauling, and Randy spends a lot of time behind the wheel, often driving across the state to elevators on the Mississippi River.

Michael and Kendall are largely in charge of the small Angus-Simmental herd of 25 to 30 cows.

Randy and his brothers appreciate that they were given the opportunity to do the only type of work they’ve known. That isn’t always the case in a family in today’s economic climate, where large acreages are required for successful operations. They believe they were well prepared to take the reins.

“Some said after Dad died that we’d just fold up,” Randy said.

“But Dad let us be a part of the decision making, giving advice on what direction we should go, whether we need a new combine, those kinds of things. In a lot of cases, the dad does the whole thing and he dies, and then the sons don’t know what to do. That wasn’t the case here.”

Nat Williams writes for Illinois Farmer Today, a Lee Enterprises sister publication of The Southern.

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