"Farming?" he asked. "I'm farming where I grew up," he said, "I haven't gone anywhere." Brian Sampson, one of the newest Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) members, was making a small, self-deprecating joke, of course. He might be living in the same central Iowa county where he was born but he's definitely been a few places.
Sampson is a fifth generation farmer and rancher. He's a feedyard operator who also raises corn and soybeans on Brian & Deb Sampson Farms. Along with his wife, Deb, he farms 1,500 acres and feeds about 1,500 head of cattle. His daughter, Alex, an Iowa state grad, lives in Chicago and will present Brian and Deb with their first grandchild in late January. Their son, Bryce, who works in San Francisco, has a degree in biology from Coe College in Cedar Rapids and will be married in June.
After Brian graduated from college in 1978, he joined his dad on the farm and took over when his dad passed in 1993. It was a return to farming for a family that had spent several generations working the land. In 1870, Brian's great-grandfather homesteaded near the current Sampson farm. The original place was sold in 1940. "I guess I came back to it because I didn't know any better," he joked.
He described what he and his family do this way – “Farming is taking care of the land and the animals. Farmers spend the whole year making sure things don't die and, if we do well, we make a little money at the end of the year."
He recognizes that there is more to farming, though. He's a big fan of the new technologies that help improve modern agriculture. "We know a lot of things today that help make things better," he said. "Farming is not nearly as risky as it used to be."
Still, using that technology often makes farming a bigger target for some people. "I hope we get recognized for what we do and how hard we work," he said. "But we have to work harder to defend ourselves from people who don't understand what we do and why we do it. Sometimes we seem to be working from behind."
Explaining the continuous search for better technology and best practices, he said "We have to ask ourselves about the things we've always done that others might not understand. We have to always ask ourselves about how we manage our environment, about the climate, nutrient management, and animal welfare."
All those questions lead to answers that will improve the business. "We need to find real answers, though, we can't afford to spend money on solutions that aren't rooted in reality or on things that we can't control," he said.
"Finding those answers are why I want to be involved, I want to be more than a warm body in a chair at the CBB," he said. "I hope I can learn enough to contribute; to help bring some more common sense to the table. I'm going to enjoy taking my turn and helping do what needs to be done to make this a better industry."
Brian was appointed to the CBB by Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, early this year. Like every CBB member, he earned the appointment through years of hard work and service to the industry. He's a member of the Story County Cattlemen's Association, the Story County/Iowa Farm Bureau, and is an environmental science consultant for Iowa State University in nearby Ames. He's also a member of the Key Cooperative Board of Directors and the Howard Township Board of Trustees. Brian's honors include being named as Story County Cattleman of the Year in 2006 and winner of the Gary Wegin Good Farm Neighbor Award – recognizing Iowa livestock farmers who take pride in doing things right – in 2011.
(Click here to watch a video of Brian, Deb and their children talk about that Good Farm Neighbor award: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygoc3us3Xr8)
"When I was asked about becoming a CBB member, it really sounded interesting," he told me. "I started out by attending the summer meeting in Denver and my first national convention will be in San Antonio. In Denver, I learned how important their work is. The people I met there are dedicated, knowledgeable people who know how to get things done."
Brian was selected to serve on the Global Growth Committee, charged with helping manage America's beef export business. "Beef is a great product to sell and it's easy to be excited about it," he said. "About 30 percent of our product is exported and people around the world just have to have access to it at a reasonable price."
Be sure to tune in next month as we “Get to Know” another CBB member.