Content with the Country Life
Within just a few moments of talking with Donn Branton, it’s clear that he loves what he does and knows exactly what he values. A man rooted deeply in living each day in the present, he is forward-thinking with a strong will to keep Branton Farms thriving for the next generation.
“I like working hard and with my hands. Every day I look over my shoulder and see what I have accomplished. And at harvest, I really feel good,” he explains. “I like all parts of farming. Even if I’m not liking the work I am doing at the moment, I know it is stuff that needs to be done so at the end of the day I enjoy it.”
As founder and owner of Branton Farms near Stafford, New York, he grows non-GMO soybeans and corn on 1,700 acres. Donn is a family man who has been married for 35 years to Yvonne. They have three children and six grandchildren. Yvonne takes care of the books and office, and their youngest son, Chad, works the farm and will eventually take it over.
Donn enjoys the deep camaraderie among growers. That is one of the main reasons he stays active in the New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association (NYCSGA). “We have similar interests and goals. We understand it is better to have a unified front than to go it alone.”
According to Donn, NYCSGA is also a positive force because it keeps growers aware of current and upcoming issues so they can see the big picture beyond their own operations. He attributes part of his success to his interest in new things and always looking for better ways to run his business.
For example, he saw the marketing opportunities in growing non-GMO corn and soybeans. In addition to reducing his chemical and seed costs while not decreasing yields, he has been able to get a premium for his crops. His soybeans have been particularly successful; he has shipped them to Quebec and recently found out that part of his crop ended up in Vietnam.
Donn was born and raised on a dairy farm in Batavia where his family had one of the last businesses delivering fresh milk to homes. After his father fell off the barn roof and eventually died of his injuries when Donn was 13, his mother was forced to sell the labor-intensive operation and rent the land because she needed to focus on raising her five children.
After a brief stint in college, Donn realized that higher education wasn’t his cup of tea. He went to work at a feed mill that had supplied his family’s dairy farm. Holding a variety of jobs there including crop spraying, he eventually went to work for his mom and stepfather when they bought out the chemical side of the business. Highly respected by his customers — many were corn and soybean farmers, — he decided to go into farming and started Branton Farms in 1979.
Like his father, Chad enjoys bringing new thinking to the farm. Since graduating with a degree in agriculture from Cornell, Chad has applied his interest in cover crops to enrich the soil and prevent wind and water erosion. While Donn used cover crops in the past, the farm has expanded in the use of sustainable techniques as the father and son look toward the future by protecting the land.
Both place value in planning. “As a farmer, things are always going to happen, but planning helps limit being caught with your pants down. It helps improve your luck,” says Donn. This ability has been particularly useful during the pressures of COVID where he has been able to forecast better and plan ahead with suppliers.
At age 67, he still puts in long hours during the growing and harvesting seasons. Yet, he makes time for family and friends, particularly cherishing pleasures like snowmobiling, Sunday breakfasts with the grandchildren and social gatherings with friends. Quite simply, Donn E. Branton is a forward-thing, gratefully humble and content farmer who has built a good life for himself and his family at Branton Farms as they enjoy the present and look forward to the future.