David Brandt – the man in the meme – looks like somebody sent from Central Casting to a movie director who wanted The Quintessential Farmer on the set. But truth is stranger than fiction, and Brandt was not an actor. He was the real deal.

Randall Reeder, The Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer, co-authored an article for No-Till Farmer with Brandt and others in May about the importance of conservation practices that build soil health.

“Dave made sure we emphasized the need for education about no-till and cover crops” and showed the progress farmers are making, Reeder says. “Farmer-to-farmer is the best education process. Farmers would rather learn from a successful farmer than a university professor.”

Soon after that, on May 18, Brandt died at age 76 when his truck crashed in Champaign County during a seed-buying trip.

Brandt was a Vietnam veteran who came home to farm in Fairfield County, Ohio. He started no-tilling more than 50 years ago and had been nurturing his soil with cover crops for more than 40 years. He was an on-farm researcher who knew he was headed in the right direction and never stopped experimenting, innovating, and perfecting.

He nurtured more than the soil. To spread his ideas, he started a seed business for cover crops. And he nurtured his family: His son and a grandson have been fully engaged in and have long been poised to operate the farm. His daughter-in-law and another grandson manage the seed business.

Sometimes called “the godfather of cover crops,” Brandt was just another farmer in his own community, about 20 miles southeast of Columbus. A good farmer, but not a celebrity – at least not until 2012, when USDA organized an event at his farm to roll out a national education campaign on soil preservation. A few years later, a photo of Brandt from that event went viral online after Reddit users added a slogan to the picture: “It ain’t much, but it’s honest work.”

There’s no evidence he made that statement at the USDA event. Nonetheless, it fits Brandt, a quiet, modest man who loved farming and was driven to do the right thing and to do it the best way he could.

He spoke about cover crops and soil conservation across the country, Canada, Europe, and Asia. And sometimes, he found listeners in Ohio. He would talk about his early days of monoculture cover crops, how he later experimented with a variety of seeds in a single field, and how he was always trying new seeds and new mixtures. He clearly loved learning but had an equal passion for sharing what he learned.

As Reeder said in a May 31 Farm Progress tribute, “Dave Brandt was recognized nationally and internationally as a top example of how farming could and should be done. He was very human, likable, generous, and had an infectious laugh. He won’t be forgotten.”

Story by Brian Williams — a freelance writer, consultant, and “Dot Connector” who contributes to AIM Illinois through his association with HNA Networks.

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