PENNOCK (AP) -- Ever since 23-year-old Jeremy Pierce was about 14, he knew he was going to follow in his dad's footsteps and be a farmer.
His brother, David, 16, will be right behind him. So will his cousins, Darin, 17, and Derik, 15. Still on the fence is cousin Joe, 13, but it's likely he'll also join the family farm business.
With the average age of Minnesota farmers hovering around 50, it's unusual to find a batch of boys ready to launch their lives into a career in agriculture.
It's exactly what Ronald and Howard Pierce have been hoping for, and working for, as they've gradually expanded their rural Pennock farm. The two brothers, who are in their 40s, have been farming together since they were boys.
They credit their parents, Leona and the late Orville Pierce, for creating a solid foundation that allowed the farm to grow. The seed has now been sown for the next generation.
"I always wanted to give them the same opportunity to farm -- if they were interested -- that we had," said Howard Pierce. "We've been basically working all our lives for this."
Knowing that their sons want to farm has made it necessary to gradually increase acreage to about 4,700 acres. They'll also need to keep renting and buying more land in order to generate enough revenue in the future.
"You can see where it's leading to," said Ronald. "It's easier and more enjoyable to farm today when you know someone's going to be there to take it over tomorrow."
The jostling and gentle joking that takes place between the cousins, uncles and brothers is normal for the seven family members. They praise each other for their different farm talents and say they enjoy working together. The crew also includes Ronald's wife, Diane, and Howard's wife, Sharon, who also are actively involved in the farm operation.
"Everybody's working as a team," said Jeremy.
"You can trust everybody," Derik said.
"We don't know any different," said David. "We've been together ever since we could walk."
They also share an optimism for farming that has been worn out of many older farmers.
"Everybody's got to eat," said Jeremy, explaining why he's not afraid of a future in agriculture.
Said Darin: "I've always known I wanted to do this. I've always liked to work with my hands and not sit behind a desk for eight hours."
Farming is David's career choice "because you get to do a variety of stuff. It's not the same thing every day."
Starting with rock-picking and raking hay as youngsters, the Pierce boys have gradually increased their responsibilities by driving bigger machines and putting in longer hours on the efficiently run operation.
It's a "fun sight when you get to see them all rolling out" of the yard on various machines during planting or harvesting season, said Ronald. At least until the next break-down.
Besides weather conditions, Ronald and Howard say government regulations, subsidies and the desire to operate without government money are the biggest issues for farmers.
For the young boys, being teased by classmates about being farmers is the daily grind. Darin, who intends to take farm operation and management classes at Ridgewater College next year, said friends ask him "why I want to go to school to learn to sit in a tractor."
The teasing can get tough sometimes, but you learn to ignore it, they say.
"Nobody in my grade has anything to do with agriculture," said Derik, who's one of just two students in his class at New London-Spicer who intend to farm for a living. "You learn to say 'that's who you are' and ignore it."
The Pierce boys also have all been active in Future Farmers of America, which their classmates say is a waste of time.
"They think all we learn about is sows, cows and plows," Darin said.
David adds: "People don't understand that they need us, so they can eat."
Jeremy is past being bothered by peer pressure. From his point of view, he has the advantage. While he's been working on his career since he was a young boy, he has friends in college who still don't know what they want to do.
The family has made a commitment to work together and keep the farm growing. Besides increasing acreage, they've also expanded to livestock and have tried many alternative crops, like sweet peas, sweet corn and navy beans that they've added to the corn, soybeans and alfalfa rotation.
"I hope we can keep getting bigger and bigger," said Darin. "And I hope we all stay together."
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