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HARRIS AGRICULTURAL MUSEUM

Growing collection Former ag business owners now display a slice of farming history By DONNETTE BECKETT H&R Staff Writer

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TWOOD — After retiring from Harris Companies, Inc., an industrial and agribusiness provider, Roger Harris found it hard to leave the business he founded in 1960. “I’m usually at the shop at about 6:30 of a morning,” he said of his daily routine. But Roger Harris and his wife, Glenna, spend their time these days in more relaxed part of the business. “He’s more or less retired,” his wife clarifies. In 2000, the couple opened the Harris Agriculture Museum adjacent to the company’s building to display the large collection started by Roger Harris’ parents. “His parent’s home was full GO INFO of collectables,” Glenna Harris The Harris Agriculsaid. tural Museum is The 120-bylocated at 521 N. Illi90-foot building nois St. in Atwood. houses farm Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 equipment datp.m. Monday through ing from before Friday. To schedule a Herald & Review photos/Jim Bowling the 1920s. Much Roger Harris shares the history of items on display at the Harris Agricultural Museum in Atwood. Harris, along with his wife, Glenna, display the large collection of tour or for more inforof the machinmation, email harris agriculture items that his parents began collecting. ery is from the agmuseum@harris Mechanization companies.com or process to the world of farming. The press is now in the era, “when they didn’t use steam call (217) 578-2231 middle of the museum. engines or oddball tractors,” or (217) 578-3040. And that’s only part of the first floor. Roger Harris explained. On the upper level are various exhibits of what Glenna Many of the pieces have been Harris calls “a woman’s world.” refinished, such as the 1935 Oliver Hart Parr tractor and After traveling up two flights of stairs, visitors will the 1938 Oliver tractor that Roger Harris bought sightstep into an open floor full of displays sectioned off into unseen from Ohio. A tractor with steel wheels dating individual rooms, almost like a home, each representing back to 1922 is the oldest tractor in the collection. times past. The museum also displays other forms of transportaThe couple started construction of an old-fashioned tion, such as a 1949 and a 1958 Cushman motorcycle. The elevator on the exterior of the building, but “you’d have exhibits all have a motorized theme. For example, a fillto pull yourself up with the ing station display of equipment fits comfortably among pulley,” Glenna Harris the tractors and other machinery. But some of the pieces warned. The elevator require manual labor, such as the 1920s thrashing remains in pieces on the first machine that takes up the length of most of the museum. floor. Many pieces have their own claim to fame. In 1904, the The first stop in the World’s Fair in St. Louis presented the Whitman hay “home” is the kitchen. The antique tables in the exhibit have utensils and mixing bowls laid out, almost as if a family were ready to make supper. A restored kerosene A 1919 Ford Model T grain truck is on display at the Harris Agricultural Museum. stove was given to the couple Roger Harris, as a gift for their 50th museum owner anniversary in business. “We try not to have replicas,” Glenna Harris said. “Some pieces have been refinished.” “Everything in the museum is usable, workable or operable,” Roger Harris said, except a 1930s refrigerator. “We can’t find the parts,” Glenna Harris said. As visitors travel through the displays, they will pass a living room, children’s room and a bedroom, displaying a cross-stitched quilt of important Atwood businesses. Although they don’t have a replica of a 1920s bathroom, one corner of the museum displays Glenna Harris’ collection of nearly 100 antique bed pans. After collecting a few potties, the collection began to grow. “The bed pans just appeared,” she said. The farm theme continues as visitors travel around the second floor to an elevator office. “All of this was A replica of a grain elevator office from the 1920s and There are 12 antique tractors exhibited at the Harris Agricultural Museum includ1930s is exhibited in the upper level of the museum. MUSEUM/PAGE 2 ing this 1935 Oliver Hart-Parr tractor.

‘Everything in the museum is usable, workable or operable.’

INSIDE THIS SECTION Agribusiness

Preventing loss

Analyzing ag

Richland Community College’s ag program is focusing on budding entrepreneurs Page 4

Conservation experts help farmers control erosion of their precious land Page 8

Testing lab near Niantic assures quality, safety and health of food supply Page 10


2 FARM PROGRESS

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

www.herald-review.com

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

Farm foundations Institutions benefit from donated land By KARSTEN BURGSTAHLER For the Herald & Review

Herald & Review photos/Jim Bowling

Roger Harris acquired an early 1900’s manure spreader for the Harris Agricultural Museum in Atwood.

MUSEUM Continued from page 1

donated by the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois,” Glenna Harris said. Other business displays include a barber shop, owned by Roger Harris’ father, and Roger Harris’ own television repair business. “We still have the glass tubes,” Glenna Harris said. All pieces are original to the time period. ONLINE Some of the GALLERY: displays have www. been donated, heraldbut “most of it review. we buy,” Roger com Harris said. With all of the displays and stories that come with his new business, Roger Harris still finds the museum less confusing than the business he established 53 years ago. “When computers came into existence, I said, ‘I’m not going to learn those,’ ” he remembers. “He didn’t trust the computer,” Glenna Harris said. “So I turned it over to them,” Roger Harris said of his children. Harris Companies Elevator business has been managed for the past 10 years by son Scott Harris. Son Stan Harris manages the elec-

Harris shows the many blacksmith tools used in the past by farmers, including a wood drill for barn pegs. trical division. Daughter Sandy Fiala “does what nobody else wants to do,” her mother said, “billing, balance the check book, collects the bills, all from northeast Ohio.” “I still go out with them on estimates,” Roger Harris said. “When we first started in the business, he worked 16 hours every day,” his wife

said, with a sound of relief. Roger Harris has been happy with his current business decision, as well. “Maybe I spent more money than I wish I had,” he said of his new business, “but otherwise, no regrets.”

DECATUR — In the farmland-heavy region of Central Illinois, property and crops can be valuable sources of income for anyone willing to enter the field. And one might be surprised to discover just what sorts of businesses have made their way into the farming industry. Moultrie County owns a little more than 200 acres of farmland and uses the profits from the land to supplement the county budget, said Dave McCabe, county board chairman. The land generates roughly $80,000 a year in gross income, he said. “Right now, we have a twoyear lease (on the land), and we had for the last few years,” he said. McCabe said the board allows area farmers to bid for the rights to work the land, much like the county would take bids for other projects. The land goes to the highest bidder, and the successful bidder must either live in the county or own at least 40 acres of county property. County resident Steve Cole currently works the acreage. But it’s not just local government taking the opportunity to enter farming. Several Decatur staples are also involved in the farming business through their foundations. Dave Brandon, Millikin University vice president for alumni and development, said the university claims slightly more than 2,000 acres of farmland and rents out the farmland to tenants.

“There are some exceptions, but the university’s policy on its farmland switched to cash-rent a few years back,” he said. Brandon said the university uses the profits from the land for a variety of purposes, but often the donor specifies how the money is to be used. “We have some farmland that was gifted to the university with the understanding that the university would never sell it and that we would use the income from the farmland each year to fund an endowed scholarship, which was named for the benefactor,” Brandon said

‘When a family farm is entrusted to DMH, we consider it an honor, as well as a tribute to our hospital and mission.’ Erica Sloan, DMH Foundation executive director

However, the university also operates farmland the donor has not restricted, and the income from that land can be used in the university’s area of greatest need, he said. “Not all farmland gifts that we receive are permanently bound; that is to say that not all of them have to be held permanently by the

institution,” Brandon said. “Some of those gifts the university is able to sell at some point if it so chooses.” Donors will often determine farmland restrictions according to their relationship with the land, he said. “For instance, if the donor just has a family legacy attachment to the land, and just can’t bear that it would be out of the family, so to speak — and they view Millikin as part of their family — a person like that would typically stipulate that the university, if it accepts the gift of land, would never sell it, to keep it in the family,” Brandon said. Decatur Memorial Hospital also receives donations of farmland through their foundation. Erica Sloan, DMH Foundation executive director, said the hospital always accepts gifts of farmland and is careful to respect the donor’s wishes of how the land is used. “When the land is gifted to us, there is typically a farmer already farming the land, and we honor that relationship,” Sloan said. “Otherwise, we would work with local banks/farm management groups to help us select the right farmer for the land.” DMH holds 5,443 acres of farmland. The hospital owns 2,542 of the acres, while 2,216 acres are designated as temporarily restricted and 685 acres are permanently restricted, she said. Sloan said the hospital expects to earn $994,000 from the farmland this year. “When a family farm is entrusted to DMH, we consider it an honor, as well as a tribute to our hospital and mission,” she said. “We carefully manage that gift in a manner that respects its history and maximizes its future value and impact.”

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

FARM PROGRESS 3

The seeds to fight hunger Gardeners toil to support area food pantries BY SAMANTHA BILHARZ

and gourds. If they aren’t planting outside, the Master Gardeners have the greenhouse on the same piece of MATTOON — Local gardeners, land. community members and Eastern The plots and greenhouse were Illinois University students are comdonated by officials at Sarah Bush. ing together to help stop hunger in Master Gardener members origiMattoon and Charleston by donating nally got the idea for the Plant-Atheir annual harvests to area food Row garden from the Garden Writpantries. ers Association and the GWA FounThe Plant-A-Row garden, located dation, which behind Sarah established the Bush Lincoln project in 1995 Health Center through forin Mattoon, mer Garden was estabWriters Assolished more ciation Presithan 15 years dent Jeff ago as a way Lowenfels in to give back to Anchorage. the communi“Garden ty. writers are Through the asked to University of encourage Illinois Extentheir readers/ sion, seven listeners to Master Garplant an extra deners are in row of produce charge of the each year and Plant-A-Row donate their garden, where surplus to they grow local food fresh produce banks, soup and donate it kitchens and to the Mattoon service organiCommunity zations to help Food Center feed Ameriand the ca’s hungry,� Charleston according to Area ChurchPepper plants line rows at the garden. the associaes Food tion’s website. Pantry every Gardeners around the United week. States have donated more than “The garden helps feed those who 18 million pounds of produce, accordcan’t garden,� Master Gardener ing to the GWA, providing more than Renee Fuller said. “Coles County has a lot of people who are in need 72 million meals since the Plant-Aof food and fresh food — sometimes Row program started in 1995. this is the only fresh food they get.� The U of I Extension’s Master Fuller said Master Gardeners Gardeners program provides Coles donated 2,400 pounds of produce last County volunteers with horticulture year to the Mattoon food center and training. Via lectures and research, the Charleston food pantry. they also help their community by The Plant-A-Row garden sits on informing people about gardening three plots of land where, yearand where food comes from. round, the Master Gardeners grow Anyone interested in volunteering tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, at the Plant-A-Row garden or cabbage, broccoli, onions, pumpkins becoming a Master Gardener may H&R Staff Writer

Herald & Review photos/Ken Trevarthan

Stanley Huffman and Renee Fuller plant a partial row of onions at the Coles County Master Gardeners’ Plant-A-Row garden plot behind Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon. contact the Extension office at (217) 345-7034. In Charleston, community members have paired with Eastern students from the university’s Student Community Service office for the newly formed Giving Garden. Located at the VFW Way Park, 1821 20th St. in Charleston, the Giving Garden has been a project two years in the making, organizers said. “Two years ago, we paired with the city to brainstorm volunteer opportunities by students and community members with the goal of helpONLINE ing the food pantry,� GALLERY: said Rachel Fisher, www. director of the Student heraldCommunity Service review. Office. com Fisher said the Giving Garden came about as a response to hunger among some residents within Charleston. “The sole purpose is to help the community and give back,� she said. The 20-by-20-foot plot of land was donated by the Charleston Parks and Recreation Department. Grown within the Giving Garden will be fresh produce such as cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers.

Giving Garden coordinators Samantha Sarich and Matt Kmelty pose at the plot area at VFW Park in Charleston. Fisher said everything that is grown at the garden will be donated weekly to the Charleston Area Churches Food Pantry, with the goal of harvesting at least 500 pounds of produce year-round. “This is one of the ways the community can respond to hunger — by giving back,� Fisher said. “Our goal is to find the perfect alignment between community needs and student interest. The Giving Garden is

the perfect blend of that.� In the future, Fisher said she hopes to see the Giving Garden expand and would love to see community members help out within the garden as well. Those who want to volunteer their time at the Giving Garden can call Eastern’s Student Community Service office at (217) 581-3967. sbilharz@jg-tc.com|(217) 238-6839

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4 FARM PROGRESS

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

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DECATUR, ILLINOIS

Inspiring business Herald & Review/Danny Damiani

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

Richland has transformed its agriculture program to focus on budding entrepreneurs By NICOLE HARBOUR H&R Staff Writer

ECATUR — Cheyanne Marston, 38, never imagined she’d start her own small-scale sustainable farm.

D

But in 2012, a chance visit to Richland’s Saturday Produce Market and a conversation with the college’s agriculture and horticulture director set the wheels in motion. “It was just a casual conversation with Dave (McLaughlin)” that inspired me, Marston said, noting that she had kept her own vegetable garden for years and had grown produce for family and friends. “I was a customer at the (Saturday Produce Market) and ONLINE showed him picGALLERY: tures on my www. phone of some heraldof the things I’d review. been growing com and he was like, ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t you selling this?’ So while (starting a business) had crossed my mind, I didn’t really have that push until then.” As she began selling her vegetables at the produce market and thinking more and more about starting a business, Marston also decided to take some of Richland Community College’s horticulture and agriculture classes last fall. From learning how to grow and care for vegetables and how to develop a business plan to selling her own produce, Marston, an occupational therapist, said Richland’s agriculture program gave her the confidence to change her life.

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

Jonathon Kane, 14, and Sarah Kitson, 13, select apples at the Old Moon Orchard in Maroa, which is managed by Richland student Norman Emery. TOP LEFT: Part of Cheyanne Marston’s harvest sits next to her Harristown garden. She was inspired to sell vegetables after a visit to the Saturday Produce Market. TOP RIGHT: Sarah collects peaches. She obtained a business license and opened Marston Farms in May with the help of her husband, Mark, and her 4-year-old daughter, Shelby. “I never thought I’d do this,” she said of her smallscale vegetable production, which comprises an eighth of an acre of land split between a student farm plot at Richland and some land in Harristown. “In fact, my background is in health care, so I work with Medicare, which

means constantly dealing with the government, and I was just dissatisfied. “I really wanted something that fed my soul — not that my patients don’t — but something I just find great satisfaction in doing … is canning my own things, making my own yogurt and butter and tomato paste,” Marston said. “I really, really am motivated by being selfreliant and independent … and Richland really gave me the support I needed to take

that next step and turn a hobby into a business.” Marston is one of hundreds of students who have benefit-

ed from Richland’s agriculture program, which McLaughlin and college administrators acknowledge

has evolved, especially in the last several years.

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DECATUR, ILLINOIS

FARM PROGRESS 5

RICHLAND Continued from Page 4

“I think, from the very beginnings of the agriculture program, there were a lot of (farmers) in the district who believed it should focus on large-scale farm production and large crops like corn and soy, but we’ve never had the land or the financial support for the kind of agriculture program that would allow us to engage in that,” said Doug Brauer, Richland’s vice president of economic development and innovative workforce solutions. “I think what has become clear is that we’re more of an agribusiness program that has Ashley Finch, become owner of much Finch’s Landscaping more focused on sustainable agriculture as it applies to small farming,” Brauer said. “We do a good job on small, sustainable farms and facilitating people who want to start up a business on small amounts of land of 50 acres or less.”

‘People who come through this program really know their stuff. There’s a lot to learn, and when I’m hiring people, I want people who took classes and who want to do things the right way.’

this program gives us a wellrounded education, from pruning trees correctly to greenhouse management and knowing how to mix chemicals,” Gregory said. “There’s no other program like this anywhere.” “We are the new face of farming,” said Cooper, noting that today, a lot of women are turning to small-acreage farming and sustainable farms that allow them to be self-employed and selfreliant. Fitzjarrald added that women also seem to enter the agriculture and horticulture field because they want to take care of their famiTina Cooper, lies and student provide them with healthy, homegrown produce. “I kind of joke that we’re changing the face of the modern farmer,” Marston said. “It’s not about overalls and being dirty anymore.” Whether male or female, the students agreed they wouldn’t be where they are today without the broad Richland agriculture program, and McLaughlin said he only hopes the program continues to grow. “I just want to show students all of the possibilities out there,” McLaughlin said, “and to show them that there is no limit to what you can do in agriculture.”

‘We are the new face of farming.’

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

Richland Community College agriculture student Norman Emery of Clinton advises Jason Kitson, 16, right, as he prunes a jonagold apple tree at the Old Moon Orchard in Maroa.

Herald & Review/Danny Damiani

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

Levi Kitson, 9, samples an apple at the Old Moon Orchard. “Originally, when I came here, the focus of the agriculture program was landscaping, greenhouse management and turf,” added McLaughlin, who’s served as Richland’s agriculture and horticulture director the last 11 years. “But over the years, the local foods movement has gotten to be quite strong. People want to know where their food is coming from and want to be able to purchase fresh vegetables and produce … so the focus has evolved into teaching sustainable agriculture and teaching people how to grow vegetables. It’s still ag production, but more specialized crops.” With an emphasis on entre-

Shelby Marston, 4, navigates her way through her parents’ garden in Harristown.

I F YO U G O The Richland Saturday Produce Market is held from 8 a.m. to noon each Saturday through Oct. 12 under the wind turbine in the parking lot of the National Sequestration Education Center. For updated information each week, see the Richland Student Farms page on Facebook. preneurship and specialization, students Norman Emery of Clinton and Ashley Finch of Decatur said the program has also stressed the importance of knowing a variety of agricultural and horticultural skills.

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“You have to understand business development and management, and you have to know a little bit about everything,” including biology, chemistry and integrated pest management, said Emery, who does landscaping work in addition to helping manage Old Moon Orchard in Maroa. Finch, owner of Finch’s Precise Lawns, agreed. “People who come through this program really know their stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn, and when I’m hiring people, I want people who took (agriculture and horticulture) classes and who want to do things the right way.” Whether starting a small farm, such as Marston and fellow student Shannon Fitzjarrald, embarking on a small

landscaping business such as Emery and Finch, or accruing a variety of horticulture and agriculture skills that will help them with small businesses in the future such as Tina Cooper and Kelly Gregory, the students agree that what they’re learning is helping to transform the idea of agriculture and farming. “My whole thought process about farmers and farming has completely shifted,” Marston said. “You know, I think there’s this big stereotype out there about what it is to be a farmer. You’re kind of viewed as an ignorant hick … and that’s not really it at all.” “You have to be smart, and

nharbour@herald-review.com| (217) 421-7963

Herald & Review/Danny Damiani

Cheyanne Marston and her husband, Mark, weed their garden in Harristown. They also work on a Richland Community College plot.


6 FARM PROGRESS

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

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DECATUR, ILLINOIS

23 acres of education

Mandy Totten, a Shelbyville High School Ag teacher, center with folder, follows up on information provided by the students during a tour of the Kenneth Diehl Ag Demonstration Plots. It is the oldest continuous school plot in Illinois after University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign’s Morrow plots.

Shelbyville students get hands-on lessons on school’s demonstration plot By CHRIS LUSVARDI

begin his career by co-managing the Kenneth Diehl Ag Demonstration Plots, located north of the school. “The classroom teaches you a lot,” Overbeck said. “The ag plots teach us what the classroom can’t.”

H&R Staff Writer

Herald & Review/Lisa Morrison

SHELBYVILLE — Matt Overbeck sees the benefit in learning everything he can about production agriculture as he looks to continue in farming. Just a junior at Shelbyville High School, Overbeck is in a unique position at a young age to

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

FARM PROGRESS 7

PLOT

Continued from Page 6 The students do everything from planting 23 acres of test plots to checking for weeds and keeping data while harvesting the crops, said agriculture teacher Mandy Totten, who is in her seventh year in Shelbyville. Crops include corn, soybeans and wheat, with work done during the school year and throughout the summer. “We want them to have a real-life experience,” Totten said. “It’s all done by the students. They come out on their own time.” Unlike previous years, Totten said she has spent a minimal amount of time on the tractor this Matt Overbeck, summer. Shelbyville Some of High School junior the work and Kenneth Diehl involves Ag Demonstration mowing Plots co-manager around the plots, Overbeck said. “I don’t mind it at all,” Overbeck said. “It’s good we do all this.” The plots are the oldest operation of its kind at a high school in Illinois, having started in 1951, Totten said. The only educational plots older are the Morrow plots at the University of Illinois. “Agriculture is the backbone of this community,” Totten said. “These students have ONLINE grown up with GALLERY: agriculture www. around them. heraldIt’s so imporreview. tant to educate com these students.” Shelbyville FFA President Jeff Coleman, a senior, said young people have fewer opportunities to work on a farm than ever before due in part to changing, more restrictive laws. He’s learned about running the plots from older students and hopes to pass along similar knowledge to those younger than him. “This is the first spot I really started helping at the farm,” Coleman said. “I know what I do because older kids taught me.” Students taking agriculture classes at Shelbyville are exposed to almost every aspect of agriculture, from marketing to working in a greenhouse. “Not every student drives a tractor,” Totten said. “The experience they get, that is priceless.” The plot’s other co-manager, junior Tice Robinson, said the experience shows him what it would be like running a farm. He hasn’t grown up on a farm, but it’s something he’s become interested in. “We’re lucky to have this,” Robinson said. “There’s more to it than it seems.” Robinson said he would like to gain more education in the mechanical side of the operation, since knowing how to fix equipment can be

‘The classroom teaches you a lot. The ag plots teach us what the classroom can’t.’

Herald & Review photos/Lisa Morrison

Matt Overbeck, a junior at Shelbyville High School and co-manager of the plots, drives a wagon full of farmers on a tour of the Kenneth Diehl Ag Demonstration Plots just north of the school. Students have farmed 23 acres of land since 1951.

Like farmers around the area, the students faced similar hurdles over the past few years due to the weather For example, planting this spring was late and not completed on corn until May 20. “Every year, we never know what obstacles we’ll face,” Totten said. “No year is going to be the same, DETAILS and no The Kenneth year is Diehl Ag Demonperfect.” stration Plots are Some located north of areas of Shelbyville High the field School. Students were from the Shelspotty byville High because School Agriculof wet ture Department condimanage the plots, tions, which have been and Totoperating since ten said 1951. The 23the crops acre cooperative couldn’t venture is supbe ported by Shelreplantbyville Ag Plot ed. She Council, Shelsaid byville FFA and seeds Mandy Totten. weren’t to blame for the spots in the fields. “In some years, you’ve got to go with what you’ve got,” Totten said. “It has nothing to do with the seed.” In some cases, Totten said they made the decision to not apply fertilizer in order to get the seeds in the ground in a timely fashion. clusvardi@herald-review.com| (217) 421-7972

Illini updates: twitter.com/ marktupper

AT LEFT: Student Tice Robinson is interested in farming after his experiences as co-manager of the agricultural plot. AT LEFT: Elliott Smithson tells a group of farmers about the statistics on planting, herbicides and population on one of the corn fields. More than 40 area farmers attended the annual event. a way of saving money. The data collected on the demonstration plot is provided to local farmers and seed

companies that request the information, Totten said. Some of those receiving the information are the ones

who ask for specific tests to be done. The plots might look different each year because dif-

ferent testing is done. Only six plots that test for basic fertility remain the same each year, she said.

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8 FARM PROGRESS

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

www.herald-review.com

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

Keeping the soil on top Some estimate an inch has washed away in 20 years By CHRIS LUSVARDI H&R Staff Writer

MONTICELLO — Eric Miller wants to take care of the land he farms near Monticello. In nearly 20 years of farming, Miller has tried to gain a better understanding of what equipment and practices will best accomplish his goals. “Whenever you do something on the farm, you don’t want to take a step backward,” Miller said. “The technology ONLINE really has GALLERY: changed.” www. Advances in heraldtechnology review. have helped com farmers do the job they want to do as they look for every plant to come up at the same time and same distance apart, Miller said. “It has maximized the opportunity to visually see where every seed is being placed,” Miller said. “We have about 35,000 seed go in an acre. We try to have every plant look exactly the same.” During a field day at George Riley’s wheat field outside Monticello in July, Miller demonstrated equipment that can be used for strip tillage, a system that disturbs a minimum amount of soil. Miller,

Herald & Review photos/Jim Bowling

Kyle Totten of Kenney examines tilled ground during tiller demonstrations at the Tillage Conservation Day at George Riley’s wheat field in rural Monticello. TOP LEFT: Heath’s Inc. salesman Dave Jostes jots down information during the conservation day. TOP MIDDLE: Tim Walker performs a fall tillage demo. TOP RIGHT: Dan Schaefer, Illinois Council on Best Management Practices director of nutrient stewardship, addresses attendees. along with several equipment dealers from around the Piatt County area, showed various pieces of machinery available

to farmers to improve their work in fields.

SOIL/PAGE 9

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

FARM PROGRESS 9

SOIL

Continued from Page 8

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

Monticello area farmer Eric Miller addresses attendees next to strip till equipment at the start of the Tillage Conservation Day at George Riley’s wheat field near Monticello.

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Jones performs a residue count during a tillage demonstration.

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From left, Monticello farmer Destin Dasher, innovation agronomist Eric Beckett and soil conservationist Jamie Jones look at the back end of a tiller.

A recently launched statewide initiative, Keep It for the Crop, encourages farmers to improve nitrogen use practices. Research with a focus around seven targeted watersheds is funded by farmers, said Dan Schaefer, director of nutrient stewardship for the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices. “It’s important enough to put their skin in the game,” Schaefer said. “Farmers and fertilizer dealers are not always looked upon as good stewards of the environment. They’re out here learning this is what they can do.” In the process of keeping nitrogen from running off fields, Schaefer said the goal is to help farmers improve yields. Nutrients should ultimately make it into the crop as intended. The 2012 drought didn’t help, leaving nitrogen in the fields and possibly carried off by the spring rains, Schaefer said. Butch Fisher has been traveling the area in recent years with a rainfall simulator showing how soil is lost. Fisher estimates an inch of topsoil has been lost in the last 20 years, which is a concern as the chemicals carried with it make their way into water ways such as Lake Decatur.

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Businesses participating in the event included Central Illinois Ag, Heath’s Inc., Jennings Implement Co. and United Prairie. The Piatt County Soil and Water Conservation DisDETAILS trict The Illinois wants Council on Best farmers to Management make wise Practices choices launched its Keep and notice It for the Crop by the 2025 initiative amounts during the 2011 of crop Farm Progress residue Show in Decatur. that is left Work is focused on the in six priority field by watersheds the differthroughout the ent tillage state. The camimplepaign seeks to ments, educate the agrisaid cultural sector Jonah while researching Cooley, a ways to reduce resource nutrient losses conservaand enhance tionist. nutrient efficiency. The ultiMore information mate goal is available at is to save http://illinois the soils cbmp.org/. for generations to come, Cooley said. “It’s the most important thing you can possibly imagine,” Cooley said. “There are a lot of conventional tillers, and we hope to open their eye to it.” Little variations in equipment can make a difference to a farmer’s success as it affects soil tillage and crop residue, said Bradley Baer, a product specialist with Case IH. “We need every bushel we can get,” Baer said. “If it


10 FARM PROGRESS

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

www.herald-review.com

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

Assuring a safe, healthy food supply Struggling testing lab has overcome growing pains to become prosperous By CHRIS LUSVARDI H&R Staff Writer

NIANTIC — Fred Claussen understands the significant role EPL Bio Analytical Services has held in the agriculture industry since 1987. Claussen has worked for EPL for 25 of those years, sticking with the company even as it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Through it all, he saw CLOSER its potential as a tester LOOK of agricultural products for quality and WHAT: EPL Bio regulatory compliance. Analytical Ser“I’m glad I stayed,� vices LLC said Claussen, now its WHERE: 9095 vice president of W. Harristown method development. Blvd., Niantic “I love science, and EMPLOYEES: 49 this is science at a OWNERS: Illinois Ventures for Com- basic level. I’m not sure I would have munity Action, opportunities that are InDecatur Venas gratifying.� tures and David The lab was started Snoeyenbos. in a garage, said CEO ONLINE: www. Robin King, who has eplbas.com led the business for seven years. It works to support the agriculture industry to provide a healthy, abundant food supply in a safe environment while finding niche services for testing, King said. After it started, its focus was on assuring the safety of traditional chemicals for the crop protection industry. The Environmental Protection Agency had issued a new set of guidelines for pesticide registration resulting in more need for testing, he said.

LAB/PAGE 11

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

Analyst Nina Page operates fiber analyzers that determine the digestibility of animal feeds at EPL Bioanalytical Services near Niantic. CEO Robin King started the agriculture testing facility in 1987. Recent investments have helped the company grow.

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

FARM PROGRESS 11

LAB

Continued from Page 10 From there, EPL picked up other testing contracts, Claussen said. The outlook was looking dim in 2005 with only a handful of employees remaining before a group of investors, including Illinois Ventures for Community Action, InDecatur Ventures and AirFloat Systems founder David Snoeyenbos, stepped in and began to turn the business around. The investors had been one of the key pieces that had been missing, said Kim Brunner, chief financial officer. The long-term employees helped lead the turnaround effort, too, King said. The employment level was soon boosted to more than a dozen. “We were living on a shoe string,” King said. “Growth was painful and difficult, but we kept up with demand. We have since built excess capacity.” King came on board and began looking for new business ONLINE opportunities. GALLERY: The focus has www. been on testing heraldfor large agrireview. cultural compacom nies but she sees the potential in finding ways to work with more local businesses. Although the lab is located in a converted John Deere dealership between Harristown and Niantic, King said it hasn’t had any Illinois customers but has moved into a position to change that. “We’re looking for areas that are not necessarily something somebody else is excited about,” King said. Samples of crops including soybean, corn, canola and sorghum are able to be sent to the lab from around the country and world, King said. Soil, fruits and nuts also can be tested, along with animal samples, although King said those are rare. The lab can check for anything from nutritional value of food products to the levels of chemicals in a sample. Sending the materials to the lab has made sense because of its central location among the nation’s main farming states, King said. Once the lab receives a

Herald & Review photos/Jim Bowling

Analyst Katie Abell performs a mycotoxin analysis in the main lab at EPL Bioanalytical Services near Niantic.

Analyst Brenda Dickey works with a total dietary fiber analyzer. sample, it maintains strict control and oversight over the material to prevent unintentional changes from being made, King said. Grinding is done to the products, which are weighed in an area where more than 10 people can be working at a time. Samples can be stored in electronically monitored walk-in freezers with temper-

Chief Executive Officer Robin King shares information about the weigh room.

atures reaching below negative-20 degrees Celsius (about 4-below Fahrenheit). Equipment in parts of the lab look similar to what can be found in a standard household kitchen, but the processes end up being more involved with the high-end technology that is used. Even something that seems as simple as a dishwasher is

a critical part of the process. “Every step builds on itself,” Claussen said. “We try to eliminate potential errors. Dirty glassware can invalidate a test run.” Much of the testing occurs with genetically modified crops, as those products are developed to meet regulatory requirements. Testing of organic products has started

to be done, King said. “Organic farmers are a piece to the puzzle to provide safe and nutritious food,” she said. “They have to be able to show they don’t have pesticides. We can provide support for companies like that.” As a consumer, King has confidence in the safety of genetically modified crops. “We know way more about

genetically modified crops because of the time, effort and money to do studies,” King said. Claussen hopes that science leads to informed discussions about the topic. Technology for food safety testing will continue to develop as more people are taking an interest in food safety issues and smaller levels of contaminants can be found with equipment sensitive to parts per billion and trillion, Claussen said. “Concern for food safety is growing exponentially,” Claussen said. “It’s trending toward high-end technology.” As technology has been enhanced, the time to perform tests has improved, which King said leads to more being done. “It adds up quickly,” she said. The lab recently purchased equipment to test for pesticides that are sensitive to levels of Kim Brunner, parts chief financial officer per billion or even trillion, Claussen said. While expensive, that type of equipment is important and part of why he is excited about the direction the lab is now headed. “We’re just getting our hands on it,” Claussen said. “We’ve got to be able to keep up. The investment is necessary.” Like Claussen, Brunner is glad she remained with the company. “What we do is ultimately an important task,” Brunner said. “We were always on the edge of being great. It felt like we were this close to being successful and really have something special and doing extraordinary things together.”

‘We were always on the edge of being great. It felt like we were this close to being successful ...’

clusvardi@herald-review.com| (217) 421-7972


12 FARM PROGRESS

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2013

DECATUR, ILLINOIS

www.herald-review.com

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Farm Progress 2013