Farm Focus

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Friday, January 28, 2011



FARM FOCUS Recent years kind to ag industry By BILL LAIR Managing Editor

Kevin Kilhoffer/Staff Photographer

There are about 2.1 million farms in the U.S., based on information from the EPA, while Zynga reports over 30 million farms in their online game.

Farmville is not the real McCoy, but it sure is fun

As bad as the economy has been in recent years, it could have been worse without the agriculture sector. Agriculture has enjoyed “unprecedented” economic prosperity in recent years, according to statewide ag officials. “Out of the last five years, four of them have been really good,” said Dwight Raab of the Illinois Farm Business Farm Management Association in Champaign-Urbana. “The 2008 year was fantastic.”

Total net farm income topped $200,000 per farm, on average, in Illinois in both 2007 and 2008, according to figures from Illinois FBFM. Even in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available, net farm income averaged $84,212 throughout the state. “The past few years have been really good, unprecedented,” Raab said. “It’s been counter cyclical to the general economy.” Contrast the booming farm economy in the past few years to the


State of Illinois Ag Statistics Category No. of farms Ave. Acres Corn Yield Bean Yield Corn (old crop) Corn (new crop) Bean (new) Bean (old) Cost Per Acre Return Per Acre Net Farm Income

2005 2,940 773 148 51 $2.12 $1.99 $5.90 $5.87 $443.50 $11.16 $62,940

2006 2,640 803 173 52 $2.14 $2.64 $5.79 $5.93 $446.57 $51.14 $103,303

2007 2,748 818 189 50 $3.18 $3.38 $7.07 $8.64 $526.41 $170.38 $209.012

2008 2,572 845 194 51 $4.37 $4.28 $10.69 $10.35 $613.55 $167.38 $211,890

2009 2,624 829 182 50 $3.98 $3.75 $10.40 $9.75 $671.96 $13.06 $84,212

Source: Illinois Farm Business Farm Management Association


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in September 2009 that there are more than 285,000,000 people living in the United States, with less than 1 percent who claim farming as their occupation. It reported that there are about 2.1 million farms in the U.S. based on the government’s definition. But Zynga, a company that makes social-networking games that are free and accessible online, has its own statistics about farming with a game called “Farmville.” In comparison to the 2.1 million “real” farms, Zynga reports 30 million farms are in Farmville, a virtual game that lets people plant and harvest crops and trees and buy and raise livestock, through portals like Facebook. Crops on Farmville can be planted and harvested in only a few days; some cows produce chocolate milk; and trees bear fruit rather quickly. But there is something about this way of farming that keeps people interested. Crops that aren’t tended to in a timely fashion “wither and die.” “It’s an awesome game where you farm crops, animals, trees — and so much more. I play it because it is fun. I used to take it seriously and get mad when my crops withered and such ... but not so much anymore,” said Karissa Albin, 22, of Neoga. Albin recently earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Florida Institute of Technology, and is seeking employment. But until then, she has some free time for “farming.” “I play once or twice a day, depending on how much time I have and what crops I decided to plant,” she said. Albin said she doesn’t have a true farming background, but


Kevin Kilhoffer/Staff Photographer

Dr. Kyle Drake is pictured with two of his Clydesdale horses Alegro, left, Brodie, right, at his residence near Charleston on Thursday. Kyle, along with his wife Emily; and young children, Alexys, 7, and Gavin, 4, own four Clydesdales, ranging in age from 1 to 8 years.

This farm’s T horsepower the real deal Drake family’s Clydesdales garner attention at home and on the road

Staff Writer

Dick Taylor’s dad always said raising cattle was a lot of work. “If you don’t want to use a hay baler and a pitchfork, then you’d better head to town,” he would tell him. Apparently, hard work didn’t deter Taylor, of Oakland, an Angus breeder, who is continuing a fivegeneration tradition that began with his grandfather and father, and whose sons and grandsons will likely

will continue for decades after he’s no longer in the business. That may not happen any time soon, however, for the 79-year-old Taylor, who is still actively caring for his herd and anticipating his next champions. Raising and breeding registered Angus cattle has been a commitment of the heart since he bought his first heifer in 1945. His father, Roschen “Buck” Taylor, and grandfather, Calvin Taylor, owned Angus

Staff Writer

he Drake family’s Clydesdale horses are a big attraction along old Illinois Route 316 west of Charleston. Throughout the year, the group of huge horses will draw in vehicles of curious horse lovers. The Drakes don’t mind answering questions because the horses bring back memories of the farming age when horsepower was on the hoof, not under the hood. “We have people pull into our driveway and stop to ask questions or see them up close,” said Dr. Kyle Drake, a veterinarian who works in

Long line of champions: Taylor Angus operation approaches fifth generation By BONNIE CLARK


cattle, and it was a natural for him as a first 4-H project, he said. “Dad took me to Milford to a Cornbelt Angus Association sale and I bought my first heifer, Black Cap K 25,” Taylor said. “I still have the

ANGUS/2 Kevin Kilhoffer/Staff Photographer

Dick Taylor is pictured with Connely Prestend 297, a 2700-pound bull, at his farm near Oakland on Jan. 10.


Arthur. “Many people remember draft horses used on their grandparents’ farm. They always have a story to share with us, too.” They don’t even mind the joking questions like, “Where’s the beer wagon?” The Drakes now own four Clydesdales, ranging in age from 1 to 8 years. Their horses are, listed by youngest to the adults, Brody, Allegro, Major and Jeannie. The Drakes are also a foursome: Kyle, his wife, Emily; and young children, Alexys, 7, and Gavin, 4. Dr. Drake enjoys showing the


16 ■ Friday, January 28, 2011


Friday, January 28, 2011 ■ 15


Skinny pigs and poisonous pork: China doing battle with farm drugs BEIJING (AP) — It has shown up frequently in pork but also in snake dishes in south China and beef from the far western Xinjiang region, sending diners to the hospital with stomach aches and heart palpitations. Clenbuterol, known in China simply as “lean meat powder,” is a dangerous drug that’s banned in China yet stubbornly continues to pop up in the food supply, laced into animal feed by farmers impatient to get their meat to market and turn a profit. The drug accelerates fat burning and muscle growth, making it an attractive feed additive, sports performance enhancer and slimming drug, but overdoses can cause illness and, in rare cases, death. Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is among the athletes, who have tested positive for the drug, though he disputes the results, claiming he unknowingly ingested the drug by eating tainted filet mignon. How much of China’s meat supply is tainted with clenbuterol is not clear. The government won’t say how many cases of contaminated meat or related illness occur every year. But industry watchers say that, in the countryside at least, use of the drug is rampant. In a country with an appetite-killing roster of food safety issues — from deadly infant formula to honey laced with dangerous antimicrobials and eggs dyed with cancer-causing pigments — the problem of clenbuterol-tainted pork is widely considered to be one of China’s biggest food threats. “It’s really a big problem in China,” said Pan Chenjun, a senior industry analyst with Rabobank in Beijing who focuses on the business of food in China. “It’s not

reported frequently so people sometimes think it’s not a big issue but actually it’s quite widespread.” Pan said improved food inspection in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai have made mass poisonings in urban areas unusual, and therefore newsworthy, but the problem is rampant in smaller cities and rural areas. “I think a lot of people living in counties or towns may have a lot of exposure (to clenbuterol) if they eat street food,” Pan said. Adding clenbuterol to feed can reduce a pig’s body fat to a very thin layer and makes butchered skin pinker, giving the appearance of fresher meat for a longer time. The appealing look is one reason Chinese meat suppliers sometimes demand clenbuterol-treated pork from pig farmers, said Wen Peng, editor of the Chinese-language version of The Pig Site, an online news aggregator for the global pork industry. “When it comes to big large farms, there isn’t much of a problem because they can’t afford to be caught but there are a lot of small farms and they have a big market,” Wen said. “And slaughterhouses, they prefer their suppliers, the producers, to use clenbuterol because the meat looks better and more lean.” The drug lingers in highest concentrations in organs such as liver and lung — and poisonings appear more frequent in south China where organ meat is more popular. In February 2009, 70 people were hospitalized in the southern city of Guangzhou with stomach pains and diarrhea after eating tainted pig organs sold in a local market. In 2006, more than 300 people in Shanghai were sickened by pig products. Last year, 13 people in the coastal city of

Shenzhen near Hong Kong were hospitalized from eating clenbuterol-tainted snake. Local media said the snake had been fed frogs that were given clenbuterol — apparently to make them grow faster. Though Chinese regulations against “lean meat powder” are tough, including prison terms for those who produce or sell tainted food products, enforcement is spotty and offenders can often get off with a fine or a bribe, Wen said. Government officials too have expressed frustration with the lingering problem. In a report to China’s congress on Aug. 25, 2009, Wang Yunlong, the head of the legislative committee on agriculture and rural affairs told his fellow lawmakers that efforts to stop the use of “lean meat powder” had fallen short in many areas and called for a “concentrated countrywide effort to bring it under control.” China’s Ministry of Agriculture did not respond to a faxed list of questions about the problem and measures being taken to deal with it. The majority of poisoning cases in the news have involved pork, which is by far China’s most popular meat. Nearly 50 million metric tons of pork are produced and consumed per year — amounting to about half the global supply. The world’s second largest pork producer, the United States, harvested 118 million pigs in 2008. The same year, China produced 463 million and output is growing. The sprawling industry is in the midst of a huge transformation, from mostly backyard farms a few years ago to increasingly large and medium sized facilities — a shift which should make it easier

Erosion rates continue declining trend Staff Report

CHAMPAIGN —In the “report card” for natural resources, Illinois made the honor roll, according to data from the National Resources Inventory released last spring. The data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service indicates the most current status and condition of Illinois land, natural resources and important longterm land use trends. “The data confirms that Illinois’ private landowners work hard to protect our land and natural resources,” says Illinois NRCS State Conservationist Bill Gradle. “It also shows us a few areas where we need to focus our attention and target both state and local efforts. “I’m proud to report that the rate of soil erosion on Illinois cropland has steadily declined over the last 25 years,” he said. Conservation practices and treatments, such as no-till planting, terraces, conservation tillage, strip-cropping, contour farming and conservation cover planted on high-

ly erodible ground, are all part of the reasons behind this positive trend. “We can thank Illinois’ conservation farmers and all our conservation partners for these productive and ‘green’ trends,” Gradle added. In 1982, before provisions of conservation compliance were required for producers working with USDA, Illinois’ rate of water erosion on cultivated cropland was more than 6.2 tons per acre annually. The 2007 data sets a new low — 3.9 tons per acre. On average, water erosion rates on pastureland declined by 38 percent since 1982. NRCS can say that soil erosion poses little threat to healthy pastureland productivity statewide. Illinois is home to ample acres of prime farmland soils. About 89 percent of these acres are cropped. Between 1982 and 2007, about 495,000 acres of prime farmland soils were converted to non-ag uses. “While this may sound like a small loss, it still indicates a loss of the best and most ideal use of Illinois’ rare and

productive soils,” Gradle said. Other notable Illinois NRI data: ■ About 87 percent of Illinois total surface area, which is 36,058,700 acres, is privately owned land. ■ 2 percent of Illinois land is water. ■ More than two-thirds of Illinois is dedicated to cropland. ■ Nearly 11 percent is forestland. ■ Land developed from 1982 to 2007 increased 760,800 acres. ■ More than 953,000 acres of pastureland were lost from 1982 to 2007 — that’s more than 38,000 acres lost every year. ■ During 1982–2001, forestland in Illinois gained 303,000 acres. ■ Since 1982, Illinois lost 835,100 acres of cropland. ■ Illinois ranks fifth for the amount of cropland — Kansas ranks first, followed by Iowa, Texas and North Dakota. ■ Illinois ranks third for the acres of prime farmland — Texas ranks first, Kansas second. ■ Illinois ranks No. 1 in prime cropland.

to monitor for illicit feed additives like clenbuterol. In 2001, 74 percent of China’s pig farms were tiny, with 50 pigs or fewer, but today more than half are medium-sized facilities with up to 3,000 animals, a recent Rabobank report said. But larger farms are no guarantee of quality. In Beijing’s southern district of Daxing, an unlicensed farm with about 800 pigs lies hidden behind a metal gate. On a recent afternoon, a woman inside was stirring a large vat of what looked like mud, bones and garbage but said it wasn’t for the pigs. “It’s for us,” she said. The man in charge, who would only give his surname, Xu, said he’d never heard of “lean meat powder.” He said the farm had no phone number, business name or card. Farmers use clenbuterol because it boosts profits in two ways: It speeds up the growth of animals to get them to market quicker and creates meat for which consumers are willing to pay extra. Chairman Mao Zedong’s favorite dish is said to have been fatty slabs of belly pork braised in sugar and wine, a cholesterol wallop that was a welcome treat in frugal times. But today, relatively well-off and health conscious Chinese prefer lean pork and are willing to pay a premium for it. It’s not clear exactly where the clenbuterol comes from — two Chinese chemical factories that advertise clenbuterol on their websites denied ever selling it when reached by telephone. Whistle-blowing on food safety can be dangerous in China. The government is wary of any kind of grass roots organizing, particularly when it deals with sensitive social issues.

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14 ■ Friday, January 28, 2011


Ag education became unexpected passion for Oakland FFA adviser who was ‘filling in’ By ROB STROUD Staff Writer

OAKLAND — Jeff Coon had planned to just fill in for a while when he took the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor post in January 2001 at his alma mater — the Oakland school district. However, Coon has been putting his education as a teacher and his agri-business experience to work for his students at Oakland ever since then. “I just kind of fell in love with the job. The kids are a blast and the challenges everyday are interesting,” said Coon, who resides in Charleston. Coon said one of his favorite aspects of being an FFA advisor is taking his small town students, some of whom may have never traveled far from home, to FFA conventions in large cities. There, Coon said the teenagers might see a major rodeo, learn the responsibilities associated with an extended stay at a hotel, practice table etiquette while dining at nice restaurants, and have have other experiences that are new to them. “It is just really fun to watch them have those experiences in that setting and watch them mature,” Coon said. He added that FFA does a good job of building the confidence of students and teaching them strong work ethics. Coon said he also incorporates lessons about work ethics into his classes, includ-

Farmland values have reached all-time highs in Iowa as growing global demand for America’s agriculture products have helped to push commodity prices to levels farmers can smile about, agriculture experts say. David Oppedahl, a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said that according to his most recent study, the peracre value of farmland in Iowa increased 13 percent from October 2009 to October 2010. In Illinois the per-acre value increased 8 percent, he added. Oppendahl’s study included five states in the 7th Federal Reserve District: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. Overall, farmland values rose 10 percent in the 7th District, Oppedahl said. Indiana saw an 11 percent increase, while farmland values in Michigan jumped 11 percent. Wisconsin had the lowest increase with 3 percent. Iowa State University economist Michael Duffy who recently completed a fullyear study of Iowa’s farmland values, said prices for good farming ground in the state increased 15.9 percent in 2010. And the higher value of farmland can be good news for farmers, said Taylor Ridge, Ill., farmer Tom

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Students Bryce Wilson, left, and Michael Gobert, second from left, remove dried corn from the cob as fellow student Brandon Walsh, right, holds the container, as they work on a biomass project from a converted gas grill, under the direction of Oakland FFA adviser Jeff Coon in Oakland. ing a six-week lesson on job interview skills as part of agricultural business management course. He also teaches students how to write resumes and handle job interviews. For theses lessons, Coon applies experiences he gained while working as a DeKalb district sales manager for 15 years and running his Coon Agronomy Consulting Service for five years. “The most important thing I can teach them is how to get a job and keep a job,” Coon

Mueller. “If you own some property and you’re wanting to go to the bank and borrow money, it increases your net worth and can borrow against the higher land price,” Mueller said. The run-up in commodity prices spurred by greater demand has helped to increase the value of land dedicated to farming, Oppedahl said. Locally, one product that has helped push demand for corn is ethanol, he said. “Demand for ethanol has been rising and that takes up a bigger share of the corn crop,” Oppedahl said. Greater world demand for America’s farm products also has put upward pressure on commodity prices. However, some of that price pressure has been aided by the fact that commodity stocks in the U.S. are lower than normal, Oppedahl said. “The stocks-to use-ratios are historically low,” he said, adding that this year’s corn and soybean crops were not as large as expected. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nation’s 2010 corn crop totaled 12.5 billion bushels, down from 13 billion bushels in 2009. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, Iowa farmers produced 2.1 billion bushels of corn in 2010, down from 2.4 billion bushels produced in

Website protects sensitive crops from pesticide drift SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Illinois officials are promoting an interactive Internet tool to help protect the state’s sensitive crops from drifting pesticides. Organic and specialty growers may enter the locations of their fields on the “Driftwatch” site and pesticide applicators can use the maps to prevent spread of nearby chemical applications. Warren Goetsch is bureau chief for environmental programs for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. He says the project requires “shared responsibility” between growers and applicators.

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said. Another of his priorities is to teach his FFA members and his classroom students lessons about the science behind agriculture. Coon said his students planted 75 burr oak trees last year west of Oakland in the Hickory Ridge Conservation Area, natural habitat that will help improve water quality in the area. He said his conservation and wildlife management students regularly check the water in the nearby Embarras River to see how it

is affected by runoff. In addition, Coon said FFA members teach younger students about nutrition labels. He said his nutrition lessons also include a pizza party that highlights the agricultural origins of pepperoni, cheese, tomato sauce, crust and other ingredients. “When they order the pizza, they have to order it by the animal or plant where it comes from,” Coon said.

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n He says farmers must accurately register their fields and applicators must check the site before spraying pesticides. Purdue University developed “Driftwatch” for use in Indiana. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds paid for its introduction in Illinois. Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are starting the program this year. Ohio will begin in 2012.

2009. Illinois farmers produced 1.9 billion bushels of corn in 2010, down 2 billion bushels the year before. National soybean production also was slightly lower: 3.329 billion bushels in 2010, down from 3.359 billion bushels in 2009, according to the USDA. Iowa’s farmers produced 496 million bushels of soybeans in 2010, down from 486 million in 2009. Illinois farmers produced 466 million bushels of soybeans during the year, up from 430 million bushels in 2009. Prices for corn and soybeans have reflected the greater demand and tightness of the market, Oppedahl said. Corn for March settled at $6.57¼ Friday on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, while soybeans ended the day at $14.12¼. Mueller said at those prices, he wishes he had some corn and soybeans left to sell. “I’m sure there are some people holding some stocks in their bins,” he said. “They are probably smart people who didn’t sell it all last summer like I did.” Mueller added that commodity stocks are tight on the world market, too. “Argentina has had weather problems and they grow a bunch of corn and it’s been very hot and dry down there,”

he said. The weaker dollar also has given a boost to agricultural sales around the world, Oppedahl added. “We’ve maintained a trade surplus in agriculture for a long time,” he said. “That’s one sector that’s helping the U.S. economy move forward. If the whole economy were as strong as agriculture has been, we wouldn’t be worried about growth.” Duffy added that there has been a shortage of good farmland going on the market, and that, too, has spurred a rise in farmland values. “Land sales in 2010 are down considerably from 2008, and down again from 2009,” he said. As the price of land rises, so do rents, Duffy said. “The really interesting thing is, if you look through July of last year, rent was kind of flat,” he said. Rent prices for good farm ground are some the most tightly guarded secrets these days, Mueller said. “A farmer is not telling anyone how much he’s paying for it because someone may be willing to pay more for renting that land and call the landlord with a price. “There are some places that get very competitive and the landlord will have sealed bids.” Oppedahl will issue a final 2010 farmland prices report for the Seventh District next month.


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Self-reliance key to Howard’s philosophy By HERB MEEKER

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ARCOLA — Despite not growing up on a farm, as Grant Eschmann completed his high school career he knew that he wanted to be an agriculture teacher. Eschmann grew up in the rural Southern Illinois town of Waterloo, where as a high school student he happened to take an agriculture class and joined his high school FFA organization. Although he did not have much of a farming background, he fell in love with agriculture and FFA. “It was probably the people that were there, gaining the good friends” Eschmann said of the benefits of his FFA program. While in FFA, Eschmann said his favorite competition was parliamentary procedure, where the students hold a mock meeting that is run using Robert’s Rules of Order. However, Eschmann was willing to compete in about anything, as he enjoyed the experience of being involved in activities outside of school. What made Eschmann really realize that his own future lay in teaching agriculture was the example his agriculture teachers and FFA advisers set for him in Waterloo. “In high school I had some inspiring ag teachers,” Eschmann said. After high school, Eschmann went on to get a degree in agriculture systems from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and

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The sparks fly as Windsor High School senior Braden Stremming, left, works a grinder on a cooker grill as FFA sponsor Justin Howard looks on. That’s why I bring in guest speakers and try to have field trips. I had a golf course manager come in and he explained how that is related to agriculture,” Howard said. Sometimes his FFA projects meld into ag lessons. For example, the Windsor FFA chapter has been selling pork burgers at high school home basketball games. It is more than a fundraiser. The

students recently were working on building a smoker grill out of old barrels. The sparks were flying from a grinder and students were talking about how they would piece together the smoker grill made out of old barrels. Howard seemed in his element as he directed little details during the work in the shop area.

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100 pounds of milk to break even. Prices languished at $12 in 2009, their lowest point in seven years. The market began to turn around in 2010, and U.S. dairy farmers earned an average of $16.30. However, the return to profitability meant little to many dairy farmers who were still struggling under a mountain of debt. A second year of growth will help those producers, even if the growth continues to be modest, Stephenson said. “I’d say many of them are feeling cautious but hopeful,” he said. Milk prices collapsed in 2009 because of too much production and not enough demand. Dairy producers across the U.S. responded by slaughtering an average of 50,000 dairy cows a week because the glut made it impossible to sell their milk for what it cost to produce. However, as U.S. sales and a sagging export market began to recover in early 2010, dairy farmers went in

the other direction. They began to maximize milk production to help recover their substantial 2009 losses. The dairy industry ended up producing an estimated 192.7 billion pounds of milk in 2010, a 1.8 percent increase over the previous year. This year’s production is expected to be 194.4 billion pounds. The Wisconsin report said milk prices could continue to edge upward this year, but that this would not translate into significant profits for farmers, at least not early on, because of a spike in the price of corn used to feed dairy cows. Jim Ostrom, a partner with Rosendale Dairy in eastern Wisconsin, said corn that cost $3 to $4 last year now costs $6.50. “We’re very alarmed by the extremely high cost of feed,” he said. The increase is likely to take more of a toll on the West coast producers who buy most of their feed. Dairy farmers in the Midwest tend to grow more of their own

feed, insulating them from price swings in feed costs. A stable 2011 is good news for the dairy industry in more ways than one. Not only does it help producers regain financial stability but it also protects them in the event that congressional wrangling over federal budgets causes access to federal subsidies to dry up. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signaled recently that cutbacks are likely as the aftermath of the Great Recession pushes U.S. government deficits to levels last seen during World War II. U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin said through a spokesman that a number of proposals are being drafted for his House Agriculture Committee to review, but the final result most likely will involve spending cutbacks. “The Agriculture Committee, like everyone, will be asked to tighten its belt to help rein in our country’s massive spending problems,” Ribble spokesman Brandon Moody said.

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Dairy experts predict modest recovery in 2011 MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The nation’s dairy farmers can expect 2011 to be a second straight year of modest growth, according to a report released Wednesday that offers a small dose of optimism to an industry still recovering from a devastating 2009. Feed costs for dairy cows will be higher for at least the first half of 2011, but increased milk demand will help drive sales and revenue, according to the report by Wisconsin researchers. Wisconsin is the No. 2 milk producer in the nation behind California. “I think 2011 could be a good-enough year” for milk prices, said Mark Stephenson, a dairy expert at the University of WisconsinMadison who contributed to the report. “I think 2010 was a treading-water sort of year. There was a lot of equity lost on dairy farms across the country in 2009. It would take much better prices to make up for that.” The average dairy farmer needs to earn about $16 per

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WINDSOR — Justin Howard remembers the days when his grandfather taught him the nuts and bolts of farming. “He was my teacher. He taught me how to work with my hands from carpentry, welding to fixing a short circuit. He’s my hero,” said the Windsor High School agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor. Today, Howard applies the basics that build on a farming career, but also emphasizes the hands-on experience through ag-shop projects. He wants his ag students to learn self-reliance because it can be vital in ag-related careers. “If they can learn to do something with their own hands it’s very important to me. Winning FFA contests are nice but if you’re able to live everyday then you can make it in life,” Howard said. Howard grew in Clark County where he was active with the FFA there as well as 4-H. “I was with 4-H for 11 years and showed cattle, hogs and a horse a couple of times,” the young teacher said. So he discounts the negative statements that agriculture does not offer good job prospects for the future. “I’m facing that attitude here. Some of my students only see corporate farming in the fields around here. But I try to explain there are over 300 careers in agriculture.

“SINCE 1983”

has now been in Arcola for three years. Eschmann teaches junior high and high school agriculture and serves as the high school FFA adviser. Thus far, Eschmann has enjoyed stepping into the shoes of agriculture teacher and adviser, like the people who inspired him in high school. “It has been an overall good experience, I like the community and the students,” he

said. Eschmann has been concentrating on building up the Arcola FFA chapter to get more students involved and interested in what agriculture and FFA has to offer. Currently, Eschmann’s FFA students are working on a contest through the Farm Bureau to promote agriculture careers. Eschmann said the students have been working hard on a plan to high-

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light agriculture careers in the Arcola newspaper every week, give presentations about agriculture careers to elementary school students and possibly hold an agriculture career fair. Although Eschmann and his wife currently live in town, he hopes to someday live out some farming aspirations of his own by possibly raising steer and being able to have some horses as well.

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KANSAS — When Mallory Jenness was a Newton Community High School student a decade ago, she and most of her fellow FFA chapter members had parents or grandparents who worked on a farm. Jenness, who is now the Kansas agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, said most of her FFA students now do not have any direct ties to farms, but still benefit from learning about agriculture. She said FFA draws students by offering hands-on lessons and life experiences that are applicable to careers in agriculture and other sectors. For example, Jenness said the national FFA organization’s parliamentary procedure contest teaches participating students how to run a meeting and how to get their point across during a discussion. She said these students also learn discipline and responsibility as they practice for the contest. “Those are skills they can use later on in life,” Jenness said. “It gives the kids skills they can use to their benefit later on when they have jobs.” Jenness said she was an FFA member during all four of her years as a Newton Community High School student and attended Lake Land College with the goal of becoming an agriculture teacher/FFA adviser.



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Kansas FFA adviser Mallory Jenness works with student Justin Richardson as he builds an Adirondack chair at Kansas Schools in Kansas. At the University of Illinois, Jenness changed educational tracks and graduated with a bachelor’s in crop science agri-business. Jenness said she subsequently worked for about a year in farm supply sales for Illini FS in Jasper County before deciding that agriculture education was her calling. “I just did not want to be stuck behind a desk everyday with the same old, same old. I needed to be in a classroom

where I could teach,” Jenness said. She is now in her third year at Kansas, her first posting as an agriculture teacher/FFA adviser. Jenness said one of her favorite aspects of being an FFA adviser is showcasing the program to the rest of the community during FFA Week. She said the chapter has held a children’s tractor pull and other “Agriculture in the Gym” activities, organized a petting zoo, offered a teacher

appreciation breakfast, and more during FFA Week. In addition, Jenness said she appreciates that FFA offers a positive activity for its students to take part in after school. She said the FFA chapter is a close-knit group of students. “FFA gives them a homelike structure away from home,” Jenness said.

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Family farm brought Arthur FFA adviser peace as child By AMBER LUSVARDI For the JG-TC

ARTHUR — Wendy Leenerts still looks back fondly on the many summers she spent at her grandparents’ farm in Western Illinois while she was growing up. Leenerts’ grandparents owned a small farm in Golden with some sheep and cattle, where in the summer she could take on a little lamb of her own to care for while she was there. Her grandfather would also work for another local farmer and Leenerts would spend some days riding along with him in the tractor. Being outside on her grandparents’ farm always gave Leenerts a sense of peace. “It is just like being home,” she said. This close connection Leenerts felt to her grandparents’ farm throughout her childhood led her to study agriculture at Truman State Univer-

sity, where she was encouraged by her professors to get her teaching certificate. Leenerts decided to go to Western Illinois University to get her teaching certificate in agriculture education, and while she studied at Western Illinois University she went back and lived at her grandparents’ farm once again. Leenerts is now a teacher of agriculture education and FFA adviser for the Arthur school district and she shares not only her passion for agriculture with her students, but her knowledge that getting an education in agriculture is more than just working on a farm. One of the stereotypes Leenerts has had to fight while teaching agriculture is that students should only take agriculture classes or be interested in agriculture if they live on a farm or plan on becoming a farmer.

“It is more than just sows, cows, and plows,” Leenerts said. In the classroom, Leenerts has been trying to expose her students to some different aspects of the agriculture field such as horticulture, animal science and business agriculture. During one unit, she taught her students about welding, explaining that welding can be used in the creation of farm implements. As the FFA adviser in Arthur, Leenerts is looking towards rebuilding the program and getting the students involved in competitions. Since some of her FFA students do not live on a farm, Leenerts has encouraged them towards attending career development events. “FFA can get you so many opportunities,” Leenerts said. Outside of going to competitions and looking at career

possibilities, Leenerts also wants her students to have fun. The group recently decided to hold a badminton competition as a recreational activity for the FFA group.

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Lack of rain means winter wheat crop is in jeopardy CLOVIS, N.M. (AP) — Warm days and little rain mean the winter wheat crop in eastern New Mexico’s Roosevelt and Curry counties is in jeopardy. Farmers in the area say the crop has suffered badly two months into the growing season. If rain doesn’t arrive soon, much of the crop may fail. Rick Ledbetter, a cotton and alfalfa farmer in Roosevelt County, said the situation with wheat crops is not yet serious. He said if local farmers do not see precipitation in the next several weeks, the situation could become dire. “If we don't get some moisture, we won't be able to harvest the wheat,” Ledbetter said. “We'll see some effects on our summer crops, too, if we don't get some moisture.” Ledbetter said he can visibly see the difference in his dry land crops versus those irrigated, but the dry land wheat is still alive. The young wheat just isn't growing. Curry County commissioner and wheat farmer Frank Blackburn said he has never seen such a dry season in his 60 years in the county but that there’s time for rain to help the crop recover. “I haven't given up yet,” Blackburn said. “There's still plenty of time. We need moisture by at least April 1...” Blackburn said his main concern is wind erosion, because wheat crops are not large enough to withstand harsh, dry winds. Another Roosevelt County farmer, Kevin Breshears, said winter kill is what farmers will be facing if their wheat crops do not get moisture.






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10 ■ Friday, January 28, 2011


Agriculture is ‘all or nothing’ proposition for Charleston FFA adviser Julie Niemerg By DAVE FOPAY Staff Writer

CHARLESTON — Julie Niemerg learned long ago that there’s a lot more to agriculture than “just learning how to feed pigs and clean out their stalls.” It just took her a while to learn that after growing up on a hog farm near Quincy. Now, the Charleston High School FFA adviser wants her students to realize the same thing and that it’s really up to them to find the way. “I want to make sure they know about all that’s available,” Niemerg said. “I let their enthusiasm and their choices decide what we’re going to do.” She admitted that she wasn’t interested in FFA when she first started high school in Liberty largely because of her work on her family farm and knowing “I didn’t want to farm the rest of my life.” But the school’s agriculture teacher and FFA adviser pestered her to the point that she signed up during her sophomore year. “I think the big part was that I realized there was more to it than scooping pig poop,” Niemerg said. She quickly learned to enjoy the various competitions FFA participation can offer and learning about the “management side” of agriculture. Niemerg said she decided early that she wanted to be a teacher. She started college at Quincy University majoring in elementary education, but there were no agriculture classes there and after one year, “I was in withdrawal,” she said. Transferring to Southern Illinois University led to degrees in agriculture education and to her meeting her husband Mark. She looked for jobs in this area because he had a position at Lake

Kevin Kilhoffer/Staff Photographer

Charleston FFA advisor Julie Niemerg, center, looks over points scored during a parliamentary procedure session with FFA members Cassie Carson, left, and Ben Oakley, right, at Charleston High School in Charleston. Niemerg said she sees stuover the FFA program at Land College, where he still dent record keeping for their Charleston High School that works as an agronomy projects as “a big part of had largely focused on liveinstructor and farm managwhat it means to be an FFA stock judging competitions. er. She was offered all three member” but that’s also part While she brought in more jobs for which she interof a “balanced trio” with activities, that meant the viewed, and started as agriclass work and other activichapter had to transition “to culture teacher and FFA ties. Some of the chapter’s everything,” she said. adviser at Windsor High successes should inspire “The kids have a broad School in 1998. other students to try to do view of agriculture,” She said she had to overthe same thing or more, she Niemerg said. “It’s kind of come replacing a popular all or nothing with me. There said. teacher but “it just took “My goal is to get the stuis no middle.” time” to build relationships dents to have a more balAt the time, the chapter’s with the students. One stuanced experience, not just younger students were excitdent, Kacy Baugher, was pick one thing and run with ed about the approach, she national FFA secretary and it,” Niemerg said. “I hope said. It’s paid off the last few state FFA president while somebody takes it and runs years with successes such as Niemerg was there, one of with it on the leadership Kiersten Kasey’s term as the several accomplishments side. It’s exciting. It just state FFA secretary, Justin for the chapter during that Thomas’ national proficiency takes the right question for time. them to want to step out.” project championship and In 2004, Niemerg said, she Kasey’s and Richard Birch’s was ready to move to a largattaining their American er program and a job that Contact Dave Fopay at Degree, FFA’s highest honor. was closer to home. She took or 238-6858.

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Before school, Okaw-Valley FFA adviser feeds cows By AMBER LUSVARDI For the JG-TC

BETHANY — Emily Perry’s teenaged students sometimes marvel at the fact that she gets up at 4 or 5 a.m. each day to feed her cows before heading to school for the day. Perry’s entire day, in fact, is devoted to various aspects of agriculture, from helping her husband out on their cattle ranch to teaching agriculture to leading Okaw Valley’s active FFA organization. Despite the hard work, Perry never tires of her agriculturefilled schedule. “Agriculture is my passion and it is my life,” Perry said. “When it is your passion it doesn’t matter, you just do it all the time.” Part of the reason why Perry became interested in agriculture at a young age

was because of her own involvement in FFA while she was a high school student growing up in Shelbyville. Perry became involved in public speaking activities through FFA as well as livestock judging. She was also one of the designated students who would go to the middle school to get younger students excited about joining FFA and taking agriculture classes once they arrived at the high school. What really turned Perry’s life in the permanent direction of working in agriculture, however, was attending the Agriculture Youth Institute in Monticello as a high school student. Throughout the course of the Institute, Perry said she and the other participants toured numerous businesses where people with agriculture backgrounds could work

and explored the wide range of possibilities available to people with an agriculture education. “It was geared towards all the opportunities agriculture has to offer and that is what pushed me into it,” Perry said. After attending the institute, Perry said she realized that she wanted to become an agriculture teacher so she could show other young people everything that could be possible for them with an agriculture education. And now that is precisely what she is doing as both the FFA adviser and agriculture teacher for Okaw Valley schools. If she teaches her students nothing else, Perry

said she wants to show them the many paths that can be available to them in agriculture, more than just the obvious job of farming. “That is what I am all about, opportunities and opening doors,” she said. In Okaw Valley, Perry said the students are very dedicated to the FFA program and the community has been supportive of it as well. Perry sees part of her role as FFA adviser as continuing to maintain that commitment the students have to the program and its experiences. “I am really proud of my kids,” Perry said. “FFA is the strongest organization at Okaw Valley.”


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Economist: good time to farm FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Demands for corn fueled largely by ethanol have boosted prices for farmland and have made it a good time to be a farmer, Purdue University agricultural economists say. “I just don't see the factors that would turn us bearish in the short run,” Chris Hurt told those gathered at the recent Fort Wayne Farm Show. “We do have a really robust market. Everything's coming up aces.” Hurt estimated that corn prices could reach more than $7 a bushel this year, with $15 a bushel for soybeans possible. Returns are so strong that prices of $10,000 an acre are being paid for the top farm ground, he said. He thinks the rising prices of agricultural commodities could support significantly higher land prices, perhaps

$6,700 to $7,000 for land that now costs a little more than $5,000 per acre. That 30 percent price increase could come by the first half of 2012, he said. Juan Sesmero, an assistant professor of agriculture economics at Purdue, said that the outlook for corn growers is bright because of the crop's use in making ethanol. Indiana farmers produce between 4 million to 5 million bushels of corn for the ethanol industry. James Schriver said that gives him hope his children can join him in the fields. “It's always been where you were just barely getting by, but ethanol has changed that,” said Schriver, who owns a farm in Montpelier, about 45 miles south of Fort Wayne. “They can actually make a living at this now.”

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Justin Parcel returns to Martinsville H.S. to share love of agriculture with students

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Justin Parcel of Martinsville has returned to his alma mater to share his love of agriculture with today’s high school students. Parcel is in his fourth year as an agriculture education teacher and FFA adviser at Martinsville High School. Parcel, 35, graduated from MHS in 1994 and earned a bachelor’s degree in ag education from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1998. Agriculture, he said, is in his blood. He was raised on a corn and soybean farm south of Martinsville. His father, Jerry, and brother, Joey, still farm the land. “I help out when I can,” he said. While a high school student in Martinsville, he was active in FFA, specializing in handson projects such as welding and mechanics. Parcel said his ag students this year have been busy building a trailer to raffle off at the Martinsville Ag Fair this summer. “The last two years we have restored an antique tractor for our FFA project,” he said. “The first tractor was donated. The second one we had to buy.” The students completed the restoration projects in one

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Martinsville FFA adviser Justin Parcel, right, instructs student Aaron Thomson on building a ramp for a trailer at Martinsville High School. school year. In addition to the tractorrestoration and trailer-building projects, Parcel said some of the highlights of the year for him are attending the National FFA Convention and FFA competitions with his students. FFA members compete in areas such as horse judging,

forestry and agronomy. “It’s an extra education for them,” Parcel said. “They spend all their time out of class, before and after school, studying for these competitions. “There’s a lot of good material in these contests that the students have to learn, stuff that you don’t have time to

teach in the classroom,” he added. “There’s a lot of things I’d like to spend more time on (in class) but it’s hard to do sometimes.” Parcel and his wife, Megan, have two children, Jackson, 5; and Hayden, 3.




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Cumberland ag instructor teaches students life skills By BETH HELDEBRANDT Features Editor

TOLEDO — Charlie Sappington said choosing a career in agriculture education was a simple one. “Being raised on a farm and being very involved in 4H and FFA, it was an easy decision,” he said. “In life and work, you have to love what you do!” Sappington, Cumberland High School teacher and FFA adviser, has worked in ag education for 27 years. But he hopes his students learn about more than agriculture. “Along with teaching ag science, welding, small engines, ag business and horticulture, I hope to teach students about how to set goals and how to succeed in life,” he said. Sappington’s own successful career began at Cumberland High School, from where

he graduated in 1978. While a student, he was active in FFA, specializing in the areas of parliamentary procedure and livestock. He went on to earn an associate degree from Lake Land College in 1980, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1982 and 1988, respectively. Sappington, 50, still lives on the family farm, raising chickens, sheep, goats, llamas and ducks, in addition to growing alfalfa. He believes the classes he teaches can help his students find their own career paths. “So many careers in a rural community are ag related and by taking ag ed classes, finding those careers can be easier to identify,” he said. “The FFA can give students a hands-on opportunity to

learn new concepts, whether it is a career in forestry, meat evaluation, agronomy or any number of other career pathways. “Many of my students find that FFA is like many things in life ... the more work you put into it, the more rewards that they will achieve.” Sappington cites many success stories during his years as an FFA adviser. “I have been blessed to have nearly 60 members receive their State FFA Degree, three American Degree recipients, numerous proficiency award winners and multiple Career Development Award winners at the section and state level.” Sappington’s dedication to ag education doesn’t stop with his work at the high school, however. He has held many other positions in ag

education, including Section 20 chairman, and Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers District director, vice president, president and past president. Currently he is serving a three-year term as vice president of the National Association of Agricultural Educators Region 4, which covers six midwestern states. It appears that Sappington’s dedication to ag education will continue in the next generation. His son, Coleman, is currently at junior at SIUC, studying ag education, as well. He and his wife, Julia, also have a son, Jacob, who is a senior at CHS and is an active member of the FFA chapter.

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Casey’s Harris knows FFA opens up windows to world By ROB STROUD Staff Writer

CASEY — FFA adviser Mark Harris has taken his small town Casey-Westfield students to national FFA conventions in metropolitan Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; and Indianapolis over the years. There, Harris said his students have been exposed to educational and professional opportunities available throughout the country and met agriculture students from the United States and around the word. “FFA is just a pretty good organization for opening their minds to the fact that there is more to the world than Clark County,” Harris said. Experiences like this are part of the reason he transitioned from working in the fields as a farmer to working in the classroom as an agriculture instructor/FFA advisor, Harris said. Harris, who was in FFA at Martinsville High School, has been on the job at CaseyWestfield for 18 years now. Harris said he completed his master’s in agriculture education from Southern Illinois University in 1995 after years of studying while farming and

teaching agriculture. He previously taught at Hutsonville, Palestine, and Robinson. At CaseyWestfield, Harris Harris estimated that about one-tenth of his approximately 80 agriculture students have parents or grandparents who are farmers. He said this reflects that fewer people are working in the fields, but added there are a lot of employment opportunities in the agricultural sector. Harris said many of his FFA students have gone on to work in agriculture-related business, education, mechanics, and production. He added that FFA’s lessons, including forestry and public speaking, also prepare students for other types of careers. “I think the career development events are very meaningful. They have a lot of life skills in them,” Harris said. Within the Casey-Westfield FFA chapter, Harris said he strives to create a place where students feel like they belong and can prepare for their lives after high school. He said one of his goals is to

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Derek Light hopes to make his students citizens By DAWN SCHABBING Staff Writer

NEOGA — Derek Light of Teutopolis has an appreciation for agriculture and said he enjoys sharing that as a teacher and FFA adviser. The vocational agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Neoga High School was raised on a small farm in Cumberland County. He said his high school agriculture teacher at Cumberland High School helped guide his career path. “Mr. Sappington was a huge inspiration in my choosing to become an agriculture teacher. Being a teacher, I get to touch on so many different topics, in a single day,” said Light. His ag-related experiences included growing up on a small grain and livestock farm near Toledo; participating in FFA as a high school student; and entering into livestock judging and other ag-related contests. With 6 years of teaching on his resume, he first began teaching in Patoka, and came to Neoga 3½ years ago. “I hope to make all of my students productive citizens that are able to better their communities. I try to focus mainly on agriculture mechanics, so that students

Dawn Schabbing/Staff

Neoga High School students Matt Hall and Jonathan Atwell get instructions about welding from Derek Light, a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Neoga High School. are able to fix and repair things on their own,” Light said. He said watching the students grow and mature from freshmen to seniors is rewarding. “I enjoy the interaction with the kids day-to-day, and seeing them grow,” said Light. He said not every student will end up working on the family farm, but there are a few who will. Others will

work in an ag-related industry or away from the farm. But, the lessons learned will still benefit each student. “I believe it is important to teach agriculture to students because it is a huge industry that is ever-growing. We have the safest and cheapest food supply in the world, and everyone has a right to know where it comes from. “Our country was founded by farmers and we are slowly loosing family farms, so it is

important to know where we came from, so we know where we are going,” said Light. Neoga’s FFA program boasts a first-place award in the county for its Envirothon. The FFA now holds a Farm Safety Day each year at the Neoga Middle School, and it has had an increased membership and participation in the FFA program at the high school, under his leadership. Among other duties, Light is a staff sponsor for the Class of 2013. As a vocational agriculture instructor Light believes he is making a difference. “I can teach these kids about how different crops do under different circumstances. We have test plots and we can compare the yields. I can teach them how to weld. Some of them might want to become professional welders, and now they have a chance at it,” he said. Light, 28, is a graduate of Cumberland High School, Lake Land College and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He and his wife, Katy, have a daughter, Emma, 2.

Staff Writer

SHELBYVILLE — Having had four different ag teachers in high school and missing out on some wonderful FFA opportunities that more consistent instruction might have offered, created a desire in Mandy Totten to become an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. “I wanted to be an agriculture teacher and allow every student ample opportunities that are available in the agriculture industry,” said Totten. For the past four years, she has taught a wealth of agricultural classes at Shelbyville High School and serves as the FFA advisor there. Prior to that, she taught at Clay City High School for six years, serving as an ag education teacher and FFA advisor. At Shelbyville, she teaches everything from ag mechanics, horticulture and farm management to agricultural science. Growing up, she was involved in Cumberland County 4-H for 12 years raising and showing beef cattle and sheep. In high school, she was a member of the Casey-Westfield FFA for four years and

Submitted Photo

Shelbyville High School FFA adviser Mandy Totten is surrounded by her chapter’s officers. was active in career development activities such as creed, agronomy, public speaking, livestock judging and dairy judging, she said. Totten feels honored to be the advisor for the Shelbyville FFA program and said she is blessed with amazing students who always give 110 percent when representing the chapter, school and community. Her students have excelled in many areas earning section, district and state

awards. Some students have also advanced to the national level, she said. “I hope that each and every student gains hands-on skills and knowledge that they can apply to the endeavors that they embark on within their life,” she said. “FFA is an excellent opportunity for students to gain premiere leadership, personal growth, and career success.” She said her optimum goal is to see her students reach their potential and capture

their dreams. Currently she said she has six students that will be competing for the FFA American degree, which is the highest degree. She said to have six students competing for that is a good representation of the program. She said her students work before school, after school and often at lunch time. Her students are preparing for an upcoming poultry judging competition. She said two years ago they advanced to the national level in that area. Other upcoming contests are in ag mechanics and dairy and livestock judging. “We are definitely blessed with a lot of talent,” she said. Johnny Eloe, a junior, who won the state competition in job interviewing last year has advanced to state again and will compete Feb. 12, she said. Totten, 32, was raised in Casey and earned an associates degree from Lake Land College and bachelor and masters degrees of science in agriculture education from SIUC.

Contact Dawn James at or 238-6866.

Wildman focuses on sweat equity with students By DAWN JAMES Staff Writer

STRASBURG — As a child, Mark Wildman always had an an interest in teaching. He said he was fortunate to have a lot of teachers who were good role models, and he enjoyed helping them in the classroom. Having grown up on a 400-acre farm raising cattle and owning Dorset sheep, he was active in FFA and 4-H projects in his youth as well. At Lovington High School, his passion for ag grew. He served as the FFA treasurer for more than three years. He was also a member of the Sunnyside Flea Flickers 4-H Club and Moultrie County 4-H Federation. His favorite activities were livestock judging and public speaking contests. Also, during high school, his guidance counselor helped him as he prepared to go to the University of Illinois, Wilsman said. At the U of I, he was active in agricultural clubs and activities that solidified his aspirations of becoming an ag education teacher, a pro-

Submitted Photo

Stewardson-Strasburg ag teacher Mark Wildman discusses automotive maintenance with students during a shop class. will double in the next 20 fession he has been in for 31 years or so, and each year years. Wildman is the ag the amount of available farm teacher, work study superviground decreases 2 percent sor and FFA adviser at Stewper year; therefore, we must Stras. produce more food on less He said it is important to ground. teach the youth about ag for “The FFA motto,” he said, the following reason: “As “‘Learning to Do, Doing to Americans we are the stewLearn, Earning to Live, Livards of the land. We are the ing to Serve,’ says a lot about breadbasket for the world. who we are and what we try The population of the world


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to accomplish.” Wildman’s goal is to instill in his ag students that “they can accomplish whatever they want if they put in the work ethic,” he said. He wants them to know that there are careers in agriculture that “can take them wherever they want to go.” Some highlights for Wildman are when his students receive a blue ribbon at the FFA fair, first place at a contest or the American FFA Degree, he said. In teaching his students, he likes to focus on what they are interested in. “I feel it is important for students to be able to be public speakers,” Wildman said. The students like Quiz Bowl, soil evaluation, public speaking, livestock and dairy contests, he said. He and his wife Jeanne, a patient accounts employee at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, have four children: Lauren (Luke) Wetherall; Nicole; Alecia; and Shalyn. He also has four grandchildren: Tyler, 5, Dylan 3, Wyatt, 18 months, and Karly, 5 months.

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Farming like vacation for IDOT engineers, Clark conservation award-winning family By ROB STROUD Staff Writer

MARSHALL — Growing up on the family farm, Stephen Robinson heard his father counsel that conservation is important because “they are not making any more” farmland. Stephen Robinson and his brother, Greg, have taken on the responsibilities of helping their mother, Carolyn, run the family farm southeast of Marshall following the death of their brother Mike in a truck accident in 2008 and their father, Gerald, passing away in 2000. Their responsibilities include conserving the land for future generations. “You have got to take care of what you got, so conservation is a top priority,” Stephen Robinson said. Recently, the Robinsons were presented with the 2011 Conservation Family Award from the Clark County Soil and Water Conservation District Board. The district is part of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. District conservationist Jason Conner said the Robinsons have enrolled 180 acres into the Flood Plain Easement Program, restoring wetland habitat in the Big Creek Bottoms and increasing water quality in the area. This program is funded by the American Recovery Act. Conner said some of the family’s other conservation measures have included enrolling more than 20 acres of native prairie grasses and 10 acres of bottom land trees into the Conservation Reserve Program.

Friday, January 28, 2011 ■ 7


Kevin Kilhoffer/Staff Photographer

Clark County Soil and Water Conservation District conservation family of the year pictured from left, Greg, Carolyn and Steve Robinson. “They use best management practices in their other farming endeavors and are very responsive to correcting soil erosion problems. It has been a joy to work with Carolyn and her family and we hope to continue a good relationship and help them achieve their conservation goals,” Conner said. Stephen Robinson said the cost-sharing Flood Plain Easement Program was a great opportunity for his family because it provided for the

hiring of a contractor to plant trees in 180 acres along Big Creek, where the soil is vulnerable to flooding. Working such a large project around his and his brother’s full-time work schedules as engineers with the Illinois Department of Transportation in Paris would have been impossible, Stephen Robinson said. “We are doing the best we can with the time we have to devote to it. There is not much downtime, that is for

sure,” Stephen Robinson said, adding they devote much of their IDOT vacation time to the spring planting and fall harvest. “You have to make your time on the farm as enjoyable as you can because that is part of your vacation.” Carolyn Robinson said she has been glad to see her two sons, as well as her grandsons, carry on their family’s farming tradition. She said family helping each other is an important part of farm life. She grew up helping her father on their farm, worked the fields alongside her husband, and has always done the bookkeeping for her farm. “I have been a jack of all trades and a master of none,” Carolyn Robinson said. “Sometimes I think I could write a book.” With pride in her voice, Carolyn Robinson noted that her sons have constructed diversion ditches, dry dams and other conservation measures on the farm. She said her son, Greg, once placed out more than 100 tons of erosion-prevention stones by hand. Greg Robinson said he has taken his experience designing conservation measures for IDOT and applied it to the family farm. He said he has also appreciated getting advice from their farm neighbors on which measures work and which do not. “You can take the boy out of the farm, but you cannot take the farm out of the boy,” Greg Robinson said. “You do not stop being a farmer when you become an engineer.”


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Mixing city wisdom downstate in Sullivan By HERB MEEKER Staff Writer

SULLIVAN — For a downstate high school agriculture teacher, Don Lockwood came from a different neck of the woods. His hometown was Evanston in the suburb belt of Chicago. “Yes, I’m originally from Evanston and I’ve been teaching at Sullivan for 23 years now,” said the 48-yearold teacher and Future Farmers of American sponsor of 68 members. “I’m what you’d consider your non-traditional ag teacher.” The University of Illinois graduate came to Sullivan with a knowledge of urban agriculture. He had knowledge in small-animal care, landscaping and gardening. He was moving into a downstate community two decades ago where teaching agriculture meant concentrating on farm productivity and other traditions. “When I came here then my background definitely raised some eyebrows. I had to prove myself. I had gained experienced in productivity agriculture from my work with my grandparents and the U of I. It was a transition,” Lockwood recalled. But Lockwood soon realized he had many students without traditional farming backgrounds. So he applied some of his urban ag lessons to the classroom and that matched

Ken Trevarthan/Staff Photographer

Sullivan High School FFA teacher Don Lockwood (on right) and his students check on the state of the fish in their fish farm project Jan. 18 at the school in Sullivan.

how agriculture education has evolved over the years. The lessons of agriculture apply the same to hundreds of acres of grain crops to helping people produce masterpiece gardens. And they can both produce rewarding careers as well. “I wouldn’t have had much of an audience if I had only concentrated on productivity agriculture in my classes.

Right now, only 10 to 15 percent of my students have that background through their families. I think I’ve been effective because I can share different kinds of agriculture experiences with them,” Lockwood said. Technology and alternative energy lessons get many of his students and FFA chapter members charged up these days — ranging from ethanol

Key China wheat growing province hit by drought BEIJING (AP) — China's key wheat growing province of Shandong is facing its worst drought in at least 40 years, putting further pressure on politically sensitive food prices that have been surging for months. Drought has hit more than half of the land in the province normally used to grow wheat — about 5 million acres (2 million hectares) — and that number is rising, according to a notice posted

Monday on the provincial water bureau's website. Many areas have seen no precipitation in four months, and 872,263 acres (353,000 hectares) of spring wheat has already dried up or is beginning to fail, it said. More than 240,000 people and 107,000 head of livestock already have lost access to drinking water and are forced to rely on deliveries from fire trucks. Unusually dry conditions have spread across much of

efficiency ratings to wind power. “I’m finding there definitely is an interest there. You have to be creative in teaching,” Lockwood said. So Lockwood and his wife, Marta, consider Sullivan home and a place where the city mixed well with the country.

Contact Herb Meeker at or 238-6869.

China's northeastern bread basket, including the provinces of Henan, Shanxi, Hebei, Jiangsu and Anhui. The capital Beijing has yet to receive snow this winter, although water supplies have not been affected. Dry weather and higherthan-average temperatures are forecast well into spring. Scientists say it is a result of the La Nina effect that is also responsible for the harsh winter weather.

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Harvestore Acres near Dieterich recognized for Niemerg family’s conservation practices By DAWN SCHABBING Staff Writer

Ken Niemerg of Dieterich said “the world isn’t getting any bigger,” so finding ways to conserve soil is the only way to help future generations in agriculture. The Niemerg family farm was recognized in 2010 for its quasquicentennial, marking 125 years as a family operation. In 1994, his sons, Darin and Duane Niemerg, began a partnership and named the operation, “Harvestore Acres.” The farm is located about 1½ miles southwest of Dieterich, in Effingham County. Recently, the Effingham County Soil and Water Conservation District recognized Harvestore Acres, as the “Outstanding Conservation Farm Family for 2010.” Today, Ken Niemerg, 81, is retired, but much of his life has involved working on the farm. “I was born and raised on this farm. Over the years, we gradually went into soil conservation practices, including no-till,” said Ken Niemerg. One early conservation practice began almost six decades ago on the Niemerg farm. “In 1954, we had a dry year, and we built a lake and started irrigating. This was the first irrigation set-up in Effingham County, at that time,” said Ken Niemerg. Duane Niemerg, 49, of Dieterich said his relatives also began building some grassed waterways about that same time, in an attempt to save the soil. In those earlier days, conservation practices were less common. “In this area, with some rolling hills, we had to find a way — especially in the spring time with the heavy rains — to keep the soil from eroding into the Mississippi River,” said Ken Niemerg. Darin Niemerg said some of the practices in place today include tiling, grassed

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From left, Darin, Kenneth and Duane Niemerg are seen at their farm near Dieterich on Jan. 15. The Niemerg family farm is celebrating 125 years of operation. waterways and terraces. All are used to reduce soil erosion. The family applied for funding to help with the projects through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. EQIP offers technical expertise in planning conservation practices, which help protect the water, air, and land — and more. The program offers a costshare plan in order to make the project affordable for the farmers, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service web site. “We applied for and was awarded EQIP funding for upgrades. Once awarded we had a year to complete the project,” said Darin Niemerg, 44, Teutopolis. Effingham County SWCD Administrative Coordinator Denise Willenborg said the agency recognized the practices that Harvestore Acres has put into place. Harveststore Acres were awarded EQIP funds last

year and again more recently, and were able to repair some waterways and repair some terraces, through this same program, she said. “Harvestore Acres epitomizes what it means to couple conservation programs, proper management and personal initiatives in a farming operation to maintain and improve its natural resources,” said Willenborg. Darin Niemerg said about 75 acres of the 250 the brothers farm, are considered highly erodible land. “We have made several upgrades to existing waterways and terraces. We are helping the water flow by harvesting the grass off the waterways, which means less debris build up,” he said. The brothers also seed the ditches with wheat or rye, so these areas don’t wash out, as badly. “We use cover crop on some of the highly erodable ground and no-till or minimum till, whenever we can,” said Darin Niemerg. The brothers each work off

the farm as well. Darin, who is married to Lisa, is a father of five, and works at Effingham Equity; Duane, who is married to Annette, who is also a father of five, works at Effingham Clay Service Company. “I would think if we get all these practices in place, our kids will continue to follow them,” said Darin Niemerg. Their farm work includes baling hay and selling it to local livestock producers. Their spring and summer seasons usually involve working seven-days a week to accomplish all their responsibilities. Ken Niemerg and his wife, Lou Ann, are the parents of seven children including a set of triplets, reflected on the changes he’s seen, especially concerning conservation practices. “In my lifetime farming has changed a lot. We used to plow it, disc it, harrow it, and then plant. Now, it is no-till.”

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Lewis Clark Jr. named 2010 Outstanding Conservationist in Cumberland County by Soil and Water Cons. District By DAWN SCHABBING Staff Writer

TOLEDO — Lewis Clark Jr. of Toledo doesn’t believe that retirement equates to doing nothing, especially when it comes to farming. Named the 2010 Outstanding Conservationist by the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, Clark said he believes in conserving the soil for future generations. His involvement with the Conservation Reserve Program and many practices over the years caught the attention of the SWCD. Randy Hurt, resource conservationist with Cumberland County SWCD, said Clark has used the no-till practice on his fields for years. “He gets out there pretty early and gets it done, and gets it done consistently. He’s a very conservationminded gentleman,” said Hurt. Clark has participated in the Bobwhite Quail Habitat Program, where he set aside 10 acres in field borders to enhance the wildlife, for example. He has some acres of filter strips to improve water quality, and has added grass waterways and grade stabilization structures to help reduce soil erosion. “I’ve been farming for about 60 years. We started when we rented a farm west of Toledo, starting in about

Kevin Kilhoffer/Staff Photographer

Cumberland County Conservation Farmer of the Year Lewis Clark at his residence in Toledo Jan. 7. 1950,” he said, with his wife of 62 years, Wilma, at his side. The newlyweds starting renting the farm from Maude Huffman Flood, but when Clark’s father, Lewis Clark, died in 1951, they began to take over the family farm soon thereafter. The family farm is located about five miles north of Toledo. Clark, 82, said he “officially retired” in 1988, but he continues to stay active and works

with his son-in-law, Ron Mathenia, on the family farm. He once had livestock, but in 1976, Clark became strictly a grain farmer. “We’ve been 100 percent notill on corn for I don’t know how many years. We are notill on beans anytime we can,” Clark said. Mrs. Clark said her husband continues to work many hours during the summers, even though he is retired. He’s been involved in farming

all of his life, except from 1948-1950, when he served with the U.S. Navy. Hurt said Clark is always willing to do whatever it takes to do things the right way in order to protect the soil. “He still does a lot of work by himself. He’s not about fancy equipment and he is willing to work with what he has. He is just a good guy,” said Hurt. He is a member of the Toledo United Methodist Church and has served as chairman of its Administrative Council, and on its Board of Trustees. He is a member of the Farm Bureau, and past member of Farmers Home Administration. He was on a bowling team for nearly 50 years, and still enjoys a game now and then. His spare time is often devoted to his family: wife, Wilma; daughter and son-inlaw, Jill Clark (Ron) Mathenia; and his grandchildren, Reilly, 12, and Reid, 10. Clark said he believes his efforts to be conservationminded have paid off for the generations to come. “I do what I can. A lot of people ask me, ‘When you gonna quit?’ But I tell them, ‘Probably when the good Lord calls me — and they throw dirt in my face.’”

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University Extension’s Looft has seen many changes in the field throughout the years

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CHARLESTON — With more than 25 years experience in the field, Jim Looft, county extension director, says he loves working with people, especially rural people. Growing up, his parents, Harold and Geneva Looft, farmed in LaSalle County. “I have always had an interest in agriculture and loved working with farmers,” he said. Looft has a wealth of experience in the field serving for nine years as an Illinois county director; 13 years in Tennessee as a farm management and marketing educator; and four years in Kentucky also as a farm management and marketing educator. He is currently leading three counties — Coles, Cumberland and Shelby — and that will be expanded to include Douglas and Moultrie counties July 1. Throughout the years, he has seen change in parent organization(s) due in part to the decrease in state funding. He said this is a problem nationwide not just in this state. The cutbacks have been made “in spite of research and reviews that state extension has been successful and that it is still a model for outreach programs,” he said. Other challenges Looft has experienced along with the struggles with funding are changing social dynamics and having enough time to do the things that need to be done. He has enjoyed watching families grow and learn

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University of Illinois Extension Office Coles County director Jim Looft pictured at the county extension office in the Northwest Business Park in Charleston. together and has received satisfaction from impacting someone’s life while working with the families as a team, he said. In his current role, he would like to bring new opportunities with the extension programs. Within the past year, the state extension program has been reorganized. “Extension is about helping people learn and grow throughout their lives,” he said. “My hope is that this reorganization will enable us to provide the type of learning experiences and activities

that will provide more opportunities to engage people in lifelong learning.” He said with the changes educators have been assigned to the local unit that will “offer programming that has not been readily available for a long time.” With more than six million 4-H members in the nation and more than 23,000 in the state, the extension plans to keep 4-H as a priority program and to expand youth programs to focus on leadership, workforce skills and special interest type clubs, he said.

Percheron horses gaining popularity on small farms as tractor alternative LEETOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The 20 or so horses that roam Carousel Farm off Darke Lane are huge, gentle beasts that come in colors from black to gray to white. One of those horses, Excalibur, a big, black 7-year-old Percheron stallion, is a prime example of the draft horse breed that farm owner Jim McGowen has been raising since 1984. A big stallion can stretch 18.2 hands high and weigh up to 2,500 pounds, he said. Many Percherons weigh more than a ton. McGowen began breeding Percherons in Calhoun County, W.Va., and moved to his 90acre Jefferson County spread in 1986. His current herd is fifth generation. The sturdy, docile horse originated in the Perche Valley area of northern France. Early on, Percherons were favored by knights to carry them and their heavy armor into battle. During the Crusades, Percherons were crossbred with Arabian horses, McGowen said. Percherons, because of their size, stamina and demeanor, were favored among draft horse breeds for pulling large wagons and carriages, even city trolleys. He hitches his horses to a four-passenger fancy carriage he had made in 1989. He rents

the rig and horses out for weddings, social events, weddings and similar events. Percherons, which found favor with American farmers in the days before tractors, are becoming popular again on small acreage and vegetable farms. “They’re environmentally friendly,” McGowen said. He said he breeds his horses for size, refinement and temperament. “You don’t want these big horses to be mean,” he said. The breed had lost its popularity in America around the early 1950s, McGowen said. “They were nearly extinct,” he said. “In the beginning of the ‘70s, you could buy a Percheron for $500. By the end of the ‘90s, they were $3,500 to $4,000.” He sells his horses to buyers around the country. McGowen sometimes crossbreeds his Percherons with thoroughbreds to produce still large, but lighter horses for use in events like cross-country racing, dressage and stadium jumping. They are also popular among fox hunters, he said. “They’re sturdy and can jump a 4 1/2-foot fence,” he said. “Genetically, Percherons come in black, gray and white with gray being the dominant color. Grays often turn white

as they get older,” McGowen said. “That’s why it’s hard to maintain a matched team of grays,” he said. “One of them will always turn white. If they’re born black, they don’t change color, but grays do. You can’t breed for color. It’s the luck of the draw.” At one point during a recent afternoon visit, there was a blur of black, gray and white, pounding hooves and shrieking whinnies when a half-dozen Percherons grazing on a hillside raced across the field to greet a mare that McGowen had just turned out. “They get along well,” he said. In addition to breeding and selling Percherons, McGowen sells a leather-protection product interchangeably called Leather Honey and Harness Honey, depending on whether it’s for home or commercial use. The formula, still a secret, was developed by his father, Dan McGowen, for use on leather soles. It was found to be useful on all leather products, from harnesses and saddles to furniture and clothing, he said. Kryssie Ward, who works for McGowen, spends her time packaging and shipping more than 100 orders a day, all of which come in over the Internet.

He also said with the newly reorganized unit, teamwork and volunteerism will remain to be very important. “It is my belief that the reorganization has created new and wider doors, not only for youth but for all.” Looft has a bachelor of science degree in plant and soil science from Southern Illinois University, a master of science degree in agribusiness economics from SIU, and has completed work toward a doctorate in agricultural economics at Virginia Tech.

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Mississippi deer-breeding farm bill OK’d JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A bill pending before the state Senate would authorize the raising of genetically enhanced deer on breeding farms in Mississippi. The bill, approved last week by the Senate Wildlife Committee, would allow the import and export of farmraised white-tailed deer, it's semen, ova, and embryos. Sen. Tommy Gollott, a Republican from Biloxi, tells WLBT-TV in Jackson that the

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practice could bring millions to the state annually. He says Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama already engage in this buying, selling, and hunting of white-tailed deer. "It will allow the small farms to have enclosures where they can raise these deer, sell the deer, buy deer from outside the state of Mississippi," Gollott said. The Mississippi Wildlife Federation is against the

practice saying it could cause contamination. "It's happened in other states where they have pin raised deer where you have things like chronic wasting disease that can be passed to our native white-tailed deer," said MWF director Kathy Shropshire. Gollott said the state veterinarian would oversee each operation, which would be required to buy an annual license.

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Outstanding Member winner Hurst surprised, humbled By BONNIE CLARK Staff Writer

Perhaps no one over the years has been more surprised to be named Coles County Farm Bureau’s Outstanding Member of the Year than Paul Hurst of Loxa. Hurst received a plaque honoring him Jan. 17, at the Farm Bureau annual meeting. “I didn’t think I was eligible for it, I guess,” he said. “It just never occurred to me. I’ve always been a member, but I wasn’t as active until after the kids were grown. “Glenda knew about the award and she had me out looking for new clothes. I thought it was just because I need them, not for anything special,” Hurst said. “But it turned out we didn’t find anything.” Hurst, 72, owns and operates Hurst Farms Inc., with his wife, Glenda, assisted by their son, John. The couple graduated from Charleston High School in 1956. They started dating during their senior year in high school. Their first date, a hay ride and weiner roast hosted by Eloise Buffenmeyer for the business club. While he grew up helping his dad farm, Hurst didn’t start farming until about five years after the couple married in August 1957. He worked for Bob Moore at Moore Building Co., right after their marriage. “Then Dad needed some help and I started farming with him in the early 1960s.” Hurst said he has lived on Loxa Road, “The Loxa Turnpike” he calls it, all his life. “I haven’t strayed very far. When we were first married, we lived in a little house near here and my uncle farmed this place,” he said. “The house was little and we didn’t have much,” Mrs. Hurst said, “but those were some of the happiest times.” “The house where we raised the kids was a green house down the road,” Hurst said. “It’s not there any more. It was cold and we sat on the space heater most of the time. When this place became available we started farming here and bought it when we had the chance.” Like most farm boys in the late 1940s and early 1950s,

Ken Trevarthan/Staff Photographer

Coles County Farm Bureau Member of the Year Paul Hurst and wife Glenda seen at their home in Loxa. executive committee, and has also served as a drainage district commissioner in several watershed districts for more than 25 years. “He was among the first to go “all in” on genetically modified seed,” he said. “Paul also participated in farm studies 30 years ago Paul Hurst which found the use of soil insecticides to be economically justified.” Hurst helped out on the farm The Hurst farm, Stanfield at an early age, and was said, “also drew attention proud to be able to drive the across this part of the state truck or tractor. for a soybean plot which did “I’d drive along and dad yield comparisons between would throw hay on the different soybean herbicides truck,” he said. “And I prior to the widespread use remember once he let me go of Round-Up Ready soydisc a field down by the grade beans.” school by myself. It was a big Hurst was surprised to be deal to me. I don’t remember joined at the dinner meeting how old I was, but it was by his four children: Paula before I was in junior high Moore of Brighten, Mich., a school.” minister’s wife; Susan Laley, He was a founding member a Mahomet teacher; John of the Kickapoo Ramblers and wife Melissa, and Darwhen he was young, and has ren, a Morton high school continued to support 4-H liveteacher, and wife Jill. stock programs. The couple has 10 grandHurst, working with his children, and four greatson, John, has a grain operagrandchildren, with another tion. on the way. “We used to raise hogs, but The Hursts said they didn’t we don’t do that anymore,” he have a very restful night said. “And, I used to be a seed after he received his award. dealer, too, but I don’t do that “We couldn’t go to sleep anymore either.” just thinking and wondering Throughout his career, Hurst has embraced the latest how we got to this point,” We clean, restore, and disinfect surfaces in your home Hurst said. “It has all gone innovations in the seed indusby so fast. try, and hosted a corn hybrid • Carpet • Area Rugs • Laminate • Drapes • Hardwood • “I wouldn’t have had the plot for many years. • Tile • Upholstery • Pet Odor Removal • opportunity to farm if it Mike Stanfield, Coles CounServing the Area weren’t for my parents and ty Farm Bureau president, for Over 30 Years grandparents. People have when announcing Hurst’s helped us all along the way. award, said he is a past Farm 235-3161 345-3309 342-2740 Bureau director, served on the And, we’re thankful.” Mattoon Charleston Effingham

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Lake Land College livestock judging team members are, in front, from left, Dillon Garver, Carly Wesner, Cody Lamle, Justin Schaal and Caleb Klingenberg. In back, from left, are Jordan Rauch, Clay Zwilling, James Schinbeckler, Kurt Berg and Coach Jon Althaus.

LLC team has livestock judging mastered Staff Report

MATTOON — Whether judging beef cattle, swine or sheep, the Lake Land College livestock judging team knows how to make award-winning decisions. This season the team won the champion team titles at the Purdue Block and Bridle Judging Contest, Western Illinois University Hoof and Horn Show, NACTA Livestock Judging Contest, the Tulsa State Fair Junior Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Contest, the National Barrow Show and the American Royal. They won Third High Team at the North American International Livestock Expo Junior Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Contest and Fourth High Team at the National Western Stock Show. “The students worked hard this year both academically and with their extracurricular activities, and it paid off. They earned their awards as a team, as well as many individual accomplishments,” Coach Jon Althaus said. This was Althaus’ 19th and final year of coaching, as he has accepted the position of division chair of agriculture. “One of the awards to the

champion team at the American Royal is the ‘Bronze Bull.’ This is a traveling trophy sponsored by the Livestock Marketing Association. It will be on display in the college’s West Building trophy case for one year,” Althaus said. Team members are Dillon

Garver, Paris; Carly Wesner, Chalmers, Ind.; Cody Lamle, Columbia City, Ind.; Justin Schaal, Farina; Caleb Klingenberg, Hamilton, Mich.; Jordan Rauch, Montrose; Clay Zwilling, Sherrard; James Schinbeckler, Columbia City, Ind.; and Kurt Berg, Dieterich.

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Mattoon High School FFA advisor Ryan Wildman, right, uses a Smartboard while teaching FFA students, from left, Dalton Manning, Carter Jones and Gabe Stoll, about identification of meat cuts at the school in Mattoon on Wednesday.

Wildman has high hopes for MHS FFA program By DAVE FOPAY Staff Writer

MATTOON — Ryan Wildman has helped two high school FFA chapters get started, taking a lifelong interest in agriculture and developing a philosophy she thinks is best for students. Early on, she spent a lot of time on “the basics” before things got going to the point where her approach could change. The Mattoon High School FFA adviser now tries to puts the students in a position that lets them succeed. “I realized that if I do it all, the students aren’t learning anything,” Wildman said. “I can help them, but in the end it has to be their desire to do well.” She grew up on a small farm near Lovington. Her high school didn’t have an agriculture program but she took classes and participated in FFA through an exchange program with Sullivan High School. She was a chapter officer and finished second in the state parliamentary procedure competition her senior year, and after that “something in ag” was her only career thought. “I always had an interest in agriculture and working with people,” she said. After transferring to Southern Illinois University from Lake Land College, her plans were “something with ag,” deciding on teaching because of job possibilities in the area she loved. She was a student teacher for Charleston High School FFA advisor Julie Niemerg when Niemerg was in the Windsor school district, and then hired to start an agriculture program and an FFA chapter at Tuscola High School. During her six years there, the chapter was “really successful” for one just starting, with several state contest qualifiers and finalists. “I had to take everything I

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the public as well as other knew and go with it,” WildMHS students to the agriculman said. Part of it was getture program and lets FFA ting advice from Niemerg, members “show off their Sullivan High School FFA projects” and learn how to adviser Don Lockwood and be “ambassadors for agriothers, she said. “You learn from the people culture,” she said. The chapclosest to ter has you,” she already said. “If it received weren’t for recognition them, I probat the nationably wouldn’t al FFA conbe teaching.” vention and She started won competiat MHS in tions, and 2007, attractmember DJ ed by the Shirley location and earned her the chance to state degree start another, in her FFA larger FFA project. program. Wildman FFA had said she been absent Ryan Wildman “wouldn’t at Mattoon have for a few thought” the years, and chapter would be this sucWildman said she wanted cessful this early but that’s students “actively becoming still balanced with what she involved.” The chapter is thinks it might accomplish. still small but has “a lot “Most of the time, if you more students becoming give students a job they’ll active,” she said. accomplish it,” she said. “I’d She said she tries to say our biggest accomplishencourage participation with ments are still coming.” “fun activities,” such as the farm animal petting zoo the chapter’s conducted the last Contact Dave Fopay at dfopay@jgthree years. The zoo exposes or 238-6858.

“I realized that if I do it all, the students aren’t learning anything. I can help them, but in the end it has to be their desire to do well.”

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ANGUS Continued from 1 registration papers for her. “I showed her successfully for two years. She was champion every place she was shown. “Most of the offspring I kept to start my own herd,” he said. “And, while I was in the Army, Dad took care of them for me.” When Taylor came home from Korea in 1954, he returned to Oakland, got married, took his cows with him, and started farming on his own. That’s when he began using the name Accent Angus Farm, which he has used ever since, and which has garnered respect not limited to the local community. Jerry Cassady, regional manager for the American Angus Association, has known Taylor for 20 years. He described him as “a likeable guy who is very professional. “He’s always willing to do the homework, legwork and the traveling it takes to stay up to speed, stay at the top of his game,” Cassady said. “He’s been a good promoter of Angus as long as I’ve known him.” The continuity of quality to consumers is just one of the reasons Taylor has such high praise for the breed. “When you go to buy a piece of steak, if it’s certified Angus beef, you know it’s going to be good. But, it has to say ‘certified,’” Taylor said. “Angus is known for being sweet and tender with good marbling. You eat that steak and you’re going to want to buy another.” Taylor said in the 1950s, the American Angus people were looking at cattle that were short and fat — carrying too much fat. “It was a time we called the

POWER Continued from 1 horses that compete nationally from June through October. He takes pride that one of his mares is now in Canada and rated as the top of her class in North America. “We just show them. They are bred differently from the pulling horses. But some people use draft horses for hobby farming with cutting

FARMVILLE Continued from 1 growing up in a small community, it was all around her. “There is no comparison. Farmville is fun. Real farming is not,” she said. Another Farmville fan grew up on a dairy farm and said there is little to compare Farmville to a real farm. Most variables that go into farming, such as weather, are not a part of the game. “Farmville is obviously less of a gamble than real farming,” said Carol Libby of Urbana. “(In real farming) there is always the challenge of the weather and mechanical difficulties.” Libby, 45, said her farming experiences include working 365 days a year on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, where she grew up. She recalled her summers were “super busy” including harvesting hay three times, harvesting grain and then corn; plus doing all the things for the dairy operation that

ECONOMY Continued from 1 general economy with increasing unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and government bailouts of the financial and auto sectors. Across the United States, the unemployment rate doubled from 5.0 percent in January 2008 to 10.0 percent in December 2009. Coles County experienced a similar increase, jumping from 6.1 percent in Jan. 2008 to 10.3 percent unemployment in December 2009. “When the regular economy does poor, the farm economy does well,” said Richard Thomas of the FBFM office in Chrisman, which works with eastern Illinois farmers. “The last three years were probably the most profitable years in history,” said Thomas, who has been with the FBFM office for 15 years. Farmers struggled some

FARM FOCUS ‘Fatty 50s,’ and it lasted a while,” he said. “In the 1960s the only place you could go to get a bull that would increase the size of your cattle was Canada, and that’s what I did. “I went there to buy Coalbridge Marshall 25 in Alberta in 1970, but I couldn’t get the job done. He was bought by a man from Sullivan, Mo. He bought two-thirds interest and the other third was kept by the breeder in Canada. “When I got home, I was able to talk the breeder into selling his third to me, but I had to guarantee him so many ampules of semen per year. That was when they were getting started using artificial insemination. “After we bought him, that was the beginning of the really good cattle we’ve had on the farm. He was the beginning of the line.” Taylor said there are many considerations when buying cattle, and Angus breeders’ detailed record keeping makes all the difference. “There’s a lot more to buy than four legs and a hide,” he said. “EPD (Expected Progeny Difference), you’ve got to have that along with the other records. It tells you if there’s a light birthweight; the weaning weight at 205 days; maternal, how well the mother is providing milk; and the yearling weight, which should be 1,100 to 1,200 pounds. “If you have all those, you have a pretty good idea what your future herd will be,” he said. Taylor became partners with Max and Fred Miller of Oakland in the early 1970s. “We each had 50 percent of the herd,” he said, “and our herd sire was Coalbridge Marshall.” The men began having production sales that were held every year for nine years on Illinois Route 133 between Oakland and Hindsboro.

Kevin Kilhoffer/Staff Photographer

A registration certificate of Dick Taylor’s first heifer in 1945 for a 4-H project is pictured at Taylor’s home near Oakland on Jan. 10. “People came from all over the country, everywhere,” Taylor said. “In fact, we sold to a lot of people from Canada who knew the breeding of Coalbridge Marshall 25. “After we quit having the sales, it was time to end our partnership because, and only because, the boys (their sons) were coming home from college and wanted to farm.” Splitting up the herd was no problem, he said. The partners just flipped a coin to see who went first and then took turns choosing from the cows and 2-year-old heifers. Both kept an interest in the bulls. “I had used the name ‘Accent Farms’ before the partnership, so naturally I kept the name.” Accent Miss Rosebud 60, sired by Coalbridge Marshall, came along after Taylor was on his own again.

“She was the heifer that was never defeated in 1980,” he said. “She was also grand champion at the Indiana State Fair. “I bred the grand champion steer in 1967 that was shown by our oldest son, Brad. We sold it in the 4-H sale for 60 cents a pound. I think cattle at the time were about a quarter a pound at the stockyards. “In 1972, Craig, our other son, showed another steer we bred and owned and he brought $1.60 a pound, an alltime record at the sale at that time. Now they sell for about twice that. “Craig was the national heifer award winner in 1977. He also came in second out of 72 in 1977, at the National Junior Angus Show in Louisville, Ky.” Today, Craig and his son, Luke, handle the grain farm-

hay and harvesting crops. Draft horses were used on many American farms up through the second world war,” Drake said. He said his daughter and son help with some of the chores related to the horses. That can amount to heavy work just to keep the animals fed and watered. Though this horse breed hails from the Clyde River valley in Scotland, a Clydesdale owner cannot be frugal on the feed and water. Grow-

ing Clydesdales will consume 6 to 8 pounds of grain daily. Twenty to 30 pounds of hay are chewed up per day. The daily water intake of these horses is about 15 gallons. “Younger horses eat a lot more than the older ones do,” Drake said. That is part of the reason why the Drakes caution visitors from petting the horses with their magnificent manes and “feathering” on their hoofs.

“We don’t want people petting them because these horses will nibble and chew things,” Drake said. But the horses are friendly to all creatures great and small. When a black cat was abandoned at the Drake residence, the female feline took a liking to the horses. Today, “Midnight” is as much a part of the Drake family as the Clydesdales.

needed done on a day-to-day basis, she said. “I would hesitate to even compare Farmville to farming for real. The only exception is that when it’s time to harvest, it’s time to harvest, and that is about the only thing that is similar,” she said. Libby now works at Rockwell Automation in Champaign, after attending the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire for two years and Red Wing Vocational College for one year. “I started playing (Farmville) out of peer pressure. Some of my Facebook friends were playing and wanted me to join them so that they could have more friends,” she said. “It is kind of challenging to get everything done in a timely manner, but I mostly do it, because it is something to do. It is also fun to decorate the way that I want to and change things around. I just think that it is fun.” Zynga, headquartered in San Francisco, reports on its website that Farmville players are doing more than having fun. They are also helping the world.

Within days after the record-setting earthquake hit Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, Zynga game players got busy lending a hand. On Jan. 20, 2010, Zynga reported in a press release that about 300,000 players raised more than $1.5 million for Haiti relief in five days. Gamers purchased “virtual social goods” to support the relief efforts in Haiti. Farmville players alone generated $1 million, while Fishville, Mafia Wars and Zynga Poker players also contributed. Through, players have raised more than $3 million for world social causes, according to its website dated Nov. 3, 2010. Players can enjoy Farmville at no cost, and can make “money” by “selling” harvested crops. This virtual income can be used to buy farm supplies, seeds, buildings, equipment and fuel and eventually more farmland.

from 2000 to 2004, but in 2005, net farm income in Illinois increased to $62,940. Net farm income topped $100,000 in 2006 and then climbed above the $200,000 mark for two years before dropping to $84,212 per farm in 2009. Those are statewide averages after expenses, Raab stressed. Some farmers did better; some did worse. “The ones able to keep their cash rents in line and who have done a good job of marketing are doing well,” said Ron Krukewitt, who handles ag business at People’s Bank of Charleston. “Borrowing is up but they are paying back more, too. That’s the good part,” Krukewitt said. Darrel Good, ag economics professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, said farmers specializing in grain farming “have fared very well the last couple years. “The livestock sector, maybe not so much,” he said.

“They have been paying higher prices (for feed) and the prices they receive are just now catching up. “On average, though, it’s been good for agriculture. It’s a bright spot,” Good added. “It hasn’t always been that way for agriculture.” The figures for 2010 will not be available for another couple of months, but Raab sees a “near-average year” statewide. While the number of people who farm in Coles County and the region may be small, ag’s impact still is felt. “It certainly helps,” Thomas added. “Farmers buy pickup trucks and groceries too.” “It has propped the economy up,” Raab said of Coles County’s ag sector. “I would imagine agriculture and Eastern Illinois University are big insulators there from the rest of the economy.”

Contact Dawn Schabbing at or 238-6864.

Contact Bill Lair at or 238-6865.

ing. The Taylors’ daughter, Andrea, also won awards showing Angus, however, Taylor said he feels bad that he “never got a champion bred for her to show.” Craig’s twin sons, Matthew and Jonathan, 11, will be

showing this year, Taylor said. Champion herd sires bred and raised by Taylor have included Accent Marshall 191, the son of Coalbridge Marshall; Accent Mr. Noble; and Connealy Predest, which Taylor purchased at a sale in Nebraska. He weighs 2,500 to 2,700 pounds and is the current herd sire. “He has five heifers out there now that look real promising,” Taylor said. “I think they’re good enough that we can take a couple to the National Heifer Show.” The cattle business has provided a good life for Taylor and his family, he said. “It teaches responsibility to your children,” he said. “It teaches values and character, and some of the nicest people you’ll meet in the world are livestock people. We’ve made some wonderful friends.” His wife, Jane, said Taylor didn’t tell her before they were married that they were going to “get this involved in raising cattle. He may have had it in mind, but he didn’t share it with me,” she said. The Taylors have been married for 56 years. “I must be doing OK,” he said. “She’s still smiling at me.”

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