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AG Mag Northern Illinois



Faced with a livelihood that ebbs and flows with the whims of the weather, see-sawing yield estimates, and a lingering trade war, farmers are left to wonder …

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AG Mag Northern Illinois

Reporters & Photographers Pam Eggemeier, Alex T. Paschal, Rachel Rodgers, Lindsey Salvatelli, Goldie Rapp, Vinde Wells, Chris Johnson & Jeannine Otto Cover illustration Alex T. Paschal Published by Sauk Valley Media 113 S. Peoria Ave. Dixon, IL 61081 815-284-2224 Articles and advertisements are the property of Sauk Valley Media. No portion of the Northern Illinois Ag Mag may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. Ad content is not the responsibility of Sauk Valley Media. The information in this magazine is believed to be accurate; however, Sauk Valley Media cannot and does not guarantee its accuracy. Sauk Valley Media cannot and will not be held liable for the quality or performance of goods and services provided by advertisers listed in any portion of this magazine.


2 Fall 2019



Page Design Rusty Schrader


Magazine Editors Kathleen Schultz & Rusty Schrader


Advertising Director, General Manager Jennifer Heintzelman

When it comes N ILLINOIS ER to farming, one thing’s for certain, and that’s uncertainty. COVERSTORY Faced with a livelihood that ebbs and flows with the whims of the weather, a lingering trade war, and see-sawing yield estimates, growers are left to wonder … NOR TH

Publisher Don T. Bricker


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Where there’s a mill there’s a way to increase wheat production in Illinois, and the way is a record-breaking plant in Mendota that can crank out 3 million pounds of flour a day


CREAM OF THE CROP A former dairy farm has found new life teaching local history and helping students brush up on the future of farming, all in a 300-acre classroom


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AG Mag




CASHING IN ON A NEW CROP Farmers are hauling in their first hemp harvest, and though it’s still too early to tell whether it’ll be a boom or bust, growers are learning a lot as they help build a new industry from the ground up




A Deer Grove farm has put down a lot of roots through the years, but the roots that run the deepest are the ones in the family tree

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8 Fall 2019



Faced with a livelihood that ebbs and flows with the whims of the weather, a lingering trade war, and see-sawing yield estimates, growers are left to wonder …


When it comes to farming, one thing’s for certain, and that’s uncertainty.


armers are in the fields, scrambling to harvest crops after historically wet weather pushed back the planting schedules for corn and soybeans. After the deluge of rain this spring, more than 30 Illinois counties were declared state disaster areas by Gov. J.B. Pritzker because of flooding. Then in August, the USDA declared all 102 Illinois counties agricultural disaster areas. In Illinois, 1.5 million acres went unplanted this year, 10 times what is expected in a year with more typical weather patterns, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. It promises to be a long and stressful harvest season as farmers nervously await yield numbers and hope that winter frosts hold off long enough for lateplanted crops to mature. With the planting delays, many farmers say they will be lucky to finish harvesting crops by Christmas, while others were unable to get into the fields to plant much of anything at all. It’s perhaps a fitting ending to one of the most challenging years Illinois farmers have ever experienced. Farmers are looked at by some as pawns in Washington’s trade wars, as they weigh the possible impact of tariffs and the resulting reduction in export opportunities. The nation’s ethanol industry is awaiting a final plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency it hopes will fix some of the damage done by biofuel waivers that have undermined the intentions of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Then the spring weather unleashed its wrath while farmers were already trying to survive a multiyear down cycle for commodities prices. Many are comparing this weather year to 2009. CONTINUED ON PAGE 104

Rusty Schrader/SVM photo illustration

AG Mag


3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9 “That year was unusual temperature-wise – the whole season was cool and even early corn was struggling,” said Emerson Nafziger, an agronomist and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. Some farmers also learned a harsh lesson that year about their choice of seeds. “There wasn’t enough warmth for crops to mature, and farmers who were using longseason hybrids were really hurt,” Nafziger said. “Many also got hammered on test weights in 2009, and then the snow drifts in early December made the harvest tough.” Larry Hummel, a Lee County corn and soybean farmer and area crop watcher, contends that this year has been much more difficult than the often-cited 2009 comp year. He has about 2,600 acres of corn and 1,300 acres of soybeans planted. He estimates that only about 25% of his crops were planted on time. Some of his corn didn’t get in until mid-June, and soybeans were still being planted in early July. “This year is nothing like 2009. This is like nothing I’ve ever seen as far as trying to get something done,” Hummel said. Nafziger, who has been with the university for 40 years, pulled 1974 from his memory bank of difficult growing seasons. “That was one of the worst I can remember – there was a wet spring, dry summer and early frost – the triple whammy,” Nafziger said. Yield estimates from the USDA have come down from expectations many farmers believed

were far too high, helping to keep prices down. USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Services is now looking for corn to be in the range of 181 to 179 bushels per acre for August, September and October. Soybean estimates are 55, 53 and 51 for that period. The agency’s predicted corn total of 1.88 billion bushels in Illinois would represent a 17% decrease from last year, but given the unusual challenges it could be worse. “When all is said and done, I wouldn’t be surprised if yields come up from there, but if we hit those estimates, I think most people would be happy with what we got,” Nafziger said. At this point, however, there is a lot of guesswork involved when it comes to predicting yields for corn and soybeans. The USDA’s latest crop report, released on Oct. 21, confirmed that harvest season is going to be a drawn-out process. Over the past 5 years, about half of Illinois’ corn has been harvested by mid-October, but the report shows corn is only about 30% harvested. In addition to yield concerns, farmers must worry about quality, thanks to moisture, a shorter growing season and the threat of frost that could mean death to still immature late crops. “What we’ve harvested so far is stuff planted on time. Those yields are good, but getting the later-planted stuff out will be the real test,” Hummel said. “Some of the later corn could be better than expected, but there’s a long way to go and a short time to get there.” CONTINUED ON PAGE 124


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“What we’ve harvested so far is stuff planted on time. Those yields are good, but getting the later-planted stuff out will be the real test. Some of the later corn could be better than expected, but there’s a long way to go and a short time to get there. LARRY HUMMEL Lee County farmer and area crop watcher

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3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 10 It’s much harder to get a handle on soybeans this early into the harvest. They are still too wet, many hovering around the 30% moisture mark. The moisture keeps them green, which can add to the expense of getting them ready for market. If there is too much green, it must be bleached out of the oil. “We’re waiting for the beans to dry down. Some are getting close, they need some sun and a good breeze,” Hummel said. “The beans are a lot shorter than normal, but they’re potted halfway decent.” The frost is such a wild card for soybeans that he could wind up with 45 bushels an acre or next to nothing if the frost kills the immature plants, Hummel said.

China pressures linger As farmers race to salvage their crops, the Trump administration finds itself on the clock to negotiate a trade deal with China. Trump is under pressure to bring some resolution to the situation before the 2020 election. The president’s dealmaking reputation had made farmers hopeful that the process would go quickly, but China has proven to be a formidable opponent at the negotiating table. “This is taking longer than anticipated, but I don’t think most farmers see themselves as pawns,” said Adam

Alex T. Paschal/​

Harvest time took another hit from the weather when snow put the brakes on farm equipment throughout the Sauk Valley, like this tractor seen in a field outside of Rock Falls on Oct. 31. The early snow was just the latest setback dealt to farmers this year by a moody Mother Nature. Nielsen, director of national legislation and policy development for the Illinois Farm Bureau. “I think they understand we were at a point where China needed to be challenged and that would mean some short-term consequences.” So far, tariff increases have been post-

poned, but the situation has helped to keep corn and soybean prices depressed and the pause in shipments to China have forced U.S. farmers to find demand in other places. CONTINUED ON PAGE 134

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‘A giant, unplanned and involuntary experiment’

3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 12 There is a huge sense of urgency in Washington to move negotiations along with the election sneaking up on the administration, Nielsen believes. “It’s reality check time in November 2020, and they are highly motivated to get progress in China,” Nielsen said. “I think we’ll see a lot happening in the next several months.” From his perspective in the nation’s capital, he cites 2012 as a pivotal year for Illinois farmers. “That growing season was a $4 billion to $5 billion disaster for Illinois,” Nielsen said. “That was when we discovered how important crop insurance was, if we didn’t already know it.” Even after this harvest season wraps up, farmers will still feel the damage done by this year’s weather. “There’s a long tail to this year – the way the fields will look after this harvest,” Nielsen said. “Farmers will have to catch up and hope they can make the repairs before they lose their benefits.” Illinois farmers last year set new state yield records of 210 bushels per acre for corn and 63 bushels for beans. Researchers and Extension specialists from University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) are asking Illinois growers to share basic planting, harvest and yield data with the college to learn from the extraordinary growing conditions experienced this year. n

Difficult growing season yields opportunity to find a silver lining in the rain clouds: a chance to learn

Researchers and Extension specialists from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) are asking Illinois growers to share basic planting, harvest and yield data with the college in an attempt to learn from the extraordinary growing conditions experienced this year. “What we have is a giant, unplanned and involuntary experiment that is G being conducted by Illinois farmers this year,” said Emerson Nafziger, an N I T S E V HAR ION I N F O R M AT agronomist and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. “This experiment can help us understand the ramifications of how planting date and variety maturity affect overall yields.” Nafziger came up with the idea and asked the Illinois Extension to run with it. “We don’t want to identify people, we just want to know more about opportunities to plant corn in mid-June in northern Illinois and get good results,” Nafziger said. “If we ever get delayed like this again, it will help us to plan.” Using an anonymous online form, email, or the U.S. Postal Service, farmers can share simple information from this year’s crop with researchers. The researchers request data on the 2019 corn and soybean crop from fields in every county by the end of December. Nafziger would like to get between 50 and 100 farmers from each county to make it truly representative of the entire state. A printable/email-ready version of the form can be downloaded. For more information about the project, go to

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AG Mag


r u Flo ER W O P

Where there’s a mill there’s a way to increase wheat production in Illinois, and the way is a record-breaking plant in Mendota that can crank out 3 million pounds of flour a day

For all your Agriculture needs. Contact Beau Bunders @ 815-946-2777 14 Fall 2019



new state-of-the-art flour milling facility in Mendota is not only a boost for jobs and the local and regional economy, it could provide another crop option for farmers. “Whenever you add domestic processing, it’s good for the farmer,” said Kevin Like, president of ADM Milling. Like spoke in September at the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the new 30,000 hundredweight flour mill in Mendota, about 30 miles southwest of the Sauk Valley, in LaSalle County. One Illinois wheat grower who welcomed the new plant was Illinois Director of Agriculture John Sullivan, who also raises corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle in Schuyler County. “It is just a thrill, as a farmer, to know there is an opportunity here at this facility for added value to our growing of grain here locally. It’s really a tremendous opportunity to have the ability to add value to our commodities,” said Sullivan. PHOTO ON PAGE 17, STORY CONTINUED ON PAGE 184

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3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 15 The Mendota mill snags the record for being the largest flour mill ever built from the ground up at one time. It is expected to employ 30 to 40 employees. To produce the white and whole wheat flour that it supplies to the restaurant and baking industries in the Chicagoland area, as well as northwest Indiana and eastern Iowa, the plant uses three types of wheat: hard wheat, spring wheat and soft wheat. Hard wheat will originate from the Kansas and Nebraska areas, typically the nation’s “Wheat Belt.” That “Wheat Belt” also encompasses the winter wheat producing areas of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota and the upper Midwest and eastern Great Plains. The new facility includes a loop railroad track with a 110-car shuttle rail unloading facility, three bulk truck load outs and a rail load out capability. Soft wheat will provide the opportunity for growers in Illinois, said Like.

Scott Anderson

James Harper, plant manager at the ADM flour mill in Mendota, leads a tour of the new facility Sept. 18. The Mendota facility will have the ability to grind soft and hard wheat varieties and to unload 110-car shuttle trains. Flour from the mill will be used in baking for bakeries, pizza CONTINUED ON PAGE 194 restaurants and other food service companies.


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3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 18 “When it comes to soft wheat, that will be the local draw. A lot of ground in this area has corn and soybeans but there is also some wheat and our hopes are to increase the amount of soft wheat grown in this area,” said Like. Much of the soft wheat grown in Illinois is grown in the southern part of the state and typically is grown in a rotation with soybeans, with the wheat being planted in the fall, after soybeans are harvested, and then being harvested in the spring, prior to soybean planting. “They said they will be buying and they are receptive to buying from Illinois wheat producers,” said Mike Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Wheat Association. Doherty said the presence of a flour milling plant of the sheer scale of the ADM Mendota plant could have a positive impact. “It’s bound to have a positive impact on prices. I do expect some, maybe small, but some lift in our Illinois delivered prices to mills as a result of this ADM plant opening here in Mendota,” said Doherty. Jim Harper, general manager of the ADM Mendota flour mill, has been a board member of the Illinois Wheat Association for over 2 years and member of the association itself for 8 years. Harper came to the Mendota plant from

an ADM plant in St. Louis. “I think having a market for that wheat, that is what Mendota is going to bring from the soft wheat standpoint. We haven’t had a good market for our producers to be able to sell and I think this is really going to give them that potential for a market, beyond going to the river or to a feed outlet,” said Harper. Harper said the mill, which started production of flour in July, could offer opportunities for local farmers. “We are making a value-added product here. We want high quality wheat, grown in this area and we pay good money for that wheat,” said Harper. The Mendota flour milling facility can produce three million pounds of flour per day and has wheat storage capacity of 2.75 million bushels. In addition to the flour, the plant also produces a livestock feed component, called mill feed, wheat middlings or midds. That byproduct is the bran that is separated from the wheat endosperm during the milling process. Like said the company has a market for that byproduct but the new location could also offer new opportunities for that too. “We already had a market for that from the Chicago location but with our location being a bit more rural here, I think the market is only bigger here,” said Like. n

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ome HHEARTLAND is A Deer Grove farm has put down a lot of roots through the years, but the roots that run the deepest are the ones in the family tree


20 Fall 2019


t all started with grain and grit: an immigrant whose hard work and determination turned the soil of a still growing nation into a way of life for his family. Today, that land in Deer Grove still provides for the Perino family – but there’s a whole lot more of it at Perinos’ County Line Cattle Co., a growing family farm for a growing family. Before Dean Perino’s grandfather, Ralph Perino Sr., began farming the land in 1891, he came to the United States from Italy, getting a job working on the railroad. He eventually saved up enough money to return to his native land to get his wife and brother and bring them to America, where they remained for the rest of their lives, never returning to Italy. Once they put down roots in the U.S., the family planted the seeds of a grain farm that would grow into a successful operation that’s spanned generations. CONTINUED ON PAGE 224

Jake Perino and his dad, Dean, are the latest in a long line of family farmers that stretch back four generations. Dean said he feels fortunate to still live in the home where his parents raised him and his 14 siblings. “They didn’t have it easy and you have to be grateful for all their sacrifices over the years.”

AG Mag


3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 21 “My grandpa started feeding cattle in the 1940s,” said fourth-generation farmer and Dean’s son, Jake Perino. Today, the family farm stretches across 450 acres that’s used to grow crops and raise cattle. The farm has changed over the decades. Today it grows seed corn, seed beans, corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. Two blue silos now sit on land where one of Dean’s uncles used to raise his cattle, and an irrigation system installed about 20 years helps the corn crop. “You cannot got a seed corn contact if you don’t have water,” Dean said. The third- and fourth-generation Perinos each have their specialty: Dean tends the crops and Jake raises the cattle. With each an expert in their respective fields, the pair completes a family circle that’s helped the farm prosper. Dean, soon to be 60, has decades of knowledge when it comes to crops. Jake, 26, holds a degree in animals science. “He uses the irrigation, raises the corn that we feed to the cattle. It’s a cycle,” Jake said. Joel, another of Dean’s sons, travels from Colorado each harvest season and spends about a week helping on the farm.

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22 Fall 2019



stress. The design also keeps gas from being trapped in the barn, as it can on hot humid days in conventional barns. The increased air flow keeps ammonia levels low, which is important for the wellbeing of the livestock. Monoslopes’ open design also helps keep cattle dry and is better suited to handle the wind. The barn, with its a slat-over-pit manure management, also is more environmentally friendly, allowing better manure management LINDSEY SALVATELLI FOR NORTHERN ILLINOIS AG MAG and giving farmers more bang for their muck by increasing manure’s The Perino farm hasn’t grown by leaps and grounds by not innonutrient value. vating. “You could do what we do here on any farm and it would work, but Even after 128 years, the farm is still updating its facilities to prothis is just simplified,” Jake said. duce a better product. Before the structure was built, it was a row of pine trees that served Jake and Dean welcomed the commulittle purpose, Jake’s dad, Dean, said. nity to their Deer Grove farm in September So while farmers are expanding their to check out one of their latest upgrades: fields outward, it makes more sense a monoslope cattle barn. for Jake to farm vertically. “We never had more than 30 heads at The farm is producing the same once in the past. Now we have capacity amount of beef it was during the for over 300,” Dean said. 1970s but with 30% less cattle, Jake Sure, there’s a larger up-front cost than said. the conventional cattle barn, but the All that creature comfort may have design pays off in the ends, Jake said. seemed like a waste at one time, but Monoslope barns have a roof that’s Monoslope barns’ design has the high side today’s farmers know better. Livestock higher on the front side of the barn (usually of the barn facing south or southeast to allow that are more comfortable are more facing south for winter sun exposure), and the sun to reach through in the winter. In the productive, and it helps increase feed it slopes down toward the back (usually summer, most of the barn is under shade and efficiency, too. facing north for shade in the summer). the slope to the roof creates constant airflow If his cattle are getting up, stretch“Monoslopes are the barn of the future,” ing, and lying down to chew their cud, through the building to reduce heat stress. Francis L. Fluharty, a research professor Jake knows he reached his goal of in The Ohio State University’s Department keeping them happy. of Animal Sciences, said in an article in Ohio’s Country Journal. And it looks like the cattle likes it, too. Jake said he can’t make it “The design has the high side of the barn facing south or southeast, through the barn without getting a nudge from the cattle. which allows the sun to reach almost all the way through the barn “It’s a building full of pets,” Jake said. “They damn near run you in the winter, having a warming effect on the cattle and keeping the over because they want you to pet them.” bedding pack drier.” It makes it difficult when he needs to move them because they In the summer, most of the barn is under shade and the slope to want to play, but they’re happy, and that’s Jake’s goal. the roof creates constant airflow through the building to reduce heat “They know where home is and they know it’s safe,” Jake said. n

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3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 22 Jake made his first cattle purchase when he was in middle school, around the same age his father was when he first bought cattle. Dean said he tried his hand at raising hogs, but he eventually folded that operation. One change that’s proven successful has been the addition of a 62-foot by 300-foot monoslope beef barn on the farm. The barn’s design – a single slope with one side of the roof higher than the other – benefits cattle by keeping them warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Jake had the barn built after returning from college. Since then, he said he routinely gets calls from people asking him whether he’s interested in buying their cattle. His goal is to keep his cattle local to support local farmers, he said. “It’s almost to the point where we should have grown it bigger,” he said. Even though the family is proud of their Italian roots and travel to the family’s homeland every year for a family reunion, they keep their operation as local as they can. Jake said he gets his cattle corn and grain from a family just outside Tampico, he gets his cattle from nearby towns, he buys his supplements from DeKalb Feeds in Rock Falls, and uses a Tampico

Clark gives Jake Perino a nudge with his nose. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the cattle is a commodity. Jake said he can’t make it through his barn without getting a nudge from the cattle. “It’s a building full of pets,” he said. “They damn near run you over because they want you to pet them.” Keeping cattle content increases productivity and can help increase feed efficiency, too. trucking company if he needs to haul anything in. “We keep as much local as we can before we go out of the county,” Jake said. “Then we try to keep it in-state as much as possible, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to do that.” Dean said he believes his grandfather

began with a small swath of land before helping grow it into what it is today, and he feels fortunate to still live in the home where his parents raised him and his 14 siblings. “They didn’t have it easy and you have to be grateful for all their sacrifices over the years,” Dean said. n


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in farming.” “Farming is a community, but for people to know about our community we need to share our stories,” Perino said. He’d also like to see more high-schoolers thinking about a higher education. “We need more people in college learning agriculture,” he said. Farms today are getting bigger and technology is a key part Editor’s note: The following excerpts are from an article that appeared in the summer 2017 Northern Illinois Ag Mag. Go of creating higher yields. Classroom education not only helps to to read the entire article. farmers understand that technology, but it also can aid in the development of that technology. CHRIS JOHNSON FOR NORTHERN ILLINOIS AG MAG Another option is to stop by and visit with producers at DEER GROVE – Young farmers can be like crops. They local farmers markets. ... While some of the people peddling need to be nurtured, tended to. They produce may be part of a larger farm have to grow. operation, many are part of smaller, Jake Perino is one of those farmers. niche farms – but one thing they have He knows that what young farmin common is the stories they have to ers learn today will help ensure not share. only their own success, but the sucHe also encourages farmers to cess of the ag industry as well. While combat any negative press by “openthere’s a lot to learn, there are plenty ing up the farm to see the livestock of places where fertile young minds and see how we treat our animals can get that knowledge ... they just like family.” Perino practices what he need to ask questions. preaches at County Line Cattle by “Stop by a farm, ask questions, ask inviting customers to the farm. if you can help out,” Perino tells future That open-barn-door policy is just farmers. “You may be told no, but Jake Perino has advice for today’s farmone part of his approach to helping an you may get stories and advice about ers – share what you know – and tomorindustry that’s been part of his family farming. I know that we need more row’s farmers: ask, listen and learn. for generations, an industry that he young farmers to step up and concares about, and one that it looks like he’ll be part of for a tinue the tradition to keep our country growing.” long time to come. He said he’d also like to see more farmers share their “Farming is not work, it is what I love,” Perino said. “Once knowledge in order to encourage young people’s interest in agriculture ... because “we need younger people interested you do farming, you do not want to leave.” n

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a more resilient economic infrastrucegislators are looking to earmark ture. $50 billion to create multi-year Those improvement goals could cover support to build up economic a wide spectrum, including infrastrucdevelopment in rural communities. ture, broadband, workforce training and The Rebuild Rural America Act, which other long-term revitalization projects. was recently introduced in the House, U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., would create the Rural Future Partnerwho along with Bustos and ship Fund through the U.S. Reps. Angie Craig, D-Minn., and Department of Agriculture and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., introprovide $50 billion in flexible duced the bill, said money from block grants to rural regions. the Rebuild America Act would “We need continued investprovide resources “to finally ment in our rural communities repair aging firehouses, repave to spur economic growth in our local economies,” said U.S. Rep. sidewalks, replace old and failing water systems and promote ecoCheri Bustos, D-East Moline, one of the main sponsors of the nomic opportunity,” bill. “The Rebuild Rural America If passed, funding would be Rep. Cheri Act would better position our allocated based on the populaBustos communities to address some of tion of each region, with more the unique issues they face and provide going to regions that include areas that them with the resources needed to do have a poverty rate greater than 20 percent. so.” Eligible regions include those with a This funding would allow eligible comcentral community of 10,000 to 50,000 munities to receive a commitment of people, collections of rural census tracts 5-year, renewable funding to support developed goals and objectives, creating or counties outside of regions with a


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central community of 10,000 to 50,000 people, and Indian reservations. States would coordinate with the USDA to identify the areas. Communities would establish economic development plans that revitalize infrastructure, provide support for public services and job training and foster local entrepreneurship, and they would need to form a Regional Rural Partnership Council that brings together local leaders, elected officials, economic development organizations, cooperatives, higher education institutions, foundations and other entities important to regional development. The bill would also create a state-bystate Rural Innovation and Partnership Administration to oversee the program and offer resources to local leaders, as well as launch a Rural Future Corps in coordination with AmeriCorps to assist rural communities with implementing Rural Partnership Plans and expanding critical services including childcare, health services, nutrition assistance, education and job training. n

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cream of the crop The

A former dairy farm has found new life teaching local history and helping students brush up on the future of farming, all in a 300-acre classroom

VINDE WELLS For Northern Illinois Ag Mag


century ago, Indian Hill Manor and Farm took root as a rural retreat and gentleman’s farm; today the sprawling estate has grown into a living history lesson and training ground for a new generation of farmers, billed as a “jewel at the crossroads” of nature and history. The farm, on Kishwaukee Road a few miles northwest of Stillman Valley near the Ogle-Winnebago County line, recently began offering tours and lectures to introduce the public to the history of not just the manor, but also the surrounding area. The 300-acre property is owned by the Smeja Family Foundation, which is working to preserve and restore it. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 as the Indian Hill Manor and Farm Historic District. PHOTOS ON PAGE 29, STORY CONTINUED ON 304

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Photos by Vinde Wells/Northern Illinois Ag Mag

ABOVE: Rockford architect Charles W. Bradley designed this colonial revival manor house on Indian Hill Manor and Farm. LEFT: Indian Hill Manor, circa 1918, as seen in this submitted photo.





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The children of William and Lucile Smeja form the Smeja Family Foundation, which owns Indian Hill Manor and Farm. Clockwise from the bottom: James Smeja, Bonnie Smeja, Robert Smeja, Kim Smeja, and Jill Smeja Gnesda. 3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 28


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Jerry Paulsen, the foundation’s interim executive director, said the district includes three parts, the manor house with its carriage house and grounds, the farm, and a forest preserve across Kishwaukee Road. All three parcels were once part of the 400-acre estate of Charles C. and Esta Barrett, who purchased the property in 1915 as a rural retreat and gentleman’s farm. Charles, a Chicago businessman, and Esta, an actress who had performed on Broadway, purchased the property from Herbert Lewis. The Barretts hired Rockford architect Charles W. Bradley to design the Colonial Revival mansion with its seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms, seven fireplaces, and two stairways. Paulsen said the original plan was to have gas lights in the house, but electricity became available to the rural area during its construction. Consequently the mansion was built with not only electric lights, but also a central vacuum system, an electric intercom system, and a large electric stove in the kitchen. Lewis had begun the development of the farm, building a Jamesway dairy barn and other buildings. A house for the farm manager was built at the farmstead sometime prior to 1900. Paulsen said the Jamesway barn was part of the “sanitary milk movement� of the early 1900s, when concern arose over the conditions in some dairy barns. CONTINUED ON 314

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The history of Hill country


The barns, designed by the James Manufacturing Company, Fort Atkinson, WisIndian Hill Manor and Farm, along consin, were mailwith Indian Hill Forest Preserve, have ordered from a harda rich Native American history that bound catalog and all led to their name. components, along Jerry Paulsen, interim executive with blueprints and director of the Smeja Family Foundaassembly instructions, tion, said numerous artifacts have been uncovered over the years on the were shipped by train. The barns featured site, which is situated on a limestone ridge near where the Kishwaukee and concrete and steel in the milking area, Rock rivers meet, indicating it was a cork floors in the calf hunting and fishing ground frequentpens,and ventilation ed by Native Americans for centuries. and manure handling In addition, the first battle of the systems. Black Hawk War was fought just a “Everything was few miles away in Stillman Valley on designed to be as May 14, 1832. sanitary as possible,” According to the “Bicentennial HisPaulsen said. tory of Ogle County,” at the time of the The Barretts were battle, Black Hawk and his band were contemporaries of trying to convince Potawatomi chiefs Frank and Florence Shabbona and Waubonsie to support them in their effort to regain their hunt- Lowden, who owned Sinnissippi Farms ing ground from European settlers. southeast of Oregon, They were camped at the confluand Medill and Ruth ence of the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers, where Black Hawk was serving McCormick, who owned Rock River a feast of dog meat.  Farms north of Byron. In an effort to preserve the more Paulsen said the recent history of the area, the Smeja Lowdens also had a Family Foundation, which owns Jamesway dairy barn, manor and farm, recently conducted and Esta Barrett and a survey of historic barns and other Ruth McCormick were buildings in the rural area around the friendly rivals over the old village of Kishwaukee. milk production of Paulsen said the village was platted their Holstein cows. where the manor currently sits, but Charles Barrett died the site was abandoned and moved in 1918 during the flu a short distance away due to the difepidemic, and Esta ficulty of digging wells through the continued the operalimestone ridge. – Vinde Wells tion until her death in 1947. Paulsen said World War I, from 1914-18, was considered the “golden age” of farming because American farmers were feeding the U.S. troops fighting in the war, as well as the citizens of some European countries devastated by the war. CONTINUED ON PAGE 334

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2001 to restore the property and promote historic preservation. The foundation purchased the farm portion of the estate in 2010 from Tim Ferrell, Reed’s adopted son, and began restoration of the farm buildings with the help of the Stillman Valley High School FFA. Twenty-six acres of the cropland is leased to the FFA Alumni Association for teaching students about modern farming techniques, with profits going to support the program. FFA students help with landscaping at the manor and also keep some livestock projects at the farm. The remainder of the cropland is rented to a local farmer who plants corn and soybeans. n


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That changed, he said, in the 1920s when the farm economy collapsed due to over-production and poor land management practices. Farming continued to change drastically in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly due to mechanization, he said. “Between World War I and World War II, there was a major change in agriculture,” Paulsen said. “Tractors, trucks, and electricity came in, barbed wire became available. All that was going on on this farm. That era is what we’re trying to showcase here.” Gentlemen’s farms often teamed up with universities to serve as testing places for both land and livestock development. Crop rotation was promoted to build fertility and control pests and weeds, and animal genetics was studied to develop healthier, higher producing livestock. “These gentlemen’s farms became the model farms,” Paulsen said. After Esta Barrett’s death, her son from a previous marriage, Harry Reed, and his wife Lillian took over management of Indian Hill. Their son, Charles Reed, inherited the estate in 1969. He wanted the farm to become a model for soil and wildlife conservation so hedonated 50 acres to the Natural Land Institute, which later gave the land to the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District to become the Indian Hill Forest Preserve in 1989. Reed sold just the manor and its grounds to William and Lucile Smeja in 1971. Their five living children formed the Smeja Family Trust in

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The Jamesway dairy barn at Indian Hill Farm was built in 1914 and is undergoing restoration. Vinde Wells/Northern Illinois Ag Mag

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Photos by Vinde Wells/Northern Illinois Ag Mag

ABOVE: Jerry Paulsen, interim executive director of the Smeja Family Foundation, holds the early 1900s hardbound catalog published by the James Manufacturing Co. to market its Jamesway barns and other farm buildings, some of which can be found at Indian Hill. RIGHT: Paulsen shows the weather vane on the ventilator that has been repaired and will be returned to its place on one of the barns at Indian Hills.

ABOVE: Stanchions line both sides of the dairy barn with calf pens at each end in this Jamesway design. Note the track for the barn cleaner at the ceiling. Jamesway barns were part of the “sanitary milk movement” of the early 1900s, when concern arose over the conditions in some dairy barns. LEFT: This horse barn at Indian Hill Manor and Farm was built around 1914.


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Cashing in crop on a new

Illinois farmers are hauling in their first hemp harvest, and though it’s still too early to tell whether it’ll be a boom or bust, growers are learning a lot as they help build a new industry from the ground up 36 Fall 2019



t’s been a year since former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Industrial Hemp Act, which legalized the growth of hemp in the state. This past spring, farmers from all over sought out licenses to grow the new crop. Among those was Eddie Diaz, who owns land in rural Princeton. Diaz said he was eager to try something new. So, he and a business partner, who wishes to remain anonymous, started Illinois Valley Hemp LLC. Together, they invested between $70,000 and $80,000 and purchased 2,300 hemp plants that were planted on roughly two acres. Hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant that’s used in foods, fibers and the wildly popular CBD products, but which doesn’t have enough of the mind-altering THC to get people high. “This plant was used back in the day for so many things, and I feel we’ve done a bad job at the ecosystem nowadays,” Diaz said. “This is a big step toward changing that. The stuff that can be made with hemp – there’s so many things you can do with it.” Diaz’s land just happens to be next door to Rachel Berry, who advocated heavily for the Industrial Hemp Act. She is also the founder and CEO of Illinois Hemp Growers Association. When she learned of her neighbor’s endeavor, the two quickly became acquainted, and Berry ended up offering a portion of her land for Diaz’s crop. Diaz admits, planting the first crop was more labor intensive than he expected. CONTINUED ON PAGE 384

Enduring Strength. Uncompromising Value. Hemp farmer Eddie Diaz poses amid some of the hemp plants growing in his field. Like other growers across the state, this year was a learning experience for Diaz. “You’re not on a tractor. You’re down there, digging a hole and setting the plant in there by hand,” he said. “It’s very labor intensive.”

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3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 37 “You’re not on a tractor. You’re down there, digging a hole and setting the plant in there by hand,” he said. “It’s very labor intensive.” But luckily, he has a lot of friends and family that helped along the way, especially with weeding. Diaz was able to get his first crop in the ground the first week of July, which was a little later than he wanted, but the wet spring this year held up plans for planting. Illinois farmers bet big on hemp this season, the first in which it was legal to grow the crop. But growing hemp proved risky. Farmers had to learn on the fly about a crop that hadn’t been grown in Illinois soil for generations, and many with successful harvests are struggling to find a market for it. Mother Nature was the main antagonist this year. Historic rains and flooding drowned many young plants. Some farmers lost all their hemp. So far, about 520 farmers have reported to the state that they have hemp to harvest. The state doesn’t keep data on the size of the crop or how the plants fared. Diaz said he lost a few plants, but most of them thrives. He said it’s been a learning curve figuring out the secrets of success.

Rachel Berry (left) and Eddie Diaz inspect Hemp plants on Diaz’s farm. Diaz’s land just happens to be next door to Rachel Berry, who advocated heavily for the IndustriCONTINUED ON PAGE 394 al Hemp Act. She is also the founder and CEO of Illinois Hemp Growers Association.

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3CONTINUED FROM PAGE 38 “As a hemp farmer, you have to learn to go with the flow and not take your mistakes personally,” Berry said. “It’s a learning experience for everybody in the state right now.” Nationally, it’s still too early in the harvest to know how well crops did and how CBD hemp prices will be affected, said Erica Stark, executive director of the National Hemp Association. CBD hemp prices vary, based on the amount of CBD, or cannabidiol, the plant contains, and it can be hard to predict at planting time what it will sell for, come harvest. “There was a whole lot of talk about how much the market was going to flood this year because of so many new people and the expansion of acreage,” she said. “But I don’t think there were as many successful acres harvested as anticipated.” One great thing Diaz and his partner have discovered along the way is the huge online support from farmers around the state. They use Facebook to communicate with one another and take pictures when there are issues with the plants as they seek advice from others. “The hemp community is very willing to help you. You can put a comment out there and people will always come back and say ‘try this’ or ‘try that,’” he said. The biggest issue many have dealt with this year is over-watering the plants, but despite those firstyear setbacks, Diaz has high hopes for hemp’s future. “Everyone who risked it this year, the gains for next year are going to be so much more,” he said. n – Tribune News Service contributed to this article.

Though harvesting his first hemp crop has been more work than he thought it would be, Eddie Diaz has had a lot of help from friends and family. Above, Diaz’s dad, Juan, helps with his son’s first hemp crop. Juan stopped by nearly every day and played a big role in weed control.

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