Articles

    Here is what you need to know about today’s farmland values

    Both Todd Slock, regional manager appraisal at Compeer Financial, and Eric Wilkinson, accredited farm manager, real estate broker, and auctioneer at Hertz Farm Management, Inc., agree that farmland values have changed little during 2018 and they see a similar situation going forward. The two men were the guest speakers at The Chicago Farmers’ April 8th meeting. Compeer is a Platinum Sponsor of TCF and Hertz is a Gold Sponsor.

    “There has been little change in farmland values in 2018,” said Wilkinson, whose territory covers the northeast quadrant of Illinois. “Excellent quality land is up about one percent, and good quality is down about one percent. The data show average quality land up eight percent, but that is because larger, better quality land with more irrigation sold in 2018 than in 2017. We’ve seen that the primary buyers of good farmland during 2018 were current farmers. Recreational land is up seven percent, with land values highest for plots near metropolitan areas. Transitional land values are spotty and there is a wide variety of values.” The majority of Wilkinson’s information was provided by the 2019 Illinois Land Values and Lease Trends Report by the Illinois Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

    Regarding sale prices per acre, Wilkinson said that excellent farmland had an average sale price of $10,722; good farmland, $8,200; average farmland, $7,400; fair farmland, $5,000; recreational land, $3,500; and transitional land, $11,000 across the state of Illinois.

    A long-term view on land sales indicates an increase in the value of average and fair quality land, said Wilkinson. He added that overall, more sales of higher quality property sold in 2018 versus 2017. “We sold a number of bigger farms,” he noted. “A lot of the value comes from the larger, more efficient farms.”

    Wilkinson observed that some investors are seeking second tier and third tier quality land because excellent quality land does not always post the best returns. “These investors believe that the lower quality land can generate a better return on their money in the long-term,” he said.

    Among the buyers involved in the sale transactions, survey results indicate that 59 percent are local farmers, 12 percent are non-local farmers, 15 percent are local investors, and seven percent are institutions.

    Regarding the sellers, 55 percent are estate sales, 13 percent are retired farmers, 14 percent are individual investors, 11 percent are active farmers, and seven percent are institutions.

    “The reasons for selling vary,” said Wilkinson. “Many are settling estates. Some use the money for things other than farming, while others pay down debt with the proceeds. It remains to be seen if active farmers in 2019 will be involved in sales to pay down debt.”

    He said a lot of people are interested in buying farmland, but not as many are interested in selling, unless they are forced into a situation, such as an estate sale.

    “Farmland is a great diversification tool in a portfolio. It is a great long-term, conservative asset class that is difficult to mimic. There is uncertainty in paper assets, but land is tangible and it produces yearly,” said Wilkinson.

    He went on to say that factors that contribute to the current stability of farmland values are farmers and investors willing to compete to control land that is near them or touching their land and they are willing to pay a premium; buyers’ confidence on yields; and the Market Facilitation Program, the federal government’s aid to farmers to help cover losses caused by the trade wars. “A lot of money went to farmers this year through this program,” Wilkinson added. “Farm income increased slightly in 2018, which propped up the land market.”

    Wilkinson shared that survey results show a slightly higher lease turnover rate due to retirements. Overall, operators are willing to take some losses in the short-term to grow their operations in the hopes that something will turn the corner, he said.

    “For land owners and tenants, we suggest avoiding long-term leases so that you are able to capture the current market,” related Wilkinson. “If you are not getting the rent up front, secure a second payment with some kind of irrevocable letter of credit or UCC-1.”

    Slock, whose area includes northern Illinois and parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota, noted that Compeer tracks the benchmark farms that it appraises each July 1st. He said that farmland values have aligned with corn prices. He noted that from 2010 to 2014, the peak in land values was driven by low interest rates and strong commodity prices. From 2016-2018, the benchmark farms range from an increase of 17 percent in land values to a decrease of seven percent. There are 19 benchmark farms in Slock’s Illinois territory, one of which is recreational land.

    In discussing cash rents per acre, Slock noted that on Class A farms, they range is $240-$350; Class B, $220-$328; and with Class C, $215-$300. “We anticipate these ranges to be fairly consistent from last year to this year,” said Slock.

    While land values did not surge ahead during 2018, Slock said prices were fairly steady from 2017 into 2019. “A lot, of course, depends on location,” he said. “Additionally, commodity prices will keep downward pressure on land values in 2019. There was an increase in interest rates in 2018, but this had a minimal affect. Generally, things were not as bad as we had anticipated.”

    During a panel discussion moderated by David Oppedahl, a TCF director, Slock and Wilkinson responded to questions posed to them by audience members. Their responses included:

    • If there is an increase in the real estate tax rate, which has been discussed, it could put land values under a lot of pressure.
    • Both Slock and Wilkinson said that the occurrences of farmland auctions are down. They noted a lot of emotion is involved in the auctions and a straight real estate sale dealing with one buyer is preferred. They saw a downward trend for auctions in 2019.
    • The value of turbines on farm property varies on how the leases are structured. The income is derived from the turbines and can range from $6,000 to $12,000 per year. If the wind turbine does not adversely affect production on the land, then there is minimal impact on the land value. The size of the access lane could be an issue.
    • Regarding trade with China, anything that disrupts the United States’ relationship with China will have an impact on commodities. China will seek cheaper soybeans, which South America can provide. More influx of cash for American farmers from the Market Facilitation Program is not expected. On the other hand, there are other markets for U.S. soybeans and the demand is still there, which is why prices are not significantly lower.
    • Regarding the aging of the American farmer, Slock said there was an even trend in estate sales of farmland; he did not see a significant shift. However, the age of the average farmer is increasing and it is harder for younger people to get into beginning farmer programs. Wilkinson commented that the floodgates of available land could open eventually through estate sales and the concern is that there will be a greater supply of land that can be handled.
    • In discussing the recent legal battles involving Round-Up, it was noted that Round-Up does not have the impact on farming that it once had due to the appearance of many resistant weeds. If unable to use Round Up, progressive farmers would work around it, although it could be a concern for some farmers because of their wide use of the product.
    • A question regarding drainage was addressed. It was noted that tile contractors are busier than ever. “It is not hard to see how one can improve a farm and pick up gains by properly draining the property,” said Wilkinson. Added Slock, “Tiling and irrigation systems are very cost effective because you are spending money on something that will add bushels to your production.”

    Purdue student receives Chicago Farmers’ scholarship

    Purdue University student Hunter C. Christner is a recipient of a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. Hunter transferred to Purdue in the fall of 2017 after completing double associate’s degrees at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. He is completing his bachelor’s degree in agronomy at Purdue.

    Hunter is originally from Shipshewana, Indiana, where he enjoyed singing, playing baseball, hunting, fishing, and living on a lake. Following high school graduation with academic honors, Hunter worked for a construction company. After a year, he traveled to Pinedale, Wyoming, where he explored the Rocky Mountains as a backcountry ranger for the Forest Service in Pinedale and attended school in Powell.

    He wrote in a thank you note to TCF, “During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years I discovered my passion for agriculture. I worked on a cattle ranch in Cody, Wyoming, watching 350 head of Black Angus cows in the outskirts of the Yellowstone Mountains. I got to see a lot of wildlife, including some close encounters with grizzly bears. I was able to adventure in the mountains for another year through school.”

    Hunter said he is very interested in working for the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) or another division of the USDA where he can assist people in making natural resource management decisions on farming and ranching operations. He wrote, “I have a wide range of passions and could also succeed in a wildlife management or biologist position. I desire to help people steward the gift we call nature. I am very excited to see what the Lord has for me in the years to come and this scholarship is one aspect of making this adventure possible.”

    Hunter was married last May and when he completes his education at Purdue, he and his wife will move to either Wyoming or Montana. He wrote in his letter to TCF, “I am very grateful for the Chicago Farmers’ scholarship of $1,500. Thank you so much for your support and investment in my college career at Purdue. This generous gift will be used to pay for my tuition fees, books, and other living expenses, as I am going to be living off campus.”

    McDonald’s rolls out the red carpet for TCF

    McDonald’s sleek new headquarters on Randolph Street in the Fulton Market district was the setting for The Chicago Farmers’ March 11th meeting. TCF visited McDonald’s to learn about the important role that sustainability is playing in the company’s operations. The visit was in order because TCF had presented its Distinguished Service to Agriculture award to Ray Kroc, McDonald’s founder, in 1979.

    In 2018, McDonald’s kicked off its “Scale for Good” program, which addresses sustainability, said Townsend Bailey, of McDonald’s North America Sustainability. He served as TCF’s co-host along with Tess Mattingly, of McDonald’s U.S. Public Affairs. “The value that McDonald’s offers is high quality food at affordable pricing that is accessible to the public,” said Townsend. “We are able to do this due to the efficiency of our system and how we work with our franchisees and suppliers.”

    Townsend pointed out that this is not a fad, but has been part of McDonald’s focus since its inception. Making this point, Townsend played an audio portion of a presentation given by Kroc in 1957. At that time, Kroc said that McDonald’s had to be “ethical, truthful and dependable.”

    Townsend added that Kroc’s focus was restaurants that served safe food and were litter-free and clean. Over the years McDonald’s has maintained this focus and eliminated such things as styrofoam containers and replaced them with paper. The Alaskan Pollock fish used in the fish sandwich is caught wild and meets the standards for sustainability. The double cheeseburger? The only ingredient is beef, with salt and pepper added as it cooks.

    Townsend said, “There are a lot of efficiencies that come with being big. McDonald’s has 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and these restaurants serve 69 million people per day. We are using our scale for good.”

    The Scale for Good program was built on answers from consumers to McDonald’s question: What issues are important to society? The answers:

    • Beef sustainability
    • Commitment to families
    • Packaging and recycling
    • Climate action
    • Youth opportunity

    McDonald’s has adopted the concept that sustainability means to continue into the future indefinitely in ethics, the environment and the economy, said Townsend. The roof of the downtown headquarter building features a vegetable garden and composting. Crops from the garden are donated to charities.

    The Scale for Good program includes commitments such as:

    • By 2025, 100 percent of McDonald’s packaging will come from renewable, recycled or certified sources
    • By 2025, all McDonald’s restaurants will recycle guest packaging (Townsend noted that this is challenging because every municipality has different regulations and infrastructure, but McDonald’s plans to be a part of the solution and help influence powerful change.)
    • Continue on its food journey

    *McDonald’s USA is committed to only using eggs from cage-free chickens

    *by 2022, 50 percent of Happy Meals will be 600 calories or less, 10 percent of the calories will be saturated fat, will contain 650 milligrams of sodium, and only 10 percent of the calories will be from sugar

    • In further commitment to families and in support of education, McDonald’s has distributed 370 million books in its Happy Meals
    • To further beef sustainability, McDonalds will engage with the beef industry, NGOs (non-government organizations) and the U.S. Roundtable (The vast majority of McDonald’s USA’s beef comes from North America, said Townsend.)

    Townsend went on to say that many of McDonald’s suppliers have been with the company since 1955. He noted, “If a supplier doesn’t meet our expectations on foundational aspects, it is out; however, our position has always been to partner with our supply chain on our shared goals.”

    Following the presentation, the attendees were divided into groups and led on a guided tour of the McDonald’s facility. The nine-story glass and steel building, located at 1045 W. Randolph St., was designed by Gensler Architects and developed by Sterling Bay. It was designed to blend in with its surrounding buildings, which were largely meatpackers at one time. McDonald’s leases its space from Sterling Bay. While a McDonald’s restaurant is on the ground floor, there are no large golden arches, just signs bearing small golden arches.

    About 2,000 people are employed at the site, although the number varies daily because each employee is given the opportunity to work from home one day a week. When at the Randolph Street location, employees work in open spaces. They are not assigned a specific space and may move around to a different location each day. This is called “hoteling.”

    As our guide, Megen DiSanto, of McDonald’s Public Affairs, led us through the building she pointed out the wall of toys from Happy Meals of bygone days, displays of McDonald’s memorabilia such as the original malted milk equipment that captivated Kroc and the packages of food items that are no longer on the restaurants’ menus,  the Quiet Rooms that are located on each floor for employees to work in silence, sans cell phones, and the culinary lab where McDonald’s employees are able to use old and new equipment and create and taste test new recipes. Hamburger University is onsite for the training of owners/operators.

    The building also houses a Work Café on the sixth floor for global presentations and includes a dining area in conjunction with a McCafe. A feature of the Work Cafe is a stadium-like seating area that is designed to inspire more collaboration among employees, Megen explained. It faces a wall of windows with a stunning view of Chicago. Another gathering spot for employees is on the ninth floor and provides socializing and after-hours cocktails on select evenings that can be purchased by the employees. A terrace adjacent to the space has seating in nice weather and is available for short vitamin D breaks. McDonald’s also offers a gymnasium for fitness classes. In summer months, yoga classes are conducted on the terrace.

    Denise Faris, Chicago Farmers Editor

    Martin family builds on its stewardship of the land

    Chicago Farmers Member and past president Jeff Martin has long been an advocate of planting techniques that contribute to soil health. His sons, Derek and Doug, are following suit. This excerpt from a recent article posted on the AgWeb, which was written by Chris Bennett, Farm Journal Technology and Issues editor, gives one an idea of Derek Martin’s and his family’s commitment to sustainability, decreased erosion, healthy soil, and increased yields.

    Derek Martin steps off a tractor and walks across rich, black soil teeming with life. He moves out of the field and passes between machine shed doors, pulls up a stool beside a vat filled with a biological brew, and peers into the lens tube of a microscope. With the conviction of a soil health evangelist, Martin, alongside his brother, Doug, and father, Jeff, has transformed a 6,000-acre operation from an input-guzzling leviathan to a profit-per-acre force: “Over the last 100 years our soils have been fed a strict, constant diet of NPK. That’s like a human eating a Big Mac over and over and expecting to be healthy.”

    To learn more, go to https://www.agweb.com/article/illinois-farmer-paves-road-to-profit-with-soil-health/

    Denise Faris, Chicago Farmers Editor

    Financial panelists share their expertise on land ownership with TCF audience

    Roger Clark, senior vice president, Real Estate Division at Northern Trust, and Mary Jane Rozypal, senior vice president, Specialty Asset Regional Manager- Farm and Ranch Services, at Bank of America, N.A., have some 60 years of experience between them and they have gleaned a lot of knowledge in their dealings with land investors. The two shared their thoughts during a panel discussion with Mark Thorndyke, Chicago Farmers president, who served as moderator, at the February 11th meeting.

    Following is an overview of the discussion with Mark posing questions and Mary Jane and Roger responding:

    Mark: Why would one consider farmland as an investment?

    Roger: It offers good long-term appreciation. Farmland is an easy, simplified asset versus an apartment building or shopping center where such things as roofs and heating and air conditioning systems are concerns.

    Mary Jane: We have clients who are pure investors who are seeking a good, solid investment that brings diversity to their portfolio. Farmland has a good return. Investors use it to reduce volatility and hedge against inflation. There also are accounts that have been held a long time, “heartstring” or “legacy” assets. After a number of years, the landowner realizes that the property has increased in appreciation a great deal.

    Mark: What should a client consider when investing in farmland?

    Roger: I focus on the client’s overall need and what the personal family structure is. I have a number of successful clients who are seeking second, third and fourth generation investments for the long-term. The farmland ties up the money for the younger generation and still keeps working for them.

    Mary Jane: Purchases of farms should be considered long-term investments, at least a 10 year hold. The client has to understand that there are ups and downs in cash flow; it will follow the commodities market. Farmland is never worthless; there always is someone who will lease the land. People who want really big returns and no risk are not the right purchasers.

    Mark: Over the years, what changes have you seen in farms?

    Roger: Change is in all forms and it is fast. Farming is more complicated today and more sophisticated. These are not negatives, just factors. I am amazed at the level of financial and technical sophistication that the operators have today over those of 40 years ago.

    Mary Jane: I agree that the change in technology has been amazing. It has supported the collection of tremendous amounts of data that make farming more efficient and more productive.

    I am not seeing farmers buying as much farmland as they did in the past. They are more likely to lease land. Farmers can’t afford to buy a lot of land and still have money for equipment.

    Regarding ranches, the value of the ranchland has outpaced its productivity. Legacy ranchers are still doing the traditional things, but they are diversifying. They are using wind and solar where it is feasible. Many of the people are learning that a lot of money can be generated from having a hunting license for their property. Instead of doing things like the older generation, they are embracing ways to turn the ranch into a modern business.

    Mark: What are the biggest concerns that farm investors have today?

    Roger: They are concerned about unpredictability and government influence. In the 1980s, the Russian grain embargo played havoc with farms for years. Last summer, the China and soybean situation impacted farmers. If an event is on your radar, you can plan for it. Surprises are the biggest obstacles. They tend to be out of your control and have a significant impact on the operation.

    Mary Jane: The trade wars are a concern, but I believe the government will do what it can to resolve the situation. On the positive side, I think that farmers are getting more adept at dealing with their lenders. Also, technology is on the side of the farmers. They have to be able to produce more yields, get more off of less and less land. The world depends on the American farmer.

    Roger: I see more people trying to manage their risk portfolio by not being highly leveraged. You can weather a year or two of uncertainty when you are not highly leveraged.

    Mary Jane: The percentage of leveraged farmland is at a historic low. The age of the farmer is at a historic high. In instances where there is no family to take over the farm, farmers have taken a young person, often with a college degree in agriculture, under their wing, then turned the operation over to them when the farmer is ready to retire. This enables young farmers an opportunity to build a successful farming operation.

    Mark: What have you seen in succession planning?

    Roger: Some people use a trust instrument, but many use LLCs as ownership vehicles because they can put rules and formulas in the operating agreement and a plan for being bought out of the farm. When it is written into the LLC, it is easier to get out of the farmland and the angst and emotion are removed. One does not have to start a conversation about succession because it is detailed in the LLC.

    Mary Jane: Many people have gone away from trusts and have moved to LLCs, which can be a good choice if there are competent people to run them. A trust can hold shares of the LLC, so keep this in mind as well. If there is family drama, consider the worst things that can happen and plan for that. Be honest with your advisor and inform them of potential challenges.

    Roger: Have conversations with family members about the plans for succession and have a good advisor.

    Mark: When hiring a farm manager, what questions should be asked?

    Roger: Hiring a farm manager is like a job interview. Learn what the person’s track record is, their history, and ask about other properties they have taken care of. Ask questions; it’s your life and your assets.

    Mary Jane: Institutions like Northern Trust and Bank of America operate under a fiduciary platform. We have high standards that we have to abide by. We have to look out for your best interests whether managing assets as trustee or an agent. The people involved in financial institutions like ours have Ag backgrounds and experience and education in agriculture. When an asset manager leaves, we have someone that can step in and manage your asset, not always the case with a smaller farm asset management company. Consider the safety of the asset when selecting a farm manager.

    Roger C. Clark
    Senior Vice President | Real Estate Advisory Services | Wealth Management
    Northern Trust
    50 South LaSalle Street, M-7, Chicago, Illinois 60603 USA
    (312) 444-3353 | rc28@ntrs.com
    Mary Jane Rozypal
    Senior Vice President | Specialty Asset Regional Manager – Farm & Ranch | Investment Solutions Group
    Bank of America | Global Wealth & Investment Management 
    TX4-213-06-16, 700 Louisiana St., 6th Floor, Houston, TX 77002
    (713) 247-7504 | mary.rozypal@bankofamerica.com

     

    Colleen Callahan named director of natural resources

    Colleen Callahan, Chicago Farmers’ member and past TCF president, was named director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources by Governor J.B. Pritzker. Callahan was president of The Chicago Farmers from 2008-2010. 

    “I appreciate the opportunity to work again in public service.  It’s exciting to be a part of working together to help bring change to people and places,” said Callahan.

    According to the PrairieFarmer website, Callahan spent 32 years as a Peoria-area farm broadcaster and served as Illinois director of Rural Development during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2016. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is staffed by more than 1,000 people, and it oversees 35,000 acres of DNR-owned farmland. DNR is responsible for state parks, fishing and game law enforcement, coal mine regulations and research into soil, water and minerals.

    The PrairieFarmer also noted that Callahan co-chaired Pritzker’s Agricultural and Rural Development transition team with John Sullivan, who was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

    Callahan told the PrairieFarmer that when she returned a recent phone call from the governor he answered right away and said, “You called me governor. I’d like to call you Madam Secretary. I’d like to ask you to lead our Department of Natural Resources.” Callahan said, “I accepted.”

    The PrairieFarmer website went on to say that Callahan said her first mission on the job will be to ask questions and learn all she can about a department that has, much like the Agriculture Department, been underfunded and suffered a loss of employees. 

    According to Callahan’s website, she grew up on a purebred Hampshire hog, Angus cattle and grain farm near Milford, Illinois. While attending Milford High School she took agricultural classes, but was not permitted to be a member of the National FFA Organization because women were not admitted into FFA until after her high school graduation. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications from the University of Illinois, Colleen became the first woman Agribusiness Director for WMBD Radio and TV in Peoria. After 30 years there, Colleen started her own communications firm. She continued farm broadcasting at WGFA Radio in Watseka, IL, until April, 2010.

    JJC students receive Chicago Farmers’ scholarships

     

    Three Joliet Junior College students were among the recipients of Chicago Farmers’ scholarships. They include Scott Cleland, Samantha Fleming, and Kylie Eike

    Scott shared in a thank you note to TCF, “Thank you for honoring me with a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. I am very thankful for these funds as they will help me further my education at Joliet Junior College. I am currently majoring in Agriculture Business and have a strong interest in agricultural equipment sales. I hope to use the scholarship money to learn more about this sector of business and secure a full-time career in agricultural equipment sales.”

    Scott continued, “This past summer I served as an intern with a local agricultural sales and service company where I learned an enormous amount about the world of agriculture business. I am looking forward to the school year ahead. Thanks again for your generous support.”

    When Samantha completes her studies at JJC with a degree in Agriculture Business, she plans to attend Illinois State University where she will pursue a double major in Ag Business and Animal Industry Management.

    Following graduation from ISU, Samantha would like to go into animal nutrition and feeds. “Creating rations and feedstuffs for different species and livestock raisers is what I would love to see myself doing in the future as a career,” Samantha wrote in a note to TCF.

    While in high school, Samantha was very involved in FFA and sports. She served as the FFA vice president for two years as well as the Plot Manager. She also headed the committee for the school’s farm.

    At JJC, Samantha is involved in the ag department as the Brad Angus' student worker and is active in SAA. She has been involved in 4-H for over 11 years, and has shown livestock during that time. Additionally, she is member of the Illinois Beef Association, National Junior Hereford Association, and DeKalb Kane Cattlemen’s Association.  

     Kylie is working toward an Associate Arts degree. She plans to transfer to Illinois State University to major in Agriculture Communications and Leadership following completion of her Associate Arts degree at JJC.

    Kylie has not settled on a career following graduation from ISU, but she has made researching job possibilities and working in internships that apply to her major top priorities.

    As a high school student, Kylie was involved in many activities and held officer positions in each of them. Her main activities included FFA, 4H, band, drama, cheerleading, and track, but she also was a part of Student Council and National Honor Society. Kylie was involved in community service projects with Feed My Starving Children, food drives, blood drives, and clean-up committees at various fairs. At JJC, she is part of the Student Ag Association, which serves as host of events for local FFA chapters and other organizations.

    Wisconsin student receives TCF scholarship

    Melissa Losby, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a recipient of a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. She is studying Animal Sciences and Environmental Studies at the university.

    Melissa grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, with a great love for anything animal-related. She wrote in a thank you note to TCF, “I grew up with my mother, father, and cat. Although I was raised in the city, I have always had a passion for animals and an interest in agriculture. My mother grew up on a small dairy family farm in northeastern Wisconsin and spending time at the farm was a highlight of my childhood. I am so excited to be continuing my studies at UW-Madison and I cannot thank you enough for your support.”

    She said she grew up riding horses on her grandparents’ farm.  When she became 14-years-old, Melissa began working at a summer camp where she taught children how to work with and ride horses. She soon realized that she loved sharing her knowledge and teaching both children and adults.

    Melissa said that she was overjoyed when she was accepted into UW-Madison and quickly declared her major to be Animal Sciences. She noted the decision was simple because Animal Sciences allowed her to incorporate her passion for animals with a desire to learn more about agriculture. In the middle of her first year, she declared Environmental Studies as a second major. “This decision stemmed from my interest in sustainability in agriculture,” she wrote.

    “Overall, I chose to major in Animal Sciences and Environmental Studies for the chance to learn as much about agriculture as I can. With these degrees, I hope to share my knowledge with the community and use what I have learned to help educate others,” Melissa wrote.

    She said she has gained much knowledge about agriculture and is learning more every day. Melissa plans to graduate in May 2020 and is looking forward to her final semesters on campus. After graduation, Melissa hopes to find a career that incorporates agriculture and animals with outreach and teaching within the community.

    Melissa said she has been very fortunate at the University of Wisconsin to experience everything from hands-on involvement with livestock to off-campus trips. One of her favorite classes was the Meat Animal Evaluation Team. Being a part of the team exposed her to many aspects of the agriculture industry that she had not previously experienced. Melissa wrote, “We toured feedlots, a harvest facility, and various cattle operations. For me, this class really showed me what opportunities are out there in the agriculture industry. The chances to learn and grow have been numerous since I began studying Animal Sciences and your generosity is paramount to continue my studies.”

    Melissa shared that another important part of her experience at UW-Madison has been through her internship with the school’s Equine 4H Extension Specialist and through its Saddle and Sirloin Club. Through these activities she said she has further broadened the extent of her understanding of the industries involved in agriculture.

    Melissa noted, “Since I hope to share the knowledge I have learned with others in the future, working with UW Extension and the Saddle and Sirloin club has been so beneficial. I have helped put together 4H activities, helped put on livestock shows, and learned more about the university’s involvement in the community. I would like to articulate how much your support impacts me and my studies. This scholarship opportunity allows me to place a larger focus on my classes, clubs, and internship without such a financial burden. Receiving the Chicago Farmers scholarship has emboldened me to delve into my studies and gain as much knowledge as possible in my final years at UW-Madison. Again, your generosity and support mean so much to me and I would like to thank you immensely for this amazing opportunity.”

    Founder of Tillable talks about technology that helps the landowner

    Technology is becoming an important part of farming and is moving forward at a rapid pace; however, its functions are not taking into account the needs of the landowner, according to Corbett Kull, the guest speaker at the January 14th meeting of The Chicago Farmers and the founder and CEO of Tillable, an ag tech company that is designed to help landowners become wiser about their holdings.

    “Tillable’s goal is to help the landowner become better at what he is doing,” said Kull, who also is a founder and a principle of 640 Labs, a Chicago-based technology company (acquired by The Climate Corporation in 2014) that collects, stores, and visualizes agricultural data to help growers improve their operations. “Tillable is able to guide the landowner through several considerations that will strengthen a landowner’s position.”

    Kull said a landowner must:

    • Pick the best grower for your farm
    • Establish a fair rent
    • Sign a lease, do not conduct business with a verbal agreement
    • Ensure you are paid on time
    • Acquire data about the farm, such as yield maps and the fertilizing schedule (Tillable works to get this data in an easy manner and provides it to the landowner)
    • Reduce “headaches” associated with managing farmland investments

    Kull said that agriculture is changing, but the tools that can help landowners have not kept pace with the times as they have for growers. He noted that there have been tremendous productivity gains in farming--outputs are up by 107 percent during the last several years and yields on corn and soybeans are up. Kull also shared that the amount of land being farmed today is down from previous generations. Much of the best land is taken out of production due to subdivisions, he said.

    “As we move forward, the greatest gains in agriculture will be due to automation,” said Kull. “There is more professionalism in farming. The young people who are coming out of college have more tools and capabilities at their disposal than their grandparents did.”

    Kull commented on the development of autonomous tractors and showed a brief video of the tractors in action on a farm in Iowa. While not in widespread use now, the tractors will be in the near future and landowners will then have more options available to them. “In the future, there will be less labor and more data; landowners need to be more sophisticated. Landowners have to know what their land is worth and Tillable is making sure that landowners know that worth,” he said.

    Major problems facing landowners are how to connect with effective and efficient growers and how to set the rent. Tillable works to bring the landowner and the grower together and provides the data necessary to set a fair market rent.

    Through accumulation of data, Tillable is able to make a landowner aware of the worth of the farm. At the same time, it works to ensure the landowner gets the most qualified grower for the farm. Kull said Tillable gives the landowner access to information about a potential grower that indicates if the grower will be a good steward of the land based on past performance.

    Kull stressed the importance of obtaining several growers’ offers and setting up electronic payment schedules. He said that landowners who have worked with Tillable have received more offers from growers and have increased rent proceeds by 35 percent. “Think of Tillable as Airbnb plus Zillow plus a farm manager on a digital platform,” related Kull.

    Currently, Tillable’s client base includes 500 landowners and 4500 growers. It operates across 10 states. Kull said that Tillable receives a two percent fee from both the landowner and the grower on a transaction. He said there is no obligation for a landowner to change their grower, but Tillable provides access to a wider network of area farmers.

    Kull said that Tillable collects data from leases and taxing bodies and creates a report that is available to landowners. It also obtains prior yield data, soil test results, and proof of fertilizing that is available to the grower. A grower creates a profile that contains his farming practices, references, and banking references.

    “Typically, the leases are for one year so there is flexibility for the landowner and the grower,” said Kull. “At times, rent rates need to be raised or decreased. The important question to ask yourself is, ‘does my farm meet my expectations?’ Tillable is designed to give you the answer.”

    JJC student receives TCF scholarship

    Scott Cleland, a student at Joliet Junior College, recently received a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship.

    Scott shared in a thank you note to TCF, “Thank you for honoring me with a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. I am very thankful for these funds as they will help me further my education at Joliet Junior College. I am currently majoring in Agriculture Business and have a strong interest in agricultural equipment sales. I hope to use the money to learn more about this sector of business and secure a full-time career in agricultural equipment sales.”

    Scott continued, “This past summer I served as an intern with a local agricultural sales and service company where I learned an enormous amount about the world of agriculture business.

    “I am looking forward to the school year ahead. Thanks again for your generous support.”

    Illini student receives TCF scholarship

    Ethan Plote, a junior in the College of ACES at the University of Illinois, is a recent recipient of a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. A native of Leland, Illinois, Ethan is majoring in Technical Systems Management and Agricultural and Consumer Economics – Farm Management.

    In a note to Chicago Farmers, Ethan wrote, “The College of ACES was my school of choice because I wanted to learn more about both agricultural business and technology. However, being a third generation Illini might have helped play a role in choosing ACES, as well. One of my favorite things about the college is the family atmosphere and the ease of accessibility I have with my advisors and professors. On campus, I am involved in Alpha Zeta, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and Cru. In each of these organizations, I hold or have held leadership positions.”

    Ethan continued, “With my double major, I feel I will be amply prepared for being involved on my family's farm after college. For the summer of 2019, I have accepted an internship with CNH Industrial, and I am looking forward to working in its capital division. The Chicago Farmers’ scholarship means a lot to me because this year I was able to participate in the International Business Immersion Program in Brazil. Through this program I was able to learn about and experience many aspects of Brazilian agriculture. The Chicago Farmers’ scholarship has helped to support me and I cannot thank the organization enough for its generosity.”

    Former secretary of agriculture is keynote speaker at Chicago Farmers’ December meeting

    Tom Vilsack, who served as secretary of agriculture from 2009-2017, stressed the importance of the combined industries of agriculture and food in today’s economy during remarks he made at the Chicago Farmers’ December 10 meeting at the Union League Club of Chicago,

    “It is very important to reeducate the public about agriculture’s and food’s contributions to the United States economy,” said Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. “The two really comprise one industry; an industry that employs 43 million Americans or 28 percent of the workforce, has a $6.7 trillion impact on the American economy, and enjoys a trade surplus with other countries. In short, it is a really important industry.”

    He pointed out that the strength and productivity of the agriculture and food industry ensure that the United States is capable of feeding itself. “All the nations that are causing us problems don’t have the security of being able to feed themselves; they rely on others. We are a more secure nation thanks to farmers and ranchers,” remarked Vilsack.

    Vilsack pointed out that many of the troubled countries around the world don’t have a functioning agriculture industry. As a result, those countries have a lot of hungry and unemployed people.

    He noted that the agriculture and food industry has a keen understanding of the significance of trade: 20 percent of all agricultural products in the United State is exported. The exports include 50 percent of soybeans, 40 percent of wheat, 21 percent of corn and pork, and 16.3 percent of dairy.

    Vilsack shared that the dairy industry’s experience is instructive and reflective of trends regarding trade. He said that the American dairy is the best in the world and the most productive.

    “In 1950, the average cow in the United State produced 5,500 pounds of milk. Today, it produces 23,000 pounds,” he said. “The reason for the increase is due to more efficient farmers who are more technically savvy and have a keener understanding of a cow’s digestive system. Additionally, cows are equipped with fitbits that are providing important data.”

    While productivity has increased, consumption has not. Vilsack said that there are more alternatives available, such as energy drinks and carbonated and caffeinated beverages. As a result, not as much milk is being consumed as is being produced. Additional challenges are the “alternative” milk products that do not have the nutritional value of natural vitamins that milk has, but still use the name milk.

    This lower consumption in the United States makes exporting a key factor in the viability of the dairy industry. However, it also has its challenges:

    • United States has a strong dollar
    • There is an oversupply of dairy in Europe
    • The European dairy industry is heavily subsidized by the government

    However, noted Vilsack, while the European dairy farmer has years of experience, he does not have the natural resources that the United States farmer has. The European farmer is more constrained geographically than we are and knows that at some point he will be unable to compete with the United States, said Vilsack. To combat this, the Europeans put protections in place that prohibit use of identifications of certain cheeses, for example, that are made in the United States and not in Europe.

    Trade policies also are a hindrance. Vilsack related that the United States buys more from China than it buys from us. Additionally, China puts a number of conditions in place for trade to take place. “For example, the Chinese want the technology that comes with the production of many items, but they are unwilling to let us know the identity with whom they might share that technology. The administration has a point to ask China to change its policy, but, I believe, it will be a long and protracted discussion,” said Vilsack. “It is hard for a country to acknowledge that it has to change its way of doing business.”

    Vilsack said that another trade problem is that the United States also enters into trade discussions by itself and does not encourage others to join it when it is renegotiating trade agreements.

    Also, the thought that the United States could “out-tariff” China is a mistake. “China owns a portion of our debt and can use that to possibly impact interest rates,” Vilsack said.

    Regarding the exporting of United States soybeans to China, Vilsack said that China knows it is over-reliant on one supplier, so now it is turning to South America, despite the fact that our soybeans are superior. China also is asking its livestock industry to look at other kinds of animal feed and it is turning to Russia for support.

    But there is good news. The United States has a story of innovation that will encourage domestic consumption and increase exports; it is not constrained by natural resources; and its cheeses are winning international competitions.

    “We also have a new and emerging opportunity for sustainability; there is a product in development that will reduce the emission of methane from cows,” Vilsack said.

    Vilsack noted that the United States’ regulatory system is not keeping pace with change. “The government has to understand that it needs to keep pace with change and not just be reactive,” said Vilsack. “We over-test and over-examine things. We make the process slow. We have to have systems in place that will let us test, but get the product to market sooner.”

    Vilsack suggested that responsible marketing has to be encouraged and consumers have to be educated to be more skeptical of claims. Additionally, better branding has to be in place in the export markets and alliances have to be promoted with organizations in other countries so that the United States is aware of the tastes of foreign consumers. For example, the dairy industry is producing lactose free milk for Asians and adjusting the taste. “We’ve learned there is not just one way of doing something. We have to adjust to other countries’ tastes. The dairy industry is partnering with universities in other countries to help us with this,” Vilsack shared.

    What’s in store for agricultural markets

    Tariffs, threatening trade wars, droughts, and global politics are affecting our agricultural markets. Steve Freed, vice president of Grain Research for ADM Investor Services, was the guest speaker at The Chicago Farmers’ November 12 meeting and he shared his opinion on what the future holds for agriculture.

    Factors affecting prices, according to Freed:

    • Weather, the 2018 droughts in Argentina, Brazil, Europe, and former Soviet Union created a premium in pricing.
    • macro-economic conditions such as tariffs, which began taking the premium out of the market place.
    • effects on the Chinese economy are causing volatility in the stock market.
    • algorithm trading (90 percent of trading is done with algorithm trading).
    • balance of payments and trade deficit; the United States exported a lot of production to
      China in the 1980s and today the U.S. does not have the labor or the ability to replace it. China has to buy $200 billion worth of goods from the U.S. to balance trade.

    Freed noted that the global demand for grain increases each year and grain production increases to meet this demand. In November, the price of wheat was $5, corn was at $3.60, and soybeans were at $8.60. “Regionally, farmers should use these prices,” said Freed.

    He noted that the Chinese will continue to consume grain at a record pace. At the same time, world wheat and corn stocks are at a record high.

    Freed said that the world is eating more meat, which means there is a need for more protein, such as soybean meal, to feed that situation. Additionally, wheat production is growing.

    “The bad news is that the United States is losing its share of the corn and soybean markets and this will continue into 2019,” said Freed.

    He said that it is forecast that Argentina and Brazil will bounce back to record production in 2019. Brazil already has planted soybean crops that could be ready to ship in January. “It is possible that we might be able to sell soybeans to China in January if there is a resolution to the trade problem,” said Freed.

    Freed noted that with the drop in soybean prices, it is expected that farmers will switch to corn. It is anticipated that 93 million acres will be devoted to corn in the United States versus the current 89 million acres.

    He went on to say that he did not think there would be a deal between the United States and China at the G20 meeting on November 30; however, if there is, beans could be at $9.00, if not $7.75.

    Russia has taken over the wheat market and has produced 80 million tons of wheat. Freed noted that agriculture is 17 percent of the Russian GDP. In the United States it is less than two percent. “The Russian’s goal is to increase its wheat production to 100 million tons. If they do, we don’t need to produce as much,” related Freed.

    He noted that China’s economic growth is slowing. It will try to stimulate its economy, which would happen through a deal with the United States. “The Chinese economy is slowing. China may need a deal in 2019 to help its economy.”

    Regarding soybeans, Brazil ships 77 million tons of soybeans a year and the United States ships 52 million tons. China is the biggest buyer of soybeans in the world and the government is attempting to reduce its need for soybeans by encouraging the Chinese people to eat fish. Last year, the United States shipped 28 million tons of soybeans to China.

    Freed said the market does not forecast an increase in farms’ net income in the United States. Costs are increasing and farmers are not seeing the returns on their yields.

    Freed said the 2030 farm structure will change. “The farmer will have to be a CEO and have a strong grasp of technology to be successful. I think we will see more of a connection between farmers and the companies that will benefit from the farms’ output,” he said.

     “The United States farmer is the best farmer in the world, but Brazil is catching up,” said Freed. “Outside of the United States there is a lot of growth in yield technology and costs are less in other countries.”

    Freed said that growth for agriculture is flat. He noted, “I don’t see substantial growth for at least the next 10 years.”

    Pumpkin patch gives farm a new life

    A mother’s desire to ensure that each of her three sons had pumpkins to carve for Halloween, spawned a pumpkin farm operation that gave new life to a family farm and is still going strong after 30 years.

    “In 1977, when our three sons were young, my wife decided to plant pumpkins in the garden so they would have Halloween pumpkins,” related Chicago Farmers’ October meeting speaker Bruce Condill, of The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur, Illinois.  “The patch did well and increased in size over the years. So much so that the boys set up a farm stand and sold the pumpkins. The proceeds paid for seeds for the next crop. We also invited our boys’ classes from school to visit our working farm, see the pumpkin patch, select a pumpkin to take home, and interact with our animals.”

    In 1988 when a severe drought threatened the Condill family’s corn, soybean, and alfalfa crops, those pumpkins sparked an idea to sustain the family farm, which had been in the McDonald family (Bruce’s wife’s family) for five generations. Mrs. Condill’s family migrated from Virginia to Arthur, Illinois, in 1859. “We were struggling in 1988 with the cash crops,” said Bruce.

    “My wife suggested that we expand the pumpkin patch with a variety of displays and mazes and open our farm to the general public,” said Bruce.  “It was a great idea. I don’t think we would have made it without The Great Pumpkin Patch.”

    Today, The Great Pumpkin Patch, which sits in the middle of Amish country, welcomes more than 60,000 people during the harvest season, which runs from September 10 through October 31.The farm is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It grows 300 varieties of pumpkins, squash, and gourds on 63 of the farm’s 200 acres.

    “We have three missions: the Homestead Bakery, the Great Pumpkin Patch, and Homestead Seeds,” said Bruce. “Amish bakers produce the baked goods for the bakery. Our son, Mac, is in charge of Homestead Seeds.   Our goal is to encourage the ordinary farmer to grow more gourds, pumpkins, and squash. Mac and his wife, Ginny, also own and manage The Homestead Bakery and The Great Pumpkin Patch.”

    He went on to say that the farm provides a safe place for people to experience the harvest season and get connected to the land and each other.  “We want them to know where the food they eat begins,” said Bruce.

    Squash, gourds, and pumpkins have a range of maturities from 70 to140 days.  Plantings are intended to be done on May 20, June 10, and June 20.  “This year was wet, which altered the intended planting dates, and was not good for pumpkins, but great for soybeans and corn, which we still raise,” said Bruce. “When the growing season is ended, we disk the remaining pumpkins into the soil and then soybeans are planted the following spring. When the soybeans follow the pumpkin crop, they are three to 12 bushels better per acre than when they follow corn. The pumpkins are a great fertilizer.”

    He noted that Mac is an expert on pumpkins and gourds.  He works with seed companies and sometimes grows experimental seeds.  Mac also works with botanical groups from around the world and with university specialty crop people.  Bruce noted that Mac appeared on the Martha Stewart Show three times to discuss gourds and the many varieties that are available. The Great Pumpkin Patch also was featured in an issue of Martha Stewart’s magazine.

    “The Great Pumpkin Patch has many unique ways of displaying all of the varieties that Mac has introduced to the farm,” said Bruce.  “The Patch boasts a Survivor squash, which came from a Kentucky farmer whose seeds came from a Holocaust survivor, thus its name.  The Patch has African, Asian, European, Australian, New Zealand, and Central and South American gourds, pumpkins, and squash.”

    The heirloom seeds used in the 63 acre pumpkin patch are purchased from commercial and private seed companies and also include seeds raised by Mac in his isolation plots.  These plots are planted at least one-half mile from any source of a cucurbit vine plant.  Bruce said that neighboring farmers allow them to use plots on their land so that seed purity is assured. Seeds are not taken from the large pumpkin patch because of the risk of cross-pollination.

    While the Great Pumpkin Patch is a highlight of the farm, there also are mazes, animals, and a restored one-room 1912 schoolhouse. The school and other attractions bring 4,000 school children on field trips to the farm in October.  In June, the farm sponsors the “Back Forty,” which is a Hob Nob arts and crafts event that features 75 vendors, crafters, and musicians. In the past, the Condills were hosts of “Farm to Fork” dinners that were attended by 100 diners at $80 a plate.

    “It was a five course dinner that included meat from our Amish neighbors’ farms, vegetables that were locally sourced, and wine from a winery,” said Bruce. “It was a wonderful way for people to learn about the source of food. It connected the farmer to the chef and to the people who ate the food.”

    The Great Pumpkin Patch also has been responsible for decorating Country Living fairs throughout the United States with its many gourds and squashes and flowers. The farm also decorated the White House grounds one year for a Halloween party. “It was a great experience,” said Bruce.

    This farm reaches new heights

    Two stories above the intersection of Devon and Glenwood Avenues in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood on the North Side and above first floor Uncommon Ground restaurant sits the first certified organic rooftop farm.

    This unique farm was the site of The Chicago Farmers’ 2018 Summer/Fall Program. The September 22nd date was perfect for a day on this organic farm. Blue skies and moderate temperatures contributed to a fun and educational experience for TCF’s group. Coincidentally, the morning of our visit, the rooftop organic farm had undergone its annual audit by the Midwestern Organic Services Association (MOSA).

    Created by Uncommon Ground restaurant owners Michael and Helen Cameron, the 10-year-old rooftop farm is an extension of the couple’s commitment to care for the environment and to provide their restaurant patrons with chemical-free food that is locally sourced. The rooftop organic farm, built on a floating deck, boasts 150 varieties of 70 crops and has 700 square feet of tillable soil. “It is a productive little area,” said Helen Cameron.

    Before climbing a couple of flights of stairs to the rooftop, we visited the restaurant’s patio area, which is shielded from busy Devon Avenue by a tall wooden fence that serves as a backdrop for planters that surround the patio’s perimeter and are filled with organic herbs and vegetables, all of which make their way into the restaurant’s kitchen. Concord grape vines twist around overhead trellises. The grapes are harvested and are incorporated into cocktails, jellies, and syrups. This fall, Helen said, the menu will offer peanut butter and jelly French toast, which is complemented by grape syrup made from the grapes on site. Red and black currant bushes also grow around the patio. The black currants will be used in the making of Kolsch beer by Uncommon Ground’s Greenstar Organic Brewery that is housed in Wrigleyville with another Uncommon Ground restaurant, said Helen. “We surround our patrons with growing food,” said Helen.

    As we made our way to the staircase, Helen pointed out the hops growing on vines that cover the restaurant’s brick wall. The hops too are organic and are sent to Greenstar. The brewery’s craft beer is available at the restaurants. A quick climb up a couple of flights of stairs took us away from the city sounds and sights to the roof, although a traffic light and the top stories of apartment buildings can be seen beyond the roof and reminds you of your location. Keeping in mind Uncommon Ground’s focus on conservation and care of the environment, Helen pointed out three solar panels that occupy a section of the rooftop and noted that the farm’s deck is made of recycled, reclaimed decking material.

    Helen introduced Allison Glovak-Webb, the city agricultural spot’s farm director. “Allison is in charge of keeping the place beautiful,” said Helen.

    Allison pointed out the garden beds that fill the deck and explained they were 10 feet by four feet with one foot of soil depth. They are watered via a drip irrigation system that comes from below and rests atop the beds, releasing a slow drip of water. Watering of the plants occurs twice a day for 20 minutes in peak season, said Allison. These beds produce about two pounds per square foot of growing area. There also are Earth boxes that are two feet by one foot planters that sit at the ends of each bed. They are watered from below via a water reservoir that is filled by hand from above. The Earth boxes provide about four pounds per square feet of produce.

    Allison went on to say that the planters are amended annually with Purple Cow organic compost. Initially, Happy Frog soil was used to fill the beds, but it is no longer organically approved. Currently, if soil has to be added to the beds, Allison uses Sunshine Advanced #4.

    Plants such as carrots, basil, squash, parsley, peppers, leeks, and edible flowers fill the densely packed beds and vines of beans grow on rope trellises that run along the length of the beds. The rooftop farm and the downstairs patio produce about 1,500 pounds of produce per year, said Helen. In the peak season, the two growing areas produce 10-20 percent of the restaurant’s produce. Annually, they produce two to three percent. Local suppliers supplement the restaurant’s other needs. Grassfed beef, pork, and chicken are sourced from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

    “No one else was doing this when we started the rooftop farm so there was not a prototype,” Helen said. “We developed a system that works. We need to be sure that it is a cost effective venture and we want to be an example. It was important to determine how to do this without chemicals. We figured out the puzzle to make it work and we hired a great farm director, Allison. We selected the crops we like the best and that add a lot of value. We are able to manage the cost of input and the labor. We also have an organic garden on a smaller scale at our Wrigleyville site.”

    Helen’s one regret is that they are not able to compost the debris from the farm because they are in the city and composting is not allowed. The debris is hauled away, but it is costly to have it returned as compost to Uncommon Ground.

    Allison noted that all of the plants are grown from seed; some are planted directly into the planters and others are started in a grow room in the restaurant’s basement. “Most of our summer crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, are started downstairs,” said Allison. “We source our seeds from several catalogues. Among all these catalogues we have more than 3,000 varieties of tomatoes from which to choose. As a result, our organic farm has a large variety of tomatoes.”

    Allison said that she is able to harvest winter vegetables into the first week of December, weather permitting. When the rooftop plants are finished for the winter, Allison said that hairy vetch is used as a cover crop because it pulls nitrogen from the air and deposits it into the soil. It is a vining plant that helps to hold the soil in the beds. In the spring the vetch is chopped up and turned over into the soil.

    Helen noted that Allison has interns who work with her during the summer on the rooftop and patio crops. At the end of their time at Uncommon Ground they complete a summer project. “The young people are learning about growing and harvesting,” said Helen. “We are growing people who can grow food.”

    We ended our visit with a sampling of appetizers available at the restaurant. It was the perfect ending to our day on the rooftop farm.

    How tariffs are affecting agriculture

    Dr. Gary Schnitkey, the speaker at the Chicago Farmers’ September 10th meeting, opened his presentation with positive news for a large audience: 2018 will be a good year; yields will be high and incomes will be higher, too. Dr. Schnitkey, professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, has opened a number of the Chicago Farmers’ new seasons with presentations on trends in agriculture. These meetings always draw a large attendance and this September meeting was no exception.

    While Dr. Schnitkey led off with good news about 2018, he said that 2019 probably would not fare as well due to the tariff proposals. “Next year is a year of concern because people are uncertain about what the trade dispute will do to prices,” said Dr. Schnitkey. “If you are a landowner, you will have to have tougher discussions with your renters.”

    Dr. Schnitkey said that in 2018, corn fetched $4.00 a bushel and soybeans fetched $9.50 a bushel, “Prices fell after May due to the trade discussions so don’t budget these prices for 2019,” he said. “We are predicting corn could be at $3.50 per bushel and soybeans could be $9 per bushel. The trade dispute has dashed people’s hopes for higher prices. Until there is more clarity or a resolution to the trade dispute, these are the prices that we project to be in place.”

    Soybeans have been at the $9.75 level since 2014, but trade discussions began in May and prices dipped. Dr. Schnitkey related that on Friday, September 7, the bushel price for soybeans in Decatur was $7.94. “We can expect a range between $7.94 and $8.20 for soybeans and just below $4 for corn throughout the harvest period. I suggest you build your expectations at these prices for next year.”

    Dr. Schnitkey pointed out that there would have been price declines even without the trade issue due to high yields, but the trade talks have taken another $0.80 to $0.90 off the price of soybeans.

    Additionally, corn prices are expected to fall going into 2019. Corn will look more profitable than soybeans and, as a result, farmers are switching from soybean crops to corn crops, which will depress corn prices. Dr. Schnitkey noted that western states are switching to wheat from soybeans. “The downward trend of soybeans will affect other crops. The trade dispute will have a long-term impact on prices just by being there,” he said.

    In discussing yields, Dr. Schnitkey said that since 2014 soybeans and corn have produced above average amounts in Illinois. “A plateau was created, but that does not mean that those yields will always be there.”

    Regarding cash rents, Dr. Schnitkey said that reports prior to the trade discussions indicated that 2018 cash rents experienced about a $5 increase. “Where it goes in 2019 is a big question,” he said. “Land values are holding relatively well and major declines are not projected. They are not making any more farmland and that is a motive to hold assets; however, we could see declines if the trade dispute continues. Landowners might want to consider using flexible or variable cash rents going forward.”

    In response to an audience member’s question about lenders’ attitudes during this period, Dr. Schnitkey said that lenders have watched working capital decline on farms and it is possible they will become more proactive. He said lenders want to see a positive cash flow. “If a farmer has carry-over debt, the lender expects that farmer to sell assets to wipe out the debt.”

    2018 Study Tour Provides an Enjoyable Education on Norway

    By Jim and Jeff Ward

    Our group of 31, the largest study group in Chicago Farmers’ touring history, arrived in Oslo, Norway, on June 10th and began a busy week of gaining an appreciation of a nation filled with a variety of terrain and crops. Our first day after the overnight flight was spent on a tour of the city and arriving at our hotel, which had a ski jump on its spacious grounds.

    Oslo, the capital city, occupies an arc of land at the end of the “Oslo Fjord,” has 670,000 residents, and has access to visiting cruise ships from all over the world. The king has his own private farm located within the city limits.

    On day two, we embarked on a Monday morning tour that took us to the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum. The Museum provided a walking tour of typical historic dwellings and a stave-church. A special exhibit of Norwegian knitted mittens delighted my (Jim) granddaughter, Caryn Lantz.

    Our Oslo Hotel Viking Ship Caryn and Mitten Exhibit


    The group’s bus traveled along Mjosa Lake, the largest lake in Norway, to the Hoel  farm near the small town of Nes for lunch and a tour. Relics indicate the farm’s lakeside land has been cultivated since 300 AD.  After being operated by the church, it has been privately owned since 1679.  It now raises 200,000 chickens each year. Of interest is that 98 percent of the feed is locally produced and potatoes are processed for the protein component; no antibiotics are used.

    Our host gave us an overview of farming in Norway.  Only three percent of all land is deemed agricultural.  The largest grain crops are barley, rye, and oats.  These are used to supplement potatoes and hay for feeding livestock. Farmers also use mini-round bales (three feet by three feet) for the many small hay fields.  They weigh about 70-90 pounds and are “unfurled” for feeding.  Smaller utility tractors (20 horsepower or less) can be used for baling on the steep terrain and between rows of other plantings such as apple trees.  Plastic wraps prevent spoilage and eliminate need for storage barns.   In Norway, the number of larger farms has increased, just as it has in the US.  However, the average size of a farm in Norway is 124 acres of arable land.  Norway has a complex system of subsidized pricing of grain and poultry through the Ministry of Agriculture. Norway is not in the EU; it is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) since it was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

    Host Explaining His Farming Operation Chicken Barn Barn Exterior


    The group arrived in Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics, for the night.  We heard of the economic impact that the games provided to Norway as a country and the local area.  The village of 30,000 was packed during the ’94 event and likely resembled the impact on Lake Placid, New York, during the 1980 Olympics.  A number of the facilities have been repurposed for community and educational purposes.

    We started our third day with a visit to the ski jumping hills that can now be used year-round due to artificial snow surface. The next stop was the nearby Mailhaugen Farm Museum. Guides described farming practices of the 1800s and early 1900s, and our group toured buildings and saw equipment used for irrigation, threshing, grain storage and livestock.

    Olympic Ski Jumping Hill at Lillehammer Sod Roofed Barn at Mailhaugen Farm Museum  Mailhaugen Farm Museum 


    The bus then lumbered up a mountain road to the Brimi Soeter farm near Randen for lunch and fiddle music. The farm, located on a high mountain plateau, had livestock that included pigs, cattle, and turkeys.  The farmhouse’s basement also served as a cheese curing location.

    Mountain Farm Grazing Slope Cheese Storage


    The day ended with a short ride to the town of Lom and the Fossheim Hotel.  Besides the nearby Jotunheimen National Park, the small town is noted for one of the largest remaining stave churches. 

    Stave Church at Lom Skiers at the Top of the Mountain Pass Waterfall Seen on Flam Train Ride


    During our fourth day, bus driver Jon Janson demonstrated his skills on the morning drive from Lom to the highest mountain range in central Norway on a road that is normally closed from November to May due to snow.  A brief stop at the top of the mountain pass allowed the group to see the still snow-covered peaks with cross country skiers venturing out onto trails between lakes.

    The bus traveled on a historic western route towards the Hardanger fjord with one ferry crossing to arrive at Flam.  The afternoon was spent on the Flamsbanen train ride up to Myrdal and back again with a stop at its famous waterfall.  The group spent the night at the classic Brakanes Hotel located on the banks of the Hardanger fjord in Ulvik.

    On the fifth day, we traveled from Ulvik farther up the Hardanger fjord to a (salmon) fish farm.  Following a salmon lunch, the group heard about the fish farming industry, which is a more modern Norwegian export to supplement the historic “fish stock” (dried cod) product from the northwestern coast in the North Sea.  The Hardanger Akvasenter fish farm has two tanks, each with 5,000 fish.  They take 14-22 months to grow to a mature weight of 5.5 kg (12 pounds).  Norway has responded to potential criticism of aquaculture practice and since the 1990s regulates the amount of fish-space in pens as well as organic vegetable and non-antibiotic feed. 

    The afternoon was spent at the Hardanger Juice and Cider Factory.  The owner explained the processes of making must (freshly crushed apple including “pulp” with its cloudy appearance), various types of cider, and apple brandy.  The orchard uses four varieties of apples (Gravenstein, Summer Red, Aroma, and Discovery) and plants trees using the “espalier” technique for growing on wire trellises on the steep sides of the fjord.   We viewed his mechanized processing equipment and saw the cold room, distillery, and storage of aging barrels.

    View of Hardangerfjord from Ulvik Hotel Fish Tanks and Support Building Apple Orchards


    The bus traveled west on our sixth day past the major city of Voss, which was heavily involved during WWII, towards Norway’s second largest city of Bergen.  Near Bergen, the group stopped at the Dale woolen knitwear factory for a tour and shopping. It was established in the town of Dale in 1879 with access to both local Norwegian sheep and hydroelectric power.  They have been the producer of active wear for Norwegian winter Olympians.

    Cider Processor Aging Barrel Storage Antique Wool Scale


    After checking into the Thon Hotel in Bergen, the group had lunch (fish soup, reindeer “burgers” and waffles) at the Bryggeloffet & Stuene restaurant. Presentations were made to our guide, Nils, and our driver,  Jon. Having been both a travel agent and a farmer, Nils was perfectly qualified to help us understand his country. Jon has relatives in Wisconsin and wore his Green Bay Packers tie that he picked up on one of several visits to the US.

    Nils led a walking tour of the Bergen city center and harbor, including the fish market and historic fish stock export center.  The walking tour then wandered through residential areas and city center parks.  Of note was the beginning of the Edvard Grieg Festival with many musical events to celebrate their hometown composer’s 175th birthday.

    Our Guide Nils Statue of Edvard Grieg, Famous Norwegian Composer Bergen City Markets

     
    Following breakfast and some last-minute shopping on our seventh day, the group journeyed to the new Flesland Airport for departure.   Some of the travelers extended their trip with a week in Iceland prior to returning home, while others visited Denmark and Paris before returning to the US. We were all unanimous in our belief that we had a new appreciation of Norway.

    Is that a bot with my soup?

    It’s been a long week. You’re tired, but you need groceries. Not to worry. No need to leave your abode. Order what you need online, click on delivery and the next thing you know, a bot is at your door with your weekly groceries.

    The bot is not in the picture yet, but Rob Dongoski, Chicago Farmers’ May 14 speaker, said that the bot in this application is not an impossibility. He noted that the United States spends $5 billion a year on ag tech, and the use of robotics in all phases of food production and delivery is not relegated to daydreamers. He said there is a lot of conversation about the use of drones, robots and wearable sensors. Goggles that can produce fields in virtual reality are among ag tech’s newest developments. “I think you will see some application of these goggles in the next four or five years,” said Dongoski.

    Dongoski, Partner and Global Agribusiness Leader at Ernst & Young LLP, said that by 2015, agriculture will have to feed 40% more people, and different kinds of food will be in demand as people in developing countries acquire more money.

    Global markets are alive and well, said Dongoski, and EY is looking at megatrends. He said there are a number of mergers that are quite large, such as the Dow/DuPont $130 billion merger in 2015. “Three of the five largest acquisitions from 2011 to 2015 dealt with food and beverage companies,” Dongoski shared.

    Regarding the future of agriculture, Dongoski said EY is seeing investments shift to the biotech side. Technology is seen as the way to produce more and healthier food in a more efficient manner. This technology also will help agriculture become more productive in areas of the world that do not have a robust agricultural economy. Dongoski noted that by 2100, 7 of the 10 largest cities in the world are projected to be in Africa.

    While more farms are needed, Dongoski related that urbanization is leaving a void on farms. He commented, “Children are not staying on the farms; they don’t want to be in a rural environment.” He noted that because it is difficult to realize profits with small farms, the farms now are getting bigger due to consolidation. He is seeing more farm operations that range from 10,000 to 20,000 acres. Will anyone own 20,000 to 30,000 acre farms? “People who are serious about farming and see it as a profitable business will act to own these large operations,” said Dongoski. He also noted that with the move to larger acreage, the future is moving quickly to autonomous equipment.

    A rapid change also is coming regarding the farmer’s source for advice. “Advice about agronomy is shifting from the local guy to data science,” said Dongoski. “The potential coming down the road is making retailers nervous.”

    An audience member voiced concern about the accuracy of the data that would be available to farmers. Dongoski said there is not a mechanism currently in place that can guarantee the accuracy. “There is a lot of work to do regarding this issue,” he said. “We have to know who owns the data, what is it worth and who wants to consume the data. Security and fraud protection have to be in place.”

    Why I Teach about Food and Agriculture

    Why I Teach about Food and Agriculture
    By Beth Christian

    I grew up on a fifth-generation family farm in Bureau County. My siblings and I learned hard work and collaboration at a young age. My family raised corn and soybeans as well as wheat, oat, rye, and hay, most of which was used to feed our livestock.

    Growing up, my sisters, brother, and I were members of 4-H. 4-H is a nationwide program that offers young people the opportunity to learn through hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship. 4-H members are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles and are given the guidance and mentorship they need to be successful. Even today, 4-H programs are in every county and parish in the country- even Cook County- through in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs and 4-H camps.

    With eager anticipation to put some space and concrete between my farm background and my life, I relocated to Cook County. Despite the distance, my farm background followed me all the way to Oak Park/River Forest.  

    In my classroom, I was an advocate for project learning, inquiry-based discovery, and developing the curriculum-assessment cycle central to the interests of the child. As part of this teaching style, I’d ask parents to join us and serve as our “Project Experts” during our discovery of a topic. Once, a parent joined us for cupcake baking. The parent kindly brought the ingredients and introduced each item to the students. She proudly brought out brown eggs and stated they were brown because they were organic, not bleached, like white eggs. What she didn’t realize was that different breeds of chickens lay different colors of eggs. The chickens being raised used organic growing methods does not change the color of eggs that the chickens lay.

    I quickly realized that there was a considerable amount of mis-information or lack of information that we, as parents and teachers, unknowingly were giving our children. I believe that providing accurate information is my responsibility as a teacher. So many children don’t know where their food comes from and unfortunately, as our population has gotten more urban, many teachers and parents don’t know much about the sources of their food.

    Having grown up on the very same farm that my brother and father still farm, I sought help from the Cook County Farm Bureau’s Agriculture in the Classroom program (AITC). AITC works to ensure that Cook County teachers have the resources to enable them to incorporate agriculture into their existing curriculum and to provide agricultural opportunities for students in Cook County.

    Cook County Farm Bureau® is the county’s largest general farm organization and is dedicated to bridging the gap between farmers and urban consumers. Through education programs targeting youth and their parents and programs designed to connect farmers with potential consumers, Farm Bureau members are actively engaging in conversations about food and the shared values between farmers and consumers.

    Farm Bureau and AITC allowed me to share my love of the farm with students and enabled me to learn more about the care of animals and plants, farmers’ attention to sustainability using technology, and the shared values of farmers and consumers.

    Teaching about agriculture is in everything I teach. I have become a better early childhood, special education, and collegiate professor through the Cook County Farm Bureau.

    Pete Petges is Plowman of the Year

    Pete Petges received the 2018 Plowman of the Year award from outgoing President Barbara Clark during the May 14th annual meeting.

    During The Chicago Farmers’ annual meeting on May 14th, outgoing President Barbara Clark presented TCF Member Pete Petges with the Plowman of the Year award for the important contributions he has made to the group over the years.

    “The Plowman award is given to a member of the Chicago Farmers who has contributed significantly to the organization over time,” related Barbara. “With this in mind, the 2018 award goes to Pete Petges. He served on the board from 2010 until 2016 with three years as treasurer. He gave unstintingly of his time and energy in that role as well as to the Farmland Forum over the years. Most recently he was heavily involved in our 2018 Farmland Forum, interacting with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, our event site, on details ranging from meeting space to insurance to lunch for participants. Pete joined Mat Rund and George Heck on the Farmland Forum committee.”

    Pete earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Ag Econ at the University of Illinois. After a tour with the Peace Corps in Kenya, he worked for 37 years for Farm Credit, now known as Compeer Financial, one of The Chicago Farmers’ platinum sponsors.

    Ray Brownfield shares his views on Illinois land values

    More than 70 people attended The Chicago Farmers’ April 9th meeting to hear Ray Brownfield discuss 2017 land values in Illinois. Brownfield, a 40-year member of TCF, is the managing broker/owner of Land Pro, a company composed of professional land real estate specialists that is based in Oswego, Illinois. An accredited land consultant and accredited farm manager, Brownfield recently received the Realtors Land Institute APEX 2017 Top Twenty Producer award. He noted that he and Jason Lestina, also a member of TCF and an Illinois real estate broker and an accredited farm manager with Land Pro, sold $27 million worth of real estate in 2017.

    Thanks to the melting of glaciers during the Ice Age, portions of Illinois boast some very fertile soil. As the glaciers receded, they left behind silt and minerals that give the state its Class A soil. “The area that I refer to as the Golden Triangle, in the center of the state, has the largest concentration of Class A soil,” said Brownfield. “This soil, of course, commands the best prices.”

    Brownfield noted that buyers usually refer to a farm’s productivity index (PI) to determine the price they are willing to pay for parcels. All farms have a PI, he noted. The PIs are used to quantify yield potential of Illinois soils. The highest PIs are located in east-central, west-central, and northern Illinois. The counties with the lowest PIs are found in the southern part of the state.

    “The prices for excellent soil are down about two percent, but there are still some pockets of strength” said Brownfield. “B quality soil prices are down about one percent, while C quality soil prices are down about five percent, which is due to drainage issues and less productivity.”

    Brownfield said that the regions of the state that have excellent quality soil are experiencing median prices per acre that range from $9,755 to $10,800. Regarding B quality soil, Brownfield said it is a buyers’ market; people are looking for the best possible soil at a discounted rate. “If buyers can purchase land with lesser quality soil at a discounted price, they are willing to invest another $200 to $300 in improvements, such as drainage tiles,” said Brownfield.

    He went on to say that farms with C soils and lower PIs are difficult to sell because they have high clay content, do not drain well and usually are irregular in shape; however, some farmers will purchase these farms if they believe they will fit their needs. Brownfield said that the average quality of soil diminishes as you travel farther south in Illinois.

    Regarding properties with less productive soil, Brownfield said that the demand for recreational land has decreased. The larger the parcel of recreational land on the market, the less attractive it is for buyers because they cannot produce enough income from it and still cover costs.

    How does farmland rate as an investment? Brownfield noted that the annual growth rate in farmland investments from 2001 to 2017 ranged from 6.19 percent to 10.3 percent, depending on the region. The farms have to be held for at least 10 years to experience these rates, he said.

    Regarding 2018, falling commodity prices will affect land prices, said Brownfield. He said that real estate professionals and appraisers don’t expect to see much increase. A December 2017 survey of the group shows that 54 percent believe there could be a one to four percent decrease in land values.

    “A lot has happened since December, too,” said Brownfield. “Tariffs, decreasing commodity prices, increases in interest rates, and the possible elimination of the Renewable Fuel Standard are among the factors leading to price declines. On the other hand, higher yields and good economic growth in the United States will lead to price increases.”

    Outstanding In Their Field

    By John Kiefner, Chicago Farmers member

    I recently took a day off from work. I hope it will be one of many in the next 10 years as I try to slide gracefully into retirement. The USDA states that the average farmer is 58.3 years old. That means if I want be an above average farmer I have 4.1 years to go. Can I make it that long? Following is some background.

    A few years ago the price of scrap steel was insanely high. It was a good time to haul many old pieces of machinery to the scrap yard to be melted and reused. First I called my son to see if there was any chance he would be the fourth generation in the family to farm. I was fairly certain what the answer would be, but I wanted to verify it. His answer was honest and quite frank.

    My son was several years out of college at the time and climbing the corporate ladder. His reply to the query about whether he considered becoming a farmer was, “Not a chance, and remember, when you and mom die, we are getting dumpsters.” Perhaps I should have called my daughter and asked her instead.

    My son’s honesty has helped me to decide how to finish out my life as the last farmer in the family. There is no legacy of passing it on to the next generation. No need to build the business or desire to buy the newest technology.

    For my day off I traveled to Chicago to tour the office of The Climate Corp. This company is on the cutting edge of data collection for weather, yields, fertility, plant health, and equipment functions and, well, about anything you can imagine. The information that is gathered will be analyzed, sometimes instantly, and used by farmers to increase yields while reducing inputs, protect the environment and reduce waste. One would also expect that those who adopt and succeed with these technologies would also be more profitable, while lowering the cost of food even more.

    This technology is above my intellect. It was mentioned that the farmer of the future might very well be a computer scientist or agronomist. We were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement to be allowed to tour the offices and labs. That is remarkable, because I could barely comprehend the concepts displayed, let alone appropriate any of the cutting edge technology.

    Am I a dinosaur about to become extinct? Am I a relic, a holdout of farmers long gone? Retirement is going to come very soon for my equipment and me if these technologies evolve swiftly. That may please the realtors and developers that cannot wait to bulldoze the black dirt I have tried to save from erosion for most of my lifetime and build warehouses or subdivisions on my farm. Can I last long enough to become above average?

    The Climate Corp tour was in the West Loop, about two miles from where I met my wife for the train ride home. Ironically, in the middle of Chicago, there was a wheat mill right behind The Climate Corp office. I walked to the train and admired dozens of buildings under construction on Fulton, Lake, Randolph, Washington, and Madison Streets. Is it possible that any of my recycled steel was in the beams being erected?

    Upon my retirement or death, my remaining equipment will be reused somehow. The farm’s fate is uncertain. When I die, I hope they bury me and do not put me in the dumpster.

    Editor’s note: John Kiefner is a member of The Chicago Farmers. He farms 525 acres of corn, soy, wheat, oats, hay, and straw.  His farm, which also has a smattering of animals, including bees and laying hens, is 45 miles southwest of downtown Chicago and on the fringe of urban development.  The southernmost Metra rail station is only one mile from John’s farm.  

    John noted, “I wouldn't say that I am sad or depressed about urban encroachment, but I hope to make people think of what is the best way to grow cities and preserve quality farmland.  I originally lived and grew up right next to the Joliet Junior College Houbolt Road campus.  I remember when they built it next door to the farm my dad grew up on.  We have always had bulldozers working close to the farm.” 

    2018 Report Card for Illinois Infrastructure

    The Illinois Section of American Society of Civil Engineers recently released their 2018 report card about Illinois’ infrastructure.  We all depend on infrastructure for our lives and livelihood. Click here to read the report.

     

    Your fields can tell you a lot if you know where to look

    Climate Corporation, an ag-tech company that develops resources to support farmers in making data driven decisions, was the host for the Chicago Farmers’ March 12 meeting. Located at 1330 W. Fulton Market Street, in the West Loop area, Climate Corporation is a neighbor to Google and McDonald’s corporate offices. It is a Platinum Level sponsor of TCF.

    Climate Corporation’s Craig Rupp, senior director of engineering, and Patrick Dumstorff, market developer lead, gave TCF an overview of the company’s workings as we dined on a buffet luncheon in Climate Corporation’s dining room.

    Climate Corporation began life as 640 Labs in October 2012. It derived its name from the number of acres in a square mile, according to Rupp. Its accomplishment became attractive enough to gain the attention of Monsanto and was acquired by that company in December 2014. It moved into its current headquarters this past October. A subsidiary of Monsanto, Climate Corporation operates as an independent company. Any data it collects is not shared with Monsanto.

    “We are doing things with technology that have been in use for a while, but are new to agriculture,” related Dumstorff as he displayed the drive to the company’s Climate FieldView Plus, which has the ability through the drive to acquire machine data, such as RPM, speed and temperature, and agronomic data that include seeds/acre, gallons/acre, and bushels/acre. The Climate FieldView Plus is in place on farms throughout the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Europe, according to Rupp.

    The drive, which is a black metal apparatus that is about three inches in diameter, connects to the “nervous system” of the farm machinery’s internet, said Dumstorff, and it grabs data from the implement to which it has been affixed. The field data it acquires can be streamed directly from the equipment, manually uploaded to a thumb drive or iPad or transferred to another system such as the Cloud. In addition to the data that the program gathers, it will soon have the ability to produce image based yield maps that would inform farmers how many pounds of a crop are coming off a field, for example.

    In response to an audience member’s question, Rupp said that the cost of the Climate FieldView Plus program is $1,000 per year and the cost of the drive is $250.

    Rupp explained that he monitors advanced technologies and keeps aware of the development of autonomous robots. “I look to see where the industry is going,” said Rupp as he showed a brief video of recently developed autonomous robots at work. There were instances of robots planting seeds, thinning a lettuce crop (by oversaturating the plant with fertilizer), and cultivating soil.

    “This is what is coming and Climate will be involved,” said Rupp. “Think of Climate as the Amazon of agriculture. We’re the data storage warehouse coupled with data analytics. Our vision is to couple our platform with agriculture robotics. The agronomic insights would come from us.”

    In response to a question about the possibility of cyber security threats to the platform, Rupp said that Monsanto is extremely sensitive to privacy and has a firewall to protect data. Additionally, standards are being developed that would ensure even greater security.

    It was noted that with the increasing use of technology in agriculture, the farmer has to be a scientist as well as an agriculturist. However, that does not alter the farmer’s connection to his work.

    Rupp said, “I grew up on a farm. Climate is a fascinating company to work for. I spend every working moment ultimately focused on the same problems my father worked on. I always tell people that we have the best customers. Farmers are salt-of-the-earth people - genuine, honest, and really nice.”

    New venue welcomes Farmland Forum

    After a one-year hiatus, the Chicago Farmers’ Farmland Forum returned on February 10, 2018, in a new location, the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHAS) in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Southwest Side of Chicago. As in the past, the event offered an abundance of information and provided ample opportunity for networking.

    Exhibitor Tom Tesdal, First Midwest Bank, liked the new site for the Farmland Forum. “The high school is a good location,” said Tom. “We made some good contacts today. I always walk away from these events with either a lead or a referral.”

    After enjoying morning refreshments compliments of Compeer Financial (the group sponsored the morning food service and lunch), which included zucchini bread baked by the CHAS students, attendees perused the 22 exhibitors’ booths and walked away with a wide range of information and resources. The main hall of CHAS buzzed with activity as attendees asked exhibitors questions and established links with bank representatives, realtors, a variety of Ag services, credit services, Ag technology specialists, farmland managers, and a non-profit group that provides agricultural assistance to developing countries.

    When the speaker sessions got under way, people streamed into classrooms and the library to hear the topic of their choice. A large group listened intently to Mike Morris, Compeer Financial, in the school’s library as he talked about farmland values and trends. “There is not a lot of land on the market now,” said Mike in response to a question regarding the farmland sales market. “There is a steady demand, but a limited supply. As a result, values have been stable. Most of the buyers are farmers looking to add 80-160 acres to their existing operations.”

    Discussion ensued regarding factors that contribute to high cash rent agreements for landowners. Audience member Ray Brownfield, owner of Land Pro, a real estate brokerage and farm management company, recommended that landowners pay attention to drainage and install tiles on their farms; ensure that their fields are “highly tillable”; and make use of soil tests to make certain that their land is properly handled.

    In response to a question about interest rates’ effect on land values, Mike said that if a “real run-up” occurred, values could slide by 10 percent. “Rising rates would have a dampening effect on values,” he said.

    David Oppedahl, senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and TCF secretary, drew a large crowd for his presentation on Trends in the Ag Economy. “It is a challenging time for agriculture, but it still looks pretty good,” said David. “Farmers are as indebted today as they were in the 1980s, but they have more assets.”

    David noted that some farmers are highly leveraged and, as a result, there have been increases in delinquencies. On the up side, feed costs are decreasing and this is a benefit to animal agriculturists, he added.

    He went on to say that there is an increase in loan demand, but the funds available to lend are decreasing. “Repayment issues are cropping up, but it is not nearly as big an issue as it was in the 1980s,” David commented.

    Among the points David made in his presentation:

    • Interest rates have risen from the very bottom, yet not very much when the 1980s situation is reviewed
    • The U.S economy is growing a little faster and the Federal Reserve expects that the target rate for Fed funds could reach three percent by 2020
    • Agriculture’s interest rates have been lagging and not rising as fast as the Fed’s target interest rate
    • Corn and soybean returns are dropping from their peaks, with soybeans generally more profitable than corn
    • Cash rents are stable to lower
    • It is important to maintain the nation’s infrastructure so that the U.S. has a competitive advantage as it ships materials to China and around the world
    • Finding a niche, or branding a product, will help the farmer grab a bigger share of the food dollar
    • The euro has strengthened versus the dollar; the dollar could weaken over the next 10 years, but not dramatically, according to the USDA

    In other sessions, attendees learned about the fine points of beekeeping in an urban setting, the urban farming programs supported by the University of Illinois Extension Service, how data acquired through technology can support farmers in their fields, the research that is supporting the development of regenerative agriculture, solar/wind power, improving soil health and cover crops, and insurance and risk management considerations. It was a full day.

    “This is a very sophisticated group,” said presenter Mike Morris, referring to the Chicago Farmers and the Forum attendees. “They know land values and they ask good questions. I enjoy being a speaker because I know I will be asked thoughtful questions.”