2016 University of Illinois scholarship recipient

    Illini Ben Wiegmann received a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. Ben is a junior at the University of Illinois studying crop sciences with a minor in ag business. He transferred to the university after studying at Kaskaskia Community College.

    Ben was raised in Breese, a small town and farming community in Southern Illinois. He lives there with his mom, dad, brother, and sister. Ben said he is seriously considering continuing his education after he receives his bachelor’s degree and pursuing a master’s degree in weed science because he plans on becoming an agronomist.

    Ben added, “If I decide to not continue my studies toward a master’s, I would like to be a salesman in a company that provides the opportunity to rise within its ranks. I eventually want to be able to return home and farm full-time with my family."

    Purdue student receives TCF scholarship

    Purdue University junior Garrett Corning is a recipient of a Chicago Farmers’ scholarship. Garrett is a junior majoring in agronomy.

    Garrett noted in a letter to The Chicago Farmers that his introduction to farming came as a young child when he would help his grandfather on his farm “every chance I got.” His grandfather’s farm in Northwest Indiana has been a part of his family since 1966 when his grandfather purchased 500 acres. The farm has since expanded through purchases and leasing to 5,000 acres in Northwest Indiana and Illinois.

    “I started out just riding on my grandfather’s armrest. Then I would do things like cut the grass, and now I help with all aspects of the farm,” Garrett wrote. He said that he drives semis hauling grain and he manages hay and straw production when he is home from school in the summer.

    Garrett said he plans to return to the farm when he graduates and help his grandfather full-time. He said that his degree in agronomy will help him increase the efficiency of production on the farm.

    “I also plan on opening my own agronomy business where I will mainly test farmers’ soils, make recommendations, and manage data in software to write custom variable rate prescriptions,” Garrett shared. “While I plan to help my grandfather on his farm, I will make this business my priority so that I can nurture and grow it. When it is stable, I will hire an employee or an intern to help with the busy times of the year so that I can focus on farming.”

    Garrett said that he is grateful for the scholarship. He said he works throughout the summer, is a teaching assistant during the school year, and picks up any side jobs he can to fill gaps in his schedule and to help pay for school.

    “With your generous donation I will be able to work a few less hours and spend more time focusing on finishing my degree,” Garrett wrote. “Again, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your generosity.”

    Updating the farmland market

    Dr. Bruce J. Sherrick gave a highly informative presentation during Chicago Farmers’ November meeting regarding the headwinds, tailwinds and implications affecting the future of agriculture. He noted that his take on a variety of factors that affect farmland value is based strictly on his opinion. Dr. Sherrick added that he gleans valuable resource material in his role as a member of the Board of the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Association and as director of the TIAA Center for Farmland Research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. He is the Marjorie and Jerry Fruin Professor of Land Economics at the university.

    Among the points that Dr. Sherrick made during his presentation:

    • Farmland remains a good investment.
    • There is $3 trillion in the ag sector and 80 percent of that is in farmland; there is little debt.
    • Private equities have agrowing interest in the agriculture sector.
    • Dr. Sherrick noted that two farmland REITs that sell stock are Farmland Partners (FPI) and Gladstone Land Corp. (LAND). A Wall Street Journal article published November 24, 2015, related, “The National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries’ (NCREIF) Farmland Index had an average annual return of 12% over 20 years. That beat the NCREIF’s Commercial Property Index and the S&P 500’s return of about 9%. It also topped investment-grade corporate bonds, which had returns in the 7% range.”
    • From 1970 to 2015, farmland is the only investment that averaged a double digit rate of return. “Very few assets have that track record,” he observed.
    • 24% of the land is controlled by four percent of the farms in the United States.
    • While farmland owners are aging, this does not directly portend sales; there are multi-generational operators on many farms.
    • Farms become an asset to sell when families decide to turn the land into money to leave to heirs; however, anecdotal data tell us that the sale does not always happen because the owners can’t think of a better place to invest their money than in the land.
    • Farm sales often are triggered by the fact that generations become too far removed from the farm to have experienced time there or to have clear memories of being a part of the farm.
    • The website provides free information regarding comps and appraisals, soil productivity ratings, crop mix, and parcel ownership information. “It is astounding what is available for free on line. This ability revolutionizes the cost of acquiring information,” said Dr. Sherrick.