Articles

    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

    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.

    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.

    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.

     

    Eric Rund Named Plowman of the Year

    The Chicago Farmers presented Eric Rund with the 2017 Plowman of the Year Award for his many contributions to the organization during the September 11 meeting. Eric served two terms as president of TCF. He also served as vice-president, treasurer and as a director.

    Eric and his wife, Maria, operate their ancestral family farm that is located south of Champaign. The farm produces corn for Frito-Lay and seed beans for Pioneer using strip-till and no-till. The Runds also grow the perennial biomass crop miscanthus. It was planted for cellulosic ethanol, but today the Runds sell it for poultry and livestock bedding. “Eventually, we believe it will be used as a biomass fuel replacing LP gas,” said Eric. “To demonstrate the practicality of this, we sold and installed a multi-fuel biomass boiler at the University of Illinois’ energy farm, where anyone can see how it works.”

    He went on to say, “My years with The Chicago Farmers have been rewarding. This unique organization has given me opportunities to listen to viewpoints from the consumer side of agriculture as well as the production side and from the landowner side as well as the tenant’s side. If farmers are to be successful, we have to know what our customers want and respond to that need. If customers want abundant, safe and inexpensive food, then they must become informed consumers and learn the facts and the science behind food production. The Chicago Farmers, like no other farm organization with which I am familiar, provides these learning opportunities to its members. I have met many intelligent and influential people while attending our meetings over the years, all of whom I have learned something from and many of whom have become lifelong friends.”

    Jeff Martin receives Distinguished Service Award

    By Andy Holstine, Past President

    Jeff Martin has been associated with the Chicago Farmers for nearly twenty years.  During this time he has been very active, serving as a director, president and in nearly every other voluntary role.  He hosted the summer picnic on his family farm in Mt. Pulaski and spent fifteen years as co-chair of the Farmland Forum.  In short, his efforts to make our organization better have been enormous. 

    But Jeff’s energy and contributions extend well beyond the Chicago Farmers and his industry leadership and service made the recognition of the “Distinguished Service to Agriculture” award well-deserved.  The Chicago Farmers first created this award in 1977 and you can find the list of past winners here.  You will find that past recipients of the award include the founder of McDonald’s, captains of agribusiness, leaders in academia and research, prominent media , and a Secretary of Agriculture.  While Mr. Martin may describe himself as “only” a farmer, the impact of his life’s work has contributed greatly to the evolution of farming practices employed across millions of acres each year.

    Jeff started farming with his father in 1976.  As he recounted when accepting the award, early in his career he watched a dust storm destroy their fields.  For Jeff, who had grown up listening to his grandfather extoll a belief that the land they lived on could provide for their family forever, this experience galvanized a belief in the importance in taking a long view valuing conservation as central to good stewardship of the land.  This mindset led him to continually examine existing farming conventions and practices, explore new technology and share techniques that improved the land and added worth. 

    Jeff was a very early adopter of no-till farming, initially building his own equipment and culminating in an award as the no-till innovator of the year and recognition in 2016 as one of 25 “no-till legends.”  After seeing the benefits of setting aside CRP acres on his farm, he started a business that has since planted more than 1,000 acres of trees and prairie grass.  He was at the vanguard of the use of cover crops and research he conducted on his fields was published in an industry magazine.  Jeff was appointed member of the Federal Reserve Agriculture Advisory Board for several years.  He has also been recognized as the Illinois wildlife landowner of the year, received the corn growers’ environmental action award, named the AgriNews farmer of the year, and his family has been featured in numerous publications over years.  Jeff has farmed with his grandfather, father, brother and now has both sons farming with him full time, maybe the greatest measure of success and a life well-lived. 

    I view Jeff as a remarkable example of doing well by doing good.  When accepting the award, he remarked that the Chicago Farmers was one of the best groups he had ever been a part of.  Speaking for the Chicago Farmers, I would like to express how fortunate we are that Jeff chose to contribute so much over the years and congratulate him again on an award truly earned.

    2016 Land REALTOR of America Award Recipient Chicago Farmers Member Ray L. Brownfield

    May 2017 - Recently at the REALTORS® Land Institute National Land Conference, held at Charlotte, North Carolina, Ray Brownfield was the sole recipient of the 2016 Land REALTOR® of America Award. This prestigious award is bestowed upon a REALTORS® Land Institute member who has achieved the Accredited Land Consultant designation, excelling in extremely high levels of real estate transaction competency, displaying above reproach ethics, leadership and professional standards.

    Ray is the managing broker and owner of Land Pro LLC, located in Oswego, Illinois. He is also an Accredited Farm Manager through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Ray and his staff provide professional land real estate brokerage in Illinois and farm management services throughout Illinois, parts of Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska. In 2016 Ray was the real estate broker for over $20M in real estate sales and managed over 7,000 acres of farmland. He is a native of Iroquois County Illinois, and thoroughly enjoys his family farm at Thawville. He and his wife Patty live in Naperville.

    TCF member cited by ISU

    Chicago Farmers member Ray Brownfield, managing broker and owner of Land Pro LLC in Oswego Illinois, recently received the Illinois State University (ISU) 2017 Alumni Achievement Award at the annual Founders Day event.  Ray graduated from ISU in 1965, majoring in education. Upon graduation, he became a farm manager at The First National Bank of Peoria, and progressed to department head. This position paved the way for rapid progression in his industry to department head at Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company and Northern Trust Agricultural Services, leading to his position as President of Capital Agricultural Property Services (CAPS), a subsidiary of Prudential.

    During his twenty years at CAPS, Ray helped build the company into one of the largest of its kind in the United States.  After retirement from CAPS, Ray formed and is Managing Broker and President of Land Pro LLC, an agriculture real estate brokerage and farm management company located in Oswego. He is an Accredited Farm Manager (AFM) and an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC).

    Ray has received numerous awards including the Hall of Fame award from the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ISPFMRA) and the D. Howard Doane Award from the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA). Ray served as national president of ASFMRA and the REALTORS© Land Institute. To date he is the only person to serve as president of both organizations. Ray received the prestigious Hobart Award from the ISU Agriculture Department and the highly-coveted Hall of Fame Award from the College of Applied Science and Technology.

    Ray served in the Illinois Army National Guard rising to the rank of CW-5, as the State Food Service Officer. He retired as a decorated thirty-five-year veteran in 2001.

    Ray and his family still enjoy coming to the family farm in Thawville.  He and his wife Patty live in Naperville.