Every year at the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting, the Young Leaders host a suite and on just about any evening of the meeting, it's a hopping good time. And if you get there on the right night at the right time, it's packed wall-to-wall with the best and the brightest in young Illinois agriculture. It's a good time.
And let me just say that over the years, this scene has provided more honest-to-goodness column fodder than anyplace else. Jokes are told. Stories are shared. Rumor has it, Matt Hennenfent once did the Chief dance, complete with leaping toe touch. I can neither confirm nor deny this occurrence.
I will say, however, that one of the best stories I've ever been able to share in column form came from Brad Smith, told one night in the suite. I told it anonymously (with his permission, of course), and if you can figure out which one it is from the past 11 years of columns, you win serious bonus points.
The thing about Brad is, he's willing to call a spade a spade and tell it like it is, and it's usually pretty funny. And genuine. Which makes his stories - like the one I wrote about – something that every other young farmer can relate to. Wholeheartedly.
Brad and his wife, Sara, farm with his parents, Steve and Jane, near Milledgeville. They raise corn and soybeans, and Brad sells Dekalb seed. Both sets of his grandparents farmed, too, and they still farm his grandparents' centennial farm.
Brad and Sara are parents to four young people: Morgan, 8th grade; Holly, 6th grade; Nick, 3rd grade; and Lily, 1st grade. Sara works off the farm in Freeport, as a women's health nurse practitioner. And as Brad adds, "She is growing weary of holding the fort together, mostly alone, as I finish fall work." Oh my goodness, exactly.
Brad is one of those people who places a high premium on respect, and does business accordingly. "We would like to be respected and liked by our peers in farming and by the people we do business with.
"I want to be the best, most efficient farmer I can be. However, we will not operate in a way that erodes trust in our community or creates hard feelings amongst neighbors."
He very astutely observes that a farmer's own worst enemy may be himself.
"It appears we farmers cannot stand prosperity," Brad says.
"We have had a very profitable run in grain production over the past five years, however much of that profit has quickly been capitalized into land values (rent & sale), machinery and other inputs. I wonder if it truly matters if corn is $6 or $3? Eventually the net margin becomes the same, even though we may feel more important handling larger sums of money."
Sounds like a good question for an economist. Or a psychologist.
There's no doubt, however, that Brad is passionate about what he does.
"I take it personally when people criticize our industry. We are not perfect, but a vast majority of farmers are good, honest, hard working people full of integrity and common sense."
30 Days of Farm & Families
Day 1: The Webels
Day 2: The Mies Family
Day 3: The Thomases
Day 4: The Stewarts
Day 5: The Weavers
Day 6: The Hawkinsons
Day 7: The Kortes
Day 8: The Walters
Day 9: The Schillings
Day 10: The Martins
Day 11: The Pratts
Day 12: The Bowmans
Day 13: The Pollards
Day 14: The Wachtels
Day 15: The Strodes
Day 16: The Buntings
Day 17: The Andras Family
Day 18: The Liefers
Day 19: The Purvis Family
Day 20: The Jones Family