Last night I had a chance to sit in on the Indiana Master Farmer banquet, sponsored by our sister publication Indiana Prairie Farmer, along with the Purdue Ag Alumni Association. The event capped off the first day of Purdue's annual Farm Management Tour, held this year in Clinton County.
And this was no ordinary dinner.
It was held at Windy Lane Farms' spectacular new farm shop near Frankfort, Ind. Owned by Hal and Ty Brown, the building includes a three-story office, rooms for spare parts and several thousand square feet of space where the farmers can fix machinery plus store Drago corn heads and Precision Planting equipment.
As Purdue Ag College Dean Jay Akridge commented, "This is no ordinary farm shop. You could put my entire home town of Fredonia, Kentucky in this place."
Since my earlier days as editor of Prairie Farmer in Illinois I have loved this annual event. Master Farmers are nominated by their peers and embody the things we love most about agriculture. They are not only successful operators, but they have the respect and admiration of their neighbors and farmer colleagues. They are usually the folks who were first to try something new in their neighborhood. And they are almost always the folks who show up to help at the Church or school, or to host an FFA event.
This year the honorees were Kevin Cox, Brazil, Ind., David Ring, Huntingburg, Ken and Jane Rulon, Arcadia, Del and Tammi Unger, Carlisle, and honorary Master Farmer Fred Whitford, a former Purdue extension educator.
Honored farmers reminisced on the importance of teamwork in any farm success.
"This is an exciting night for me but it takes all of us to make it happen," said Cox, gesturing towards his family in the audience. Ken Rulon agreed, adding: "Whether you're picking up rocks or driving a combine, you're an important cog in the wheel of our business."
In an informal interview session the farmers were asked what kept them up at night. Weather and markets were foremost on peoples' minds. "It all comes down to risk management," said Del Unger. "How do we productively deal with risk? We're handling a lot of dollars now." Added Cox: "The challenges are never-ending, you just have to learn to deal with them."
Going forward, the Masters were asked what big changes they saw ahead for agriculture. "At some point capital is going to become awfully important," said Ken Rulon. "Going forward we will have to earn a living again. It's been awfully easy the past few years."
Technology will also be a game changer, predicted the farmers. "Right now our hybrid selections are pretty narrow but that will change," said Del Unger. "We will move from a shotgun to a targeted approach in cropping systems."