Is There a Prairie Farmer in Your Mailbox?

My Generation

Our July cover features top young farmers and Master Farmers. Here's what they say about the next 10 years in farming. Hint: Willie Nelson comes

Published on: July 1, 2012

If you didn’t get your Prairie Farmer over the weekend, keep watching your mailbox. It's gonna sound like I'm bragging, but I'm willing to do it anyway: I’m more excited about this month's cover story than I've been about any other story in a long time.

We called it "Change on the Horizon," with good reason. The story started out simply enough, with a singular thought to profile a handful of the top young farmers in the state.

Then I started thinking.

Average age of the farmer is in the upper 50s now. A large portion are in their upper 60s and early 70s. Which is to say, a lot of farm ground is about to change hands. Commodity prices have cycled higher and higher, bringing fertilizer, seed, and land with them. All the numbers are high. And land…the selling prices are unheard of. But if agriculture is cyclical – as the economists say – then we must be headed back down at some point, right?

Which made me wonder: what do the best young, progressive farmers in the state see coming? And what are they doing today to prepare their operations for it?

So I made a list, pulled out the map and hit the road. It was a blast, and I was reminded once again of how phenomenal our industry is. Because overall, these farmers are gearing up for change. They are, to use their phrases, "pulling in the reigns," and are "cautiously optimistic."

In a lot of cases, it's a management balancing act between dialing back capital farm purchases while maintaining the labor, equipment and flexibility to still take on new ground, should the opportunity present itself. Or should Dad decide this is the year to call it quits on the farm.

They also offered up some sage observations, including the way farm regulations will continue to push smaller farmers out of business. And that just because we handle more money, doesn't mean we actually make more money. Margins+volatility=lost sleep. You can read more, plus advice from U of I farm marketing expert Scott Irwin, on the cover and on pages 8 and 9.

And then I talked to some of our Master Farmers. One of them recalled an ag economics professor of the 1980s and referenced Willie Nelson. You'll have to read his full quote but suffice to say, that's when I really started to get worried. I kid, sort of. Actually, not really. But they see it coming, too, and their responses are of a couple weeks ago…when we needed rain but it wasn't dire yet. Now it's dire. Check out their responses – and the sage advice of our economics editor, John Otte – on page 10.

But here's the thing. Every last person I talked to is still glad to be in the business. Farming is good, no matter what.