This year, four exceptional Illinois farmers were named Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. Ron Bremmer of Pearl City, Craig Buhrow of West Brooklyn, Mike Kenyon of South Elgin, and Greg Leigh of Avon are recipients of the 2014 Master Farmer Award.
Check back for individual profiles as the week goes on.
Former Prairie Farmer editor Clifford Gregory started the program in 1925 as a way to recognize the finest farmers in both Illinois and Indiana. That first year, 23 Master Farmers were recognized. From the very beginning, the award was unique in that a significant portion of the judges' scoring hinged on the farmers' community involvement. Today, the tradition remains.
The Master Farmer award was discontinued in the early 1930s due to economic hardship. Editors explained, "At that time, farmers were gripped with the despair of the Depression years. Citation for excellence would have seemed ironic when the farmer's principle concern was survival."
In 1968, the award was reinvigorated. Ten Illinois farmers were named Master Farmers. Average farm size that year was 675 acres. Of the ten winners, only two were straight cash grain operators. The top corn yield was 137 bu.. An impressive soybean yield was 30 bu.
Things have definitely changed since 1968. However, many of the program's aspects remain the same. All of the 10 winners were pillars in their communities. Editors noted each of the men "would be last to claim perfection." In addition, editors noted each man's commitment to his family.
The Class of 2014 carries on these same traditions. Each farmer works tirelessly for his community. However, they would be the last to claim credit.
Since 2009, Growmark has been the sole financial sponsor of the Prairie Farmer Master Farmer program. The partnership has worked out exceptionally well over the years.
Like the Master Farmer award, the Growmark system was born during the 1920s, when grower cooperatives began organizing. In 1927, nine local cooperatives came together to form the Illinois Farm Supply Co. Today, Growmark serves nearly 250,000 farm and other customers with agronomic inputs, fuels, grain marketing services and more through local FS companies.