This week, Prairie Farmer is highlighting each of the four recipients of the Prairie Farmer Master Farmer Award for 2013. Check in each morning to read one of our winners' bios.
Neil Fearn has sage advice regarding the best decision of his life: "If you don't have a good wife who enjoys farming, you won't enjoy farming. And if you're going to do it, you've gotta enjoy it."
Clearly, he and his wife, Debbie, enjoy farming. It's how they tackle much of their life on the farm, and in their southern Illinois community of Albion. They enjoy working together, whether on the farm, church, 4-H or the fairgrounds, where Neil has served on the board since 1978.
Neil began his farming career with Debbie's family, in the late 1970s, though his love of farming began with parents Jack and Carol Fearn, who farm at Cisne. He joined Oak Leaf Farms, farming with his father-in-law, Leon Harris, and brother-in-law, Mike Harris. Over time, Leon retired and today Neil and Mike operate a partnership. Debbie works off the farm at a local bank, but is instrumental in record keeping and financial analysis. The operation uses Agri-Solutions to track financial information, income and expenses, employee wages, and to generate reports for landlords.
The family left the hog business in the early '90s, concentrating instead on grain. In addition to double-crop wheat/soybeans and yellow corn, they grow several hundred acres of white corn for Azteca Milling in Evansville, Ind. They also use variable-rate planting and fertilizer application, swath control and more. Neil and Mike added three semis, hauling for themselves and others, and they've expanded their grain system with 180,000 bushels of storage, scales and a drive-over pit. They farm a variety of soil types, including river bottom and hilltop ground, and have put a range of conservation measures in place to preserve the land and improve production. They also plant cereal rye and rapeseed as a cover crop, to prevent erosion and boost production.
There's a common thread in the Fearn family, tying together both a heart for service and a dedication to young people. Neil and Debbie are 4-H leaders, youth group leaders and strong advocates of their rural church's Fifth Quarter program.
Their son Seth adds, "My father encourages younger farmers to constantly improve their farms. He has a strong passion for teaching youth and passing on good morals, values and work ethic to them."