The Life of an Active Famer


Joe Zumwalt IALF

Joe Zumwalt, a Western Illinois University graduate, grew up on a grain and livestock farm in western Illinois and developed a love for agriculture working alongside of my family friends as a young man. Joe isn’t just a local farmer but is involved in the community. Joe has served on the Hancock County Farm Bureau Board for 20 years, 6 of them as president, the Ursa Farmers Coop Board, 4 of those on the executive committee, and 2 as president.  He is currently on the Keokuk Community Foundation, the Hancock County Economic Development Committee, the Memorial Hospital Foundation Board, and the Warsaw FFA Alumni.  Also Joe is serving several positions with the Trinity United Methodist Church Board.


Describe the yearly farming operation on your farm?
I currently operate 1800 acres of corn and soybeans in the Mississippi River Bottoms between Quincy and Warsaw, IL.  Most all of my acreage is floodplain soils which are flat to very gently rolling.  Our elevation is very low in proximity to the surrounding acreage.  My operation is very susceptible to flooding and has flooded several times in the past 20 years.  I operate with seven tractors ranging in hp size from 20 to 400 hp.  I plant 16 rows and harvest 8 rows.  We operate several semis and tandem grain trucks to maintain efficiency.  Other than the light sandy soils, I perform a conventional tillage program over a majority of my acreage.  The lighter soils are operated on a no- till basis.

I am primarily a corn/soybean rotation.  I apply nitrogen to the corn ground with 75% of actual Nitrogen applied the fall before and 25% applied in season side dress. Total Nitrogen amount depends on the potential of the land and field.  Dry fertilizer, including potash and phosphate, as well as numerous micro nutrients are applied in the fall prior to corn for the following corn and soybean crops.  All rates of dry fertilizer are applied based off of actual production from the field, the soil types, and the nutrient holding capacity of the fields.   In some years, price of the products also heavily affects what rates of nutrients are returned to the soils, but this is rare as fertilizer is the most key input to raising a profitable crop and livelihood.

What have you done to have a successful farming operation?
I would like to think that I pay more attention to detail on my farm than most.  Each year, every acre is the only time you get to do the best you can.  Every farmer really only gets 40-50 chances to do things right.  My livelihood depends on every acre and when you pass by the acreage in my operation, I believe you can tell that Joe Zumwalt farms that ground.  I am proud of that.  I go to great extremes to do the best I can every year.  I would also like to think that I go above and beyond within my community.  I believe that too much is given, much is expected and I try to give back much to my community through volunteering and through advocating for the agriculture industry through the Illinois Farm Bureau.

What is something you wish you could change about your operation, and do you have any concerns about Ag production?
I would like to be even more profitable.  Even at my size of operation, I am unable to fully implement and utilize every bit of technology and improvement that I wish I could integrate into my farm. I would like to expand into more animal agriculture operations, but current livestock facility laws limit my potential in that area.

I am also growing more concerned about the near future farm economy.  We in production agriculture have had a very prosperous past decade and we are at the edge of what I believe will be a very financially difficult period.  I hope that whatever change we exercise and endure in the next few years, it better prepares us in the industry for financial hardships. If we continue to work hard as producers I believe we can better the economy.


Hello, my name is Tommy Hoener and I am from Sutter, IL. I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University studying Agricultural Science. I grew up on a grain (corn and soybean) and raise cattle livestock. I grew up just miles from Joe, and have been part of the local FFA where I had the chance to see Joe speak about the Farm Bureau.

 tommy ag mech.jpg







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