Small Family Farm, Big Heart


A common misconception that those outside of the agriculture industry tend to believe is that crops and livestock are raised on large scale “factory” farms. When in reality, 97% of all U.S. farms are family-owned, a statistic reported by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This misconception led to my decision of interviewing my grandfather about the history of our farm. I would like to share with you the story of how my grandfather started farming and how it has grown to become what it is today, a small family farm.

In about 1936, during the Great Depression, my grandfather’s grandparents lost their farm in Iowa so they decided to move to Illinois and become tenant farmers. They eventually started renting farm ground from Babson Farms which is who owns all of the land my grandfather farms now.

After the majority of my grandfather’s family decided to quit farming, his father took over and they moved to our main farm in 1947. Together, they started with just 320 acres of land. My grandfather graduated from high school and was working at a fertilizer dealer when a farmer in the area retired, so Babson Farms started renting more acreage to him. He bought a tractor, a plow, and him and his father rented a combine. He raised hogs and cattle while also working as a mechanic at an International Harvester dealer. They acquired more and more acreage and were able to purchase more equipment. His father eventually retired and my grandfather took over the farm.

While raising their kids, my grandmother stayed at home. She made their clothing by hand, canned and froze food, and took other steps to save money so that the farm could continue growing.

Once his son, my uncle, had graduated high school and bought his own tractor, my grandfather let him farm 80 acres, gradually earning his share of the farm.

In the 1980’s, crop prices were very low. My grandfather was trying to send my mother, aunt, and uncle to college so working off farm was essential. Many families lost their farms at this time because the crop prices were so low that they could not make up for the expense that comes with farming.

At this point during the interview I asked what kept him from selling the farm and why he kept farming through the hard times. His response was “It was extremely difficult but farming is all I have know since I was small. It is my passion. It is the type of environment I wanted to raise my kids, and now my grand kids around. Farming helped me teach my kids the value of working hard for the things you want in life.”

Today, my grandfather and uncle farm 2,000 corn and bean acres. This year is my grandfather’s 50th year of farming.

Family-owned farms are the heart and soul of the U.S. agriculture industry. Many of these farms started with nothing, made it through very difficult times, and continue to thrive because of the passionate families who run them.


Pictured above is my grandparents, David and Susan Foster




My name is Megan Knight and I am from Ashton, Illinois. I am a senior at Western Illinois University studying Agriculture Business. My passion for agriculture stems from my grandfather as well as my time in my high school FFA and I can not wait to turn that passion into a career after I graduate.  Thank you for taking the time to read my blog!


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What showing livestock and farming has taught me by: Erica Harrell

Hello! My name is Erica Harrell and I am from Roseville Illinois. I am currently a junior at Western Illinois University with a major in Ag Business and minor in Animal Science. I have always had a passion for agriculture and would like to talk about some of the things I have been inspired by in the agriculture industry.

Ever since I was a little girl my favorite thing was to be outside on the farm with my family. I was never that into sports when I was younger because all I wanted to do when I was not in school was be outside on the farm. Agriculture has always been my favorite. To be honest, I don’t know where I would be today if I wasn’t involved in agriculture because it has taught me so many different things.

One of the biggest things that showing livestock and farming has taught me is that you can do anything that you put your mind to. If you would have told me when I was younger that I would be competing at national cattle and pig shows and doing very well I wouldn’t have believed you at all. I was that girl that would love to be around the commercial cattle and pigs, but I didn’t want anything to do with the showing part because I didn’t want to be like anyone else in my family and wanted to just do the farming part. At age 9 my mom got my first Angus show heifer named Sophie and I absolutely loved it. From that age until now I have showed a couple each year and the older I got the more competitive I got. When I look back to when I was younger until now I  have learned that anyone can do anything that want to as long as they work at it. You can do things other people do to and still not be like the other person. People can have the same hobbies and attack it at different ways.


When  I look back to what showing and farming has taught me a big factor of what my mom has always told me is “You get out what you put in”. When she told me that I really thought long and hard how true that is in anything you do in this world. The summer of 2016 is when she told me that. It was my first year going to the World Pork Expo and I was really nervous, but knew that I had put countless hours in the barn and walking the pigs. My York barrow and I had made it to grand drive and I was in shock. It was my first year there and so I wasn’t planning to do that well. We get in grand drive and the judge says on the microphone almost exactly what mom was saying to me “Yes stock shows are about having fun, but in all reality they teach kids what hard work is”. After that moment when they had us stop in the middle of ring to give our hogs a break I thought about how showing really does teach us all work ethic. You can’t be successful if you don’t work at it.  After that my York was selected grand champion overall purebred and I was in shock. When I look back today what my mom said and the judge said on the microphone is 100% related to life. We don’t get things given to us and I am fortunate to have been taught that you have to work hard to be successful.



Two of the biggest things that I’ve learned in farming and showing is independence and teamwork. For example at my age I am now driving an auger cart and also drive the truck and trailer to shows when no one can go with me. I’ve gotten taught as a woman sometimes you have to step up and do some of things on a farm you never though you would do. I’m glad my family has taught me how to do things like driving an auger cart and truck and trailer because I can do things on the farm when there needed to be done. It’s taught me patience and that sometimes you need to slow down and take your time.

To be honest I could talk for days on what living on a farm and showing livestock has taught me, but the skills that I learn and still am learning make me who I am today. I’m so fortunate to be able to have grown up in an agriculture family.IMG_6073

Growing up with agriculture has really made an impact on my life. I am fortunate to have learned what I have and excited to see what the future holds for me.

Don’t Wait, Study Abroad!

When you think of earning credits towards your degree, do you think of beaches, tourist attractions, and different countries? I never did, but I do now! I had the awesome opportunity to study abroad with my peers from the WIU School of Agriculture to Costa Rica for 10 days. We were able to learn about the different types of agriculture commodities they have in Costa Rica, along with great learning experiences at EARTH University and stay in the dorms where the local students live. It was incredible to see how hard these students work and how hands-on all their work is compared to ours.


Not only is the Study Abroad program at WIU a fun spring break getaway, but you have an opportunity of a lifetime that you will never be able to get once your out of college. Even if $3,000 sounds like a lot of money, you can’t even begin to imagine how beneficial this is for the rest of your agriculture career. I think it is very important to learn about agriculture in different countries, and this is by far the best way to do just that. During my experience I was able to tour a sugar cane mill, a NASA space shuttle lab, a homestead farm, the University farm, coffee plantation, and so much more. Everything we did was a little different than the last and was so interesting to learn about since we never get to see most of these products in Illinois.

Another part that made it an incredible trip was the bond that our group built throughout the trip. At first we were a little quiet, but by the end we were always joking around and having a great time together. Our tour guides were fun too, so we spent a lot of time with them. Even after we got back from the trip I still talk to most of the people I traveled with on a regular basis, and I even have the opportunity to live with one of my travel partners, Paige!

Paige Skinner is a sophomore studying agriculture science/pre-vet at WIU and was able to go on the study abroad trip to Costa Rica too. Paige and I have known each other since grade school, so being able to share this experience with her was special to me.


“I really enjoyed my time in Costa Rica learning about how they deal with their livestock. I didn’t expect it to be that different, but now I have that experience to share with people when I got back. It was also really fun to build a relationship with the whole group and hanging out every night after our long day, which we usually included Victor (the travel guide) in on it too!’

My last word of advice for you is to spend the extra cash and study abroad with WIU School of Ag. I promise you will not regret it, and this is something you can cherish and share with others for the rest of your life. Dr. Bacon is the man to talk to at Western Illinois University and he was a great leader for my trip. I hope you can take advantage of the study abroad program and enjoy yourself as much as my group did! Pura Vida!


Hey guys! My name is Katelyn Muhlenburg and I am a senior studying agriculture business with a minor in finance at Western Illinois University. Throughout my time at WIU I have gained many great relationships with faculty and students, as long as taking on some leadership positions in the School of Ag. I am the President of the Agribusiness Club, a member of the AgVocator team, and I recently joined the agriculture sorority Sigma Alpha. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, bowhunting whitetails, kayaking, and camping. I recently accepted a grain merchandising position with Archer Daniels Midland which will begin in June. Go Leathernecks!


Why use Agricultural Field Tile?

When you tell someone that your family has a tiling business, most people do not think of field tile. Almost everyone that I talk to not coming from an agriculture background thinks that we lay tile in bathrooms and on floors. Most people have no idea what field tile is and are surprised or shocked when we start explaining what we do. One of the most frequently asked questions is “Why is field tile needed”?

Field tile is needed in most Illinois farm fields because most of Illinois lays flat and there is nowhere for the water to go. When the water lays on the surface it causes a lot of problems. Standing water causes the ground to become compacted, reduces yield, and prevents planting or tillage. Surface water can also cause problems like erosion and runoff. Not only does tile help drain ground that is already tillable, but it can also be installed in ditches where trees have been removed. This makes more tillable land for the farmer to take advantage of.

Picture from Timewell Tile

Every farm is unique so there is no certain pattern or direction to lay tile. The way you determine how a tile needs to be laid takes GPS mapping and planning to make sure everything works properly. Soil type, crop rotation, and ground slope is all taken into account when designing a tile map. The size of the tile is determined by the amount of water you are trying to drain. To determine depth and spacing, you have to take into account all of the factors above. For most of the fields in this area, we lay the mains (where all of the water from the lateral runs are drained) at about 4 feet deep and then the lateral runs are laid at about 3 feet deep. The mains are usually 8 or 6 inch tile and they are laid where most of the water will slope towards. The lateral runs are usually 50 to 100 feet apart and we use 4 inch tile most of the time.  The spacing of each tile line is determined by the budget of the farmer and the wetness of the ground.

There are many benefits to field tiling. Field tiling will increase crop quality and production, aerate the soil, provide timely field operations for early planting, prevention of harmful salt buildup, and increased productivity. Tiling has a very high up front cost, but will pay for itself in just a few years. It is hard to talk the farmer into getting tiling done, but each year after they see the benefits, they are ready for more.

Picture taken by Erin Smith

“We have put in around 900,000 feet of tile. When we tile a field the neighbors stop by and ask us to install tile for them. We originally purchased the plow just to do our own work but it has grown into more work than we can handle. The Soil-Max Gold Digger is the best investment we have made. P.S. It is also very good exercise for the three of us.””

– Alan McDonald, Steve Holt, Craig Stockdale, West Central Indiana

I found this quote to be very interesting because my family relates to it. We first bought our tile plow because all of the people were too busy to get to our project for several years so we decided to get our own. When we started tiling, all of the neighbors showed up and wanted us to do some for them. This is how our business got started and has grown to where it is today.

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Designed by Austin Welch







Hi everyone, I am Austin Welch. I will be graduating in May with a degree in Agricultural Science. I was born and raised in Macomb. While growing up on the family farm, my family has started our own Ag Services and tiling business. During the offseason on the weekends, I like to spend my time at the Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.

The Pros and Cons of Drones in Agriculture

Drones have been around for awhile now and have many uses. But now they are making their way to agriculture and taking the industry by storm. There are many uses of drones in agriculture and they are only going to get more popular as time goes on. They are a very helpful tool and look for them to become a more common practice within the agriculture industry. Along with any normal practice there are also many cons that come with using drones in agriculture.

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An example of one of many flying patterns for scouting a field.



Drones are useful throughout the whole planting process. They are able to produce 3-D maps for soil analysis that will be helpful in the planning of planting patterns and then after the planting is complete, the soil analysis provides information for irrigation and nitrogen-level management. One of the things they are very useful for is scouting fields after the planting process. Once the crops have started to grow, you can take the drone and scout the field from up above. Here you can spot out many things that you wouldn’t be able to see just by walking the field.

Some may ask, “How can drones help with irrigation?” Drones are equipped with thermal, hyper-spectral, or thermal sensors that can detect which parts of the field have become dry and have not received enough water. This is a huge asset and helps the farmers precisely attend to the drier parts of the field. Along with irrigation, drones are able to scan crops using visible and near infrared light. With this technology, farmers are able to depict plant health through the green and near-infrared light that is reflected by the plants. They then take the images and monitor the crops of their current state.

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Along with all of the benefits, also come with cons. Including flight time and cost just to name a few. These are problems that are going to cause a domino effect of problems, but they are issues that will make you think out purchasing a drone.

One of the bigger problems that farmers face is flight time. The majority of drones have a flight time of 20 minutes to an hour. This causes of problem of the amount of ground it can cover per battery charge. An easy way to fix that problem is having excess batteries on the side ready for flight, but it ends up being a hassle changing the batteries time after time. I’m sure that as time goes on, technology is only going to get better and we will see some drones that can be in flight for much longer but that brings us to our next problem. Cost!

Drones are not a cheap purchase and can easily cost you thousands of dollars. Depending on what you wanted to use your drone for will determine the price. You can buy drones without all of the equipment needed for a number of things and that would be the cheaper route. But if you’re wanting to go the whole nine yards with it then expect to have a nice portion of your bank account removed.

As you can see, drones are becoming a huge epidemic in agriculture and the demand for them is going to rise. They are making tasks that once took physical labor and turning them into tasks that doesn’t even break a sweat. I would look for them to keep getting bigger and better at what they’re doing and possibly doing even more than we imagined.


Hello, my name is Kory Bienhoff and I am a senior here at WIU. I am from Golden, Illinois, a small town about 40 miles from here. I am majoring in Agriculture Business and am currently on track to graduate this May. Right now, I currently do not have a guaranteed job but have a couple potential ones out there. I am excited for what my future will bring, and I will always be thankful for my years as a Leatherneck! #NeckUp




Macomb High School Ag Is Back With A Bang

Agriculture has always been a fundamental part of the livelihood here in Macomb. However, for the last few decades the town has failed to give Ag that same appreciation in the classroom. From 1987-88 til 2015 there was no Ag program at Macomb Senior High School. Instead, students would have to travel to the next town over to receive the course at West Prairie High School. Time constraints along with scheduling conflicts made it nearly impossible for kids with a curiosity for agriculture to fully get engaged in that field of study. If you were not from a production Ag background or fully committed to studying Ag in college, you did not really have the time to risk trying a course and not liking it. Kids already had enough on their plates with friends, studying classes, extracurricular activities, and most importantly, graduating on time! Something needed to give. How were we going to waste an opportunity to educate our youth about one of the major pillars of Macomb’s existence? In 2015, the Macomb School District with the help of the Macomb Agriscience Association found the solution.

After gathering the proper amount of money and support from the local community, Macomb High was finally able to bring back the Ag program. I was personally excited to see this change occur because I was one of those very kids who all through elementary and high school wondered what it would be like to be an Aggie but never thought I would be able to find the right fit for me. Sure my father was an Ag professor, but I did not grow up on or really around a farm unless I went to visit family in Missouri. When I graduated high school and registered for Western, I declared Ag Business as my major. However, since I had no prior production Ag experience, I had no idea if this was going to be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It just so happened that it was the best decision I have ever made it my life, and all I want is for the future kids behind me to be able to realize their love for agriculture at a much younger age and can already begin to make their own impact long before they reach college. Macomb High bringing back Ag has done just that for the younger generation of kids like my two younger brothers, who are or were active members, and my little sister in the near future.

Aside from allowing curious adolescents the opportunity to experience production agriculture in the classroom, it also gives students plenty of other opportunities such as developing leadership and public speaking skills, compete in local and national contests, and also allows some of the students to attend the National Ag Convention. Now these courses were brought back in 2015, so what is the Macomb chapter up to? I, like most in town i’m sure, watched closely to see if it was just a one and done program, or if Ag would stick around. This year my questions were answered when the high school cut the ribbon on a brand new greenhouse for the high school.

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Ribbon Cutting At Macomb Senior High School (photo from KHQA)

In October of this year, the Macomb Ag program took another step forward in its comeback to campus by erecting and opening a brand new greenhouse to be able to support the horticulture classes that the school would like to begin offering. When I asked my dad, who played an important role in bring these courses back, about what this would mean for the kids he told me this. “Drew you were one of the new kids to Ag. You know that it is much harder to learn about something new, especially soil and plants if you don’t get in there with em and get your hands dirty. I think this is exactly what kids need.” After just two years of being back in town, Macomb Ag has already accomplished something people said might take as long as 5-10 years before anything would get done. With an estimated value of around $50,000, the 30 foot by 60 foot structure was made possible by several local businesses like DuPont Pioneer and Ayerco along with the Tracy Family Foundation that granted most of the money needed for the project. Now with upwards of 80 active students, new horticulture classes, and a brand new greenhouse, I could not be more proud to say that I see Ag being an instrumental part of Macomb High as well as our town for years to come.

My name is Drew Baker and I am a Junior at Western Illinois University majoring in Ag Business. With my degree I look to move out of state to pursue a career in Sales or Marketing.



Life After the Show Ring

Since I can remember I have always spent close to all of my time in a barn. When I was young it was in a cattle barn, while my brother was showing. And at first I started out in the same barn showing cattle but by the end of my first year I wanted to try something different. Little did my family, and mainly my brother know that showing pigs would become my passion. By 2009 I told my brother I wanted to start raising our own show pigs. From the beginning it was mainly to be able to say we raised the hogs that I was showing and competing with, and if you asked me six years ago what my goal was? I would have told you to win state fair with a barrow we raised. After walking out of the show ring for the last time as a junior member this past August, I still have the same goal but its changed a little bit now.

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Photo from: Nick Bangerts facebook. Taken by: Mapes Photography

I never would have thought that being done showing would actually be nice, but this past summer it finally hit me that I was ready to be done, and just wanted to help others. My brother always said ” I would rather be behind the gate, then in the ring”. Until the past couple summers when I really started to help other families, I thought he was crazy, but I soon realized he was right! It’s actually fun to work with a young exhibitor throughout the summer and then see them have the success with livestock that we raised or helped them find.

After being done showing, I really think it’s important to be able to help the younger generation the same way I got help from so many breeders and role models. This goes with making those visits throughout the summer to help with feed rations, walking and just the everyday daily care. And it’s not about doing it for them but helping them make steps in the right direction to have the most success that they can. This doesn’t just apply for hogs but all livestock and or even sports. Making a positive impact on youth helps them be better for the future.

One of the best leaders in the livestock industry to me, Dan Hoge has always said that “it’s not over, your role has just changed”. I couldn’t be happier that I have different role now. I still have the same goal of raising the grand barrow at a state fair, but now I just want to be the one standing behind the gate helping someone else do it!

Myself 2017

My name is Nick Bangert and I am from Blue Grass, Iowa.  I’m a senior at Western Illinois University, but before attending WIU, I graduated from Black Hawk East with my associates in Ag Business and have been apart of the Livestock Judging team at both colleges. I have grown up on a small grain and livestock farm. My future goals after graduation this spring is to move back home, obtain a job in an Ag related field and continue to raise livestock. Thank you for reading my blog.