The Places You’ll go with the Western Illinois University Livestock Judging Team.

When you join the judging team at WIU you don’t just become another member of a team or the product of another system, you become party of a family. A group of your peers that you spend the next year with not only learning about livestock evaluation and industry trends but also learning about one another, learning about yourself and where you want to be within the industry or how you want to leave an impact. The individuals that get on the van for the first time will become lifelong friends that share memories you will carry for the rest of your life.

Now none of this was known to me when I showed up in Macomb the fall of 2015 and became part of a storied program. Though growing up I was fortunate enough to have the ability to show livestock at a competitive level and reach success, but never once did the thought of livestock judging  cross my mind till that first day attending the livestock evaluation course with Dr. Mark Hoge. That day many topics were discussed from individuals summer activities to what the senior members of the judging team will be doing in preparation for The National Barrow Show and the rest of the fall as they near the end of the time with the team. For the juniors their journey has just begun, as they are turned loose to prepare hogs for the truck load contest at The National Barrow Show. For me as the “new kid” it was my first time meeting all the other transfer students from Black Hawk East, Lakeland Community College, and Lincoln Land Community College as I was the only one who had not attended a junior college.

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Maxwell Street Facebook

I did not take long into winter workout for a group of strangers to become a close group of friends, for when you stuff 11 students in a 15 passenger van you have no choice but to. As we travel across the country making industry connections, evaluating the livestock that reached the highest qualities, the people who start out as strangers become your best friends. Many of my teammates had experiences judging from their previous schools but for me this was the first time I had ever given a set of reasons in my life, and I’ll tell you the first few times were pretty rough for me. What made this experience in life most beneficial for me was this group of people who I had only met a few months ago want to see me improve and better my skill as an evaluator and grow as a person.

From the yards in Denver to the green shavings of Louisville, the National Barrow Show to the shores of Galveston we made memories as a family that I would never trade. We never took it easy, we were always hammer down no matter what we did, if it was sorting stock in a feed lot somewhere in Nebraska or on the streets of Kansas City, I enjoyed every minute spent with this group of people I am able to call my friends and I thank them for that. Image may contain: 4 people

Maxwell Stret Facebook

They say your make your best friends in college. If you would have told me that before we got in the van I don’t know if I would believe you, but the moment you have to get in for  the final time you realize that it is the most real thing you have been told. I can say I was lucky enough to be one of those who got to spend a year driving the gravel back roads of  this great nation in a white van bound for some workout or a judging contest running on little sleep and a shared passion for livestock.

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Hello readers! My name is Max Street and I am a senior at Western Illinois University.  I will be graduating in May with a major in Agricultural Business, and was a member of the livestock judging team. I grew up in Helenville, WI, where I grew up on a family farm where we raised and showed livestock competitively.  Agriculture has always been a very important part of my life and it has instilled qualities in me that I hope one day to be able to pass on to my children and the younger generations. Agriculture is my passion in life, it’s what I love to do, and hopefully this blog represents that! Thank you!





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!


Farming Specialty Crops

In the modern world farming is a practice that fewer and fewer people are involved with every year. Growing up in central Illinois I grew up in a farming community where my family has farmed for generations. Like my grandparents and great grandparents had done my family had a row crop operation along with a small herd of cattle but what made my parents farm so different from the way the rest of our family farmed was that they started producing horticultural crops. While growing specialty crops gave my family and I many new opportunities it also brought up many new challenges for us along the way.

Growing crops like strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries just to name a few aren’t very common crops in central Illinois it becomes a challenge when issues arrive. Unlike issues with corn and soybeans you can’t just call your seed dealer of local agronomist to ask for advice when you are facing problems. Reading spray guides and researching online for handling certain weed and disease breakouts in fruit production is only so helpful so many problems that are faced have to be done through trial and error. what also makes our business different from row crop production is living in Illinois there isn’t crop insurance that you can purchase for specialty crops in case of failure which adds more risk to this business.

With many struggles that we have faced farming this way we have been fortunate to have found success as well. Twenty two years ago my parents started this business with very little experience or knowledge about specialty crops to becoming one of the most successful specialty crop businesses in the area. my father has given several presentations at many state and regional shows for horticulture production for people who are wanting to get into this kind of business for themselves.

The time i have spent at Western Illinois University had not only helped me learn more about agriculture and given me many opportunities to learn and grow in the field but has given me a greater appreciation for the business my family has.

My name is Logan Conrady i am from Hettick Illinois and a senior at Western Illinois University pursuing a degree in Ag Science with a minor in agronomy. strawberries

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Is It Really that Bad?


Even though High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has gotten a lot of bad press and there are convincing arguments as to why consuming a lot of this product isn’t good for you, there are many reasons why many products on the market today still use it. Take a moment or two and try to think about some of the sweetened products found in your home. Chances are, almost all the products you thought of are likely to contain HFCS. But is that really such a bad thing?

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Photo credit: Kayla Itsines

Cake, bread, candy, soda, brownies, muffins, ice cream, and the list goes on.

Almost everyone eats some of these foods. Now imagine if these foods were not sweet. You would probably stop eating mid-bite if this were the case. Americans eat a lot of sweetened food, and have developed a taste for it more than any other industrialized nation. Food producers know this and want to market the best products they can.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is simply a change of a sugar base from a glucose to a fructose. That means it is just a type of sugar with a few different characteristics.  So why use HFCS instead of sugar?

Some benefits of HFCS vs sugar:

  • Provides texture and enhance “mouth-feel” of many foods
  • Helps baked foods in the browning process
  • Makes high fiber products moist to taste better
  • “Bulks up” ice cream, baked goods, preserves and jams, giving them more volume
  • Makes salad dressings, sauces and condiments smoother tasting by cutting the harsh acidity of vinegar
  • Helps to preserve and protects the flavor, aroma and color of fruit used in jellies, jams and preserves
  • Stabilizes products with temperature fluctuations

When you compare different types of sweeteners, there aren’t that many differences, except in the benefits and how they are produced. Currently the price for HFCS is $.3363 per pound vs sugar at $.2690.

The following chart and facts list was found on:

Here’s a comparison of some of the most common types of sweeteners you find on nutrition labels:

comparison table

There are many misconceptions about HFCS, so here are a few quick facts:

  • The American Medical Association stated in June 2008 that “…high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners…”
  • In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally listed high fructose corn syrup as safe for use in food and reaffirmed that decision in 1996.
  • High fructose corn syrup is not sweeter than sugar; and high fructose corn syrup, sugar and honey all contain the same number of calories (four calories per gram).
  • Many confuse pure “fructose” with “high fructose corn syrup.” Recent studies that have examined pure fructose have been inappropriately applied to high fructose corn syrup and have caused significant consumer confusion. High fructose corn syrup never contains fructose alone, but always in combination with a roughly equivalent amount of a second sugar (glucose).

As you can see, HFCS, has not been condemned or found harmful by the FDA or the AMA, and therefore isn’t “the devil”, as many consumers now make it out to be. Unless more scientific data comes in to confirm arguments against HFCS, people shouldn’t be against  consuming this product.

Alex Vanwatermeulen, Ag Science major at Western Illinois University, from Cambridge, Illinois. Farm hand of a 1,200 acre corn and soybean operation.


Benefits of Cover Crops

Cover crops are a great resource and something that is not used as much as they should be today. Cover crops can provide many benefits and help to improve the overall soil health when used over a long period of time. The small family farm that I grew up on uses cover crops and it was not until I got to college that I realized that most farms do not use them.

Cover crops have been found to have been used in many as 200 years before World War

II (Groff). So what did they know that we do not know now? They realized that cover crops helped to give back to the soil. Some people will argue that George Washington was one of the innovators that used cover crops and helped to educate people about them (Groff). He has always been considered a leader figure and someone who generally knew what they were doing. This was a time when the soil became less productive after a period of about twelve years that people would just move towards the west and find more land to farm, but George Washingtonrealized that this was not sustainable and that we could only do that so long before we ran out of land to farm. So he looked into other options that would help to give back to the land some of what we had taken out of it. Cover crops is the answer that he found (Groff).

Some of the many benefits that cover crops can help to provide are that they help to prevent erosion, improve organic matter content in

the soil, hold nutrients in place, and also help to convert nutrients into a form that is easily used by the cash crops.

Cover crops help to prevent erosion because they hold the soil in place during the harsh winter months. When soil is left bare and a big rain comes or when snow starts to melt it can move the soil and create rills and gullies in fields. Cover crops help to cover up the soil so when rain in falling less of it is going to directly hit the grounds surface and this helps to prevent the first step in erosion, which is detachment. Detachment occurs when rain directly hits the bare soil surface and particles of the soil are brokelose and are now easy to move to another location either in the field, off into the ditch, or into a nearby body of water. Cover crops can just help to keep everything in place until you are ready to plant your cash crop.

Cover crops also can help to improve the amount of organic matter that is found in the soil. Cover crops help to provide more residue that when broken down over time will become organic matter. Now this is a process that does not just happen over night. This takes time and persistence. Organic matter is important in the soil because of the number of benefits that it has to offer. Such as: increased water holding capacity, a better soil structure for the plants to live in and thrive, and also helps the nutrients to change into a form that is easy for plants to take in.

Organic matter helps to transform nutrients into a usable form for plants because with the increased organic matter you will also get an increase in the soil decomposing organisms that help to convert these nutrients (Magdoff, Es). After these nutrients are converted they will be able to be taken up by the cash crops and used easily.

Nutrient runoff is a big issue that most farms have, but cover crops can help to keep these nutrients right where they are supposed to be. Cover crops will absorb the nutrients that have been added to the soil during the winter months and then release them back into the soil when they are killed off in the spring. This means that they will be available for the cash crop when they are ready to use them.

These are just some of the many benefits that implementing cover crops into your crop program can provide. Yes, these do not all just happen over night, but over time they will become visible and they can lead to improved yields for your cash crops. Some may say that I am only for them because I come from a family farm, but after learning more about them in college I have truly learned why they are something that should be used and not just over looked.


I am currently a senior at WIU pursuing an agriculture business degree. I grew up on a fourth generation family farm in Jerseyville, IL. I attended Parkland College first and obtain my Associates Degree in Applied Science in agriculture while playing soccer for them.300.4850.084 (1)