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

A Day as a custom haying owner / operator

A custom hay operator. The joys of the job. Everyday there is a new field to bale, or a new farm to go to wrap hay for. These farms can take you as far away from home base as you would like. You can be a half mile down the road at the neighbor’s place, 2 hours away from home, or 2 days away from home. You get to meet some amazing people, that manage their farms in very different ways.

Fall and Cornstalks

While my custom business is still growing, along with trying to find a way to expand the business into a year around business. The main proponent has been haying for the last 6 plus years. While haying occurs mostly during the summer months allowing, me to operate during the summer break of schooling. There is an overlap time in the fall of the year with schooling and this leads to some challenging times of coordinating classes with good weather, and a very helpful father. Trying to make cornstalk bales, and get some cornstalks wrapped for farmers in the fall of the year is always a fun time for me. For I get to go from classes to the equipment.

Summertime and Baleage

During the summer is where the equipment that I have purchased for this business really shines. For several reasons, I have focused my machinery towards a commonly known practice but rarely implemented practice of baleage. Baleage is a simple way of being able to make hay without having to wait for the hay to dry down for 3 or 4 days. Baleage is hay or forages that are put up in a wet state, then wrapped to seal the oxygen out of the crop. This creates silage in bale form. For this I have purchased the main item in making baleage, which is a bale wrapper. This machine covers the bales in 8 layers of plastic, of which is an oxygen barrier. Allowing the bales to go through the fermenting process, and creating baleage. The other machine that I have purchased to drive this change in the forage industry has been a silage special round baler. This

Photo taken by Alex Dambman, viewing the tractor and specialty baler in the field.

machine turns the hay crop into round bales, like conventional round balers only this one is special. It has been designed and built to handle this heavy wet and sometimes sticky forages. While also having a special chopping rotor in the throat of the machine. This cuts the hay from long stem material into material that rarely gets over 4 1/2” in length. Cutting the material helps with feeding the material for several reasons. First it is easier to pull apart, with baleage the hay sticks together more and can sometimes be challenging to break the bale apart. Also, it reduces the amount of wasted hay when feeding to cattle, for they are only able to grab a mouth full, rather than a mouthful and plenty of extra that they are rarely able to get into their mouth.


Typical summertime day

            So, the actual typical day in the summer. Usually starts with a morning greasing and servicing of equipment. Along with a double check of the amount of Net wrap and Plastic that is in storage. The experience of a shortage of net wrap and or plastic during a busy day of baling and or wrapping is something that I do not like to experience. There’s also a morning list of phone calls to make to the farmers that we finished wrapping their hay later in the night. While also calling a making a schedule for the day of what and where the baler is needing to go, and to what time the baler should be done baling for the day. This is an important detail for the day, for this is also the time that we get to get started wrapping all the baleage made that day. For any of the baleage bales that were baled, have a 24-hour time of which they must get wrapped, or the nutrient amount of the bale starts to decline so rapidly that the baleage can turn into a product that has no value other than returning some organic matter back to the soil. Therefore, I try to and focus on wrapping, all the baleage that I must wrap within a 12-hour time of which it is baled. This 12-hour goal, creates some long nights of wrapping on occasion. For most

Photo taken by Alex Dambman, viewing the bale wrapping, wrapping baleage.
days during the summer, the baler is busy baling hay from roughly noon till 7:30 or 8 depending upon the day could go later or could also be shorter. It is then that, most of the customers have the baleage bales moved to the location that they are wanting to wrap. It’s usually then when the wrapper can then get started wrapping the hay that was made that day. While the wrapper tends to be a faster machine at handling a larger number of bales. It only takes several farmers to have bales to wrap that can make a night long. While most nights we’re done wrapping the baleage by 10 or 11o’clock at night, there are nights that lots of farmers have baleage to wrap and they have large number of bales. This can lead to the nights getting stretched into the 2 or 3o’clock in the morning.


My thoughts

While working late into the night to get the job done is not what I would call an ideal work schedule. Along with the amount and value of equipment needed to operate a custom haying operation like this is large for anyone trying to get into the market. This industry is one that I have deep connection with. The farmers I get to meet and work with are what I believe some of the best at doing what they are doing. While I also enjoy this industry, while getting to travel to new areas, new farms, and get to change up the forages that we get to bale. Changing the way that a practice that we do daily, keeps it very interesting and challenging in day to day operations. Would I build this operation the way I have if I could go back? I wouldn’t want to change a way I have done anything with this operation. The niche market that I have opened with the special baler, and wrapper has given me more work than I thought it would originally. Driving my love for this industry, which is know what I hope to continue after gradation in May 2018.

Photo by family member, of Alex Dambman

My name is Alex Dambman and I am a senior at Western Illinois University. Majoring in Agricultural business. With hopes to return home and continue this custom operation, and or take over the family business.










From the Windy City to Corn Fields


Finding my Purpose

As you can probably tell from the title I am originally from Chicago, Illinois. I spent the early years of my life in Austin, Chicago, but due to the increase in violence within my community, my parents decided to move my two brothers and I to a suburb called Oak Park- a place that I’ve grown to love and proudly call home. The change in environment helped guide me to my passions and this was where I discovered what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—help animals. As a young boy, I loved all types of animals. Not having a pet, like many other people I knew, didn’t seem to stop me in the least bit from interacting with one every chance got. I remember many occasions where I would bring home stray or lost animals, adopting them as my own (my mom would look at me crazily while she dialed the numbers on the dogs’ tags). A specific moment that helped me discover my passion for helping animals was on my way home from elementary school. As I got off the bus, there was Great Dane just sitting there by itself. Instinctively, the first thing I did was approach the dog to pet it. Time must have slipped from me because before I knew it, I had been sitting there for hours trying to keep the dog company and safe. Eventually, a man approached us and began to praise me for finding his lost dog. At first, I was disappointed because, as far as I was concerned, the Great Dane had become mine through those couple hours… but in the end, I did cave and returned the dog to his rightful owner. Even as a young boy, I felt the need to sit with the lost dog and help him in any way I could. This experience made me realize not only that I couldn’t resist a cute dog, but that I’ve always had an instinct to help animals, therefore my goal was to make it my purpose in life.


My Experience at WIU

Some of the few reasons that drew me to Western Illinois University was that I knew people who previously went to school here and that I wanted to go somewhere further away from home but close enough so that I could still visit frequently. To be honest, I  had no intention of pursuing agriculture here at W.I.U. and was quite unaware that Pre-Veterinary Science was under the umbrella of the Agriculture program. Upon finding that out, I assumed the next four years here a WIU weren’t going to be fun because I had no background in agriculture, nor did it even appeal to me. I imagined that because of my lack of experience in agriculture, I was going to be an outsider… Man was I wrong. The exact opposite ended up happening; everyone, from the teachers like Professor Hoge and Professor Bernards, to the students made me feel very welcomed and all my worries seemed to have been for nothing. To my surprise, I even looked forward to class at the farm because of the hands-on learning it gave me. Never in my life did I think I would be herding cattle but I did it here at Western. agriculture has provided me with a level of experience that I don’t think would have been provided elsewhere. This program has not only taught me more about animals, but has opened my mind to new things as well as allow me to have some of the best experiences of my life.


What I plan to Take Away From This

Being introduced to agriculture has really helped in my veterinary studies. The introduction to livestock really helped me deal with animals outside of the norm. I’ve also gotten to meet people who love what they are learning, which is something that I admire. I always hear people say, “I went to college for 4 years and I learned nothing”, but that’s not something I believe to be true for me. Everything that I’ve learned in class I plan on continuing to apply- not only when I go to veterinarian school, but even as I start to treat animals as a practicing vet. Even though my journey here has been totally unexpected, I believe I ended up in the perfect place in pursuit of my career— something I’ll never take for granted.



My name is Markus Allen and I am a student at Western Illinois University studying Pre-Veterinary science as my major and Chemistry as my minor. Thanks for taking the time to read my Blog. (By the way that is me holding the piglet)

First Generation Aggie

When agriculture outsiders hear the word “farmer,” they automatically assume that  the farmer has probably grown up and lived on that farm for their whole life, and to be honest, usually they are right.  When I talk to my peers in the Agriculture program here at Western Illinois University, the majority of them grew up on a farm where they have been helping their family operation since they were old enough to drive a tractor.  My story on the other hand is not like most of them, because I wasn’t born on a farm, which in my eyes can be both a negative and positive in pursuit for a career in agriculture.


When I first chose to become a student in agriculture, not only was I set back a year due to me changing to an Agriculture major my sophomore year, but also because I haven’t had hands on experience out in the field or on the farm. Simple lectures that may have been review for some students was brand new material for me, and going out into the field for our labs was some of the first times I have looked at plants into detail like we did.

That first year as an agriculture student honestly made me worried that this might not be for me either, simply because of how far behind it seemed I was from everyone else. With all of these thoughts running through my head, I decided I was going to get a good summer job where I would be able to earn some money, but also further my education about agriculture at the same time. So the last two summers I was able to land a job at AgReliant Genetics as a field scout my first year, and a field supervisor assistant in the second, which to this day is the best decision I have made.

Not only did I further my education, but I fell in love with the work I was doing just as a Field Scout and Field Supervisor Assistant, and this made me realize that agriculture was the right decision for me. Going back to school that next year, it gave me a lot more confidence, and for me, having confidence in what I am doing is extremely important.

AgReliant Genetics Ogden, IA

Growing up outside of agriculture can also have some positives, and the main positive I have realized is that I am less biased towards agriculture. Now I am not saying I am not for agriculture, what I am saying is that someone who has been doing something since they could first talk will probably be more stubborn in a conversation that is negative towards agriculture than someone who hasn’t. A few weeks ago we were asked to go to a networking event for one of the classes I am in, and during that event I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to Ray Bunch of Citizens National Bank in Macomb, and he told me “being an outsider of agriculture, and coming into it can give a whole new point of view”. As an Ag Loan Officer that has been doing this for many years, it was nice to hear that positive feedback from Ray, and good to see people in the Agricultural field seeing this as a positive.

All in all, the decision to become an agriculture student turned out to be a great one. I have found a strong passion in this field, and enjoy the work I have had the opportunity to do, but the best thing about agriculture is the people within it. Since joining the agriculture community, I have seen how truly passionate these people are for agriculture, and the work ethic these people show is something you don’t find very often.



Hello everyone, my name is Jake Soehn and I am an Agriculture Business major at Western Illinois University, and will be graduating at the end of this school year in May.  Like stated in the blog, I have developed a strong passion in Agriculture, and would love the opportunity to pursue a career within the field.  I appreciate the time you gave to read my blog!

All Colleges Should be More Like EARTH University

EARTH University is a well established agricultural college that has two campus’ in Costa Rica, one located in Guacimo, which is close to San Jose, and one in La Flor. EARTH was established by Costa Rican law in 1986 as a private, non-profit, international university and created with the support of the Costa Rican government. EARTH’s innovative educational approach has been preparing young people from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and other regions to contribute to the sustainable development of their home communities, all the while constructing a prosperous and just global society. They offer high quality scientific and technological education with an emphasis in ethical entrepreneurship and environmental commitment. Also EARTH has a prestigious international staff with highly qualified professors.

Some statistics about EARTH:

  • Approximately 431 students, from 41 countries
  • 46% are women
  • Approximately 83% are from rural communities
  • 60% of students receive full scholarships with the remaining receiving significant financial aid and/or educational subsidy, empowering promising young leaders from economically underprivileged communities.


C.R. Group Pic
Group picture with Victor our tour guide, and Ronald our driver.

This past spring, I went on a study abroad trip with Western Illinois University to Costa Rica. On this trip we were exposed to Costa Rica’s culture, history, and their agricultural industry. A large portion of our time there was spent at EARTH University. We stayed on campus for most of our nights in the country, ate many meals there, and were able to learn about Costa Rica’s agriculture and the university itself. Also we were able to mingle with the students in both social and educational aspects.

A requirement of the University is that every student and teacher must be able to speak at least Spanish and English, which results in many of the students knowing several languages. If a student doesn’t know Spanish or English there is a program they must take at EARTH were they can learn before they start their studies. While there, one of the most popular questions I was asked was, “How many languages do you speak?” It was extremely eye opening for me to realize just how common it was for people outside of the United State to know multiple languages. One young man I talked to from Africa knew five languages and 15 dialects of a certain language!

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Learning about hydroponics from a 3rd year student from Africa.

The students have school 6 says a week, whether that be spent in the classroom or with work experience where they will work for a certain sector of the school farm. The students at EARTH learn about animal, plant, and soil sciences as well as agribusiness. Some of the first things that students will learn when they get to EARTH, besides the required languages, is how to operate a tractor and ride a horse.

Courses at this university are more focused on lab and hands on activities than just in the classroom. For the student’s second year they must design an entrepreneurship related to agriculture, where the school will loan them the money to get it started. The students have one year to develop and perform their business, and must earn at least enough money to pay back their loan. If they earn more than what their loan was for, they get to pocket the money. If they cannot pay back their loan and their entrepreneurship was unsuccessful, they can no longer continue their studies at EARTH.Students’ first and third year at EARTH are based on classroom learning of technical and scientific knowledge, personal development, attitudes, values, and social and environmental awareness/commitment. For their second year they form a realistic mock business and their fourth year is for their international internship, which most take place in the United States. The internships must be related to agriculture and take place outside of their home country but have no other real restrictive guidelines.

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Different stages of the composting process at the university.

EARTH prides itself by being 80% sustainable. A large majority of the food from the cafeteria: dairy, meat, vegetables, and other proteins comes from the school farm. For example, the food waste from the cafeteria is used to feed the pigs or go into compost. The animals at the school provide meat, dairy, and protein for the students, faculty, and visitors at the University. The waste from the animals will go into compost and the compost will be used to fertilize the crops grown at the farm. Also some of the animal waste will go into bio-converters to produce some of the power used by the campus. The crops at the farm are used in the cafeteria and to feed the livestock. All remaining crops are contracted out and the profit goes back to the school to use towards maintenance, scholarships, etc.

EARTH’s entire goal is to educate their students about agriculture, ethics, professionalism, and sustainability, so that they can go back to their counties/communities and share this knowledge and these practices there. The University has high standards and expectations for their students, but is sure to provide them with the proper education and skill set to succeed. All colleges should have some, if not all, of the attributes that EARTH has. Emphasizing sustainability, a hard work ethic, high standards that are achievable, and the desire to take what you have and improve it for not only yourself, but for your community and environment.

About the Author:


Hello all! My name is Maggie Eberley, and I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University majoring in Agriculture with an emphasis in Business and a minor in Agronomy. I grew up in central Illinois on a small row crop and livestock farm. My passion for agriculture started from being raised on a farm, and continued to grow my passion by being apart of the 4-H and FFA organizations, as well as taking courses throughout high school and college. After graduation I hope to attain a career in the finance/lending side of the agriculture industry as well as start a family of my own.

The Importance in Agricultural Field Tile

When people think about agriculture the first few things that will pop into their head will be cows, pigs, corn, and tractors. When a farmer thinks about agriculture they might think of things like yields, weight averages, GMO’s and what they can do to better their operation at the end of the day. When looking at the commercial farming side of agriculture and dealing with yields, erosion problems and weather one thing pops into my head and it is tile.
Tiling systems are the combination of private and public draining systems allowing the landscape of the Midwest to become one of the most fertile and nutrient controlling farmlands in the world during the crops growing season. Most people do not realize that Illinois use to be an extremely wet and swampy area. The one way that the issue was fixed was by using drainage practices. Millions and millions of feet of tile have been placed throughout the state allowing the people of Illinois to travel in vehicles and farm without getting stuck in mud everyday. “I think the naysayers need to re-evaluate their politically correct thoughts about tile today. Don’t complain about farmers tiling and keeping good outlets and then forget your own residence is reliant on good drainage around the house.”(Jeff Van Loon)

“Jeff is the District Manager for the Medina SWCD since 2006. Before that he was an area representative with the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Conservation through out Northeast Ohio for most of his career. He worked closely with District Boards of Supervisors and staffs on programs and capacity building.”

Today the majority of field tile use is for creating higher yields in a farmer’s field crop. This is important when we look at issues like world hunger because it allows a farmer to have some hope the they will produce a higher yield than what they would have if they were just working in wet soils. The tile also helps a farmer when they are working and harvesting the crops. The tile helps drain the soils making it easier to harvest when planned and it helps with soil compaction.
When looking at the overall plant health of a field that has a proper drainage system hooked up there tends to be a better plant stand with fewer diseases. The plant stand can depend usually on the stress that the plant encounters in its growth periods. With good drainage the plants roots and base will not be submerged under water for a long period of time which will allow the plant to breathe easier and get the right amount of water it needs. Farmers see a lower increase of diseased plants in the field when drainage systems are installed. Most diseases thrive near or close by saturated areas.
Tile in a field is more than just a quick way to get water off of the property, it can be a long-term investment as well. Tiling a field can increase the field’s overall value and quality. But most importantly a proper drainage system can help the field breathe and it will increase the crop’s ability to produce at an optimal level.

Matthew McCoy. Lewistown, IL. Senior at Western Illinois University.