Sigma Alpha: The Sorority that might just change the face of Agriculture


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Sigma Alpha is a professional agricultural sorority at Western Illinois University and many schools across the country.  Sigma Alpha stands for Sisters in Agriculture. Our mission is cultivating Professional Women in Agriculture. Sigma Alpha has four pillars that we value and uphold within the chapter leadership, scholarship, fellowship, and service.  When I rushed in fall 2015, I thought I was just going to be getting involved with other girls that had the same interest, but now looking back at it, it is so much more than just a group of girls with the same interest getting together every Monday night. These girls have given me a home away from home, support and a better network.    IMG_6442 Without this group of girls I would not have the network and support needed while being away at school. Many of these girls I have really gotten close to and Sigma Alpha has given me the opportunity to meet other girls with the same interest from different states. I never thought I would be in a sorority but I am glad I did. The objective of this sorority shall be to promote its members in all facets of agriculture and to strengthen the bonds of friendship among them. It is the purpose of the members to strive to achievement in scholarship, leadership and service, and to further the development of excellence in women pursuing careers in agriculture. IMG_6048

Now that our membership is at a steady 42 girls, we are ready to branch out and get more involved within our community. After nationals, which is the Sigma Alpha governing body, was here back in February we sat down as a chapter and determined that our next big step was to make the best philanthropy we could. We then established a committee that would bring all of our thoughts together in an organized way. After just a few short months we have organized our thoughts and are now working on a philanthropy for this upcoming November where we hope to have a successful trivia night that will bring in money to a local organizations that’s called Linda’s Fund, which offers support to breast cancer patients and their families that visit McDonough District Hospital.

It might just sound like all we do is work, with meetings on Monday nights and working to create a philanthropy. Which is not completely false, but as a group we like to have fun as well. We partner with our brother fraternities, Alpha Gamma Sigma and Alpha Gamma Rho at least once a semester for a social. We also try to have at least one alumni event during WIU homecoming, but thats not all. My personal favorite is our formal each spring semester. The past two years we have gone to Stoney Creek in Quincy, IL and there we are able to unwind with our sisters after a stressful semester.

You can see that we work a lot and try to have fun occasionally too. Although I never would have though in a million years that an agriculture sorority could turn my life around with a meeting every Monday night and some fun times in between. I know that one day I will be able to tell my kids that a sorority is not like what you see in the movies, a sorority is where you make memories that will last you a lifetime!






My name is Kaylee Kirby,  I am a Senior at Western Illinois University with a major  in Agriculture Business and Minor in agronomy. I am an active member in Sigma Alpha, Hoof n Horn, and Ag Council. I am from Greenview, IL where my family farm is located, but currently resided in Mason City, IL.  I have always been passionate about agriculture and plan to continue after graduation in May 2018





Being a Tiny Girl in Ag

Growing up like most kids, I wanted to be a teacher, or a doctor; not once did I want to become a farmer. As a kid I was always on the smaller size, and having seen my father work full time and be a farmer on the side I knew that it was not something I would be able to do. Fast forward a few years to when I started high school, I joined FFA. This is something I did because my sister seemed to enjoy it and it filled in my extra time slot. I never realized how much of an impact this class would make on my life. After going to different contests I found I loved agronomy, something I had been around my whole life. As the years went by, I continued learning more about agriculture and even became an officer of my FFA chapter for the last three years of high school.

As it came closer to graduation, I knew I needed to start figuring out what I wanted to do from there. My parents have always been my biggest supporters and tried naming things that they could see me doing, and signing me up for different college visits. Though they would never tell me what to do they would definitely help push me in the direction I wanted to go. On my visit to Western I got to see the agriculture program, where I decided this was the place for me. After applying and being accepted, I started telling friends and family that I was going to be going to the school for Agriculture, specifically to become a plant breeder. There were many people who were surprised that I would go into the field of agriculture. I was not what they considered the typical look. I was so young and tiny that many could not even believe I was old enough to go to college, and even if I was they would have never guessed that I was going into agriculture.

Despite all the odds I came to Western and took an “intro to agronomy class”. I remembered the first few labs being  unsure if I was in the right major. All of these kids seemed to know what they were looking for in labs, and seemed to understand most of what was going on. In one of the first labs we were learning how to take stand counts cornusing a tape measure. I was locking mine at 17.5 feet and set the tape on the ground, I remember how the tape rolled up and the teacher walks over and said there is a lock on the tape let me show you. Was I asked because I was a tiny girl? This had made me frustrated that someone thought that I could not even do a simple task. Come to find out the tape measure had been broken and would not lock and I was apologized to. A few months later this same teacher asked me to come work for him at the school’s farm. I did have to turn him down though because I already had an internship for the summer. That summer I was a crop scout for CHS Inc. I was partnered with a boy who was fairly large, when I asked myself: Do they think I am unable to do this on my own because I am tiny and will they not believe me as a girl?.

Once back at school my professor, Dr. Mark Bernards, again asked if I would work for him. I finally agreed and started working with him. One day he told me that:

“he did not enjoy the equipment side of agriculture like many of the people do, he loved the science behind it all.”

This statement I could not have agreed more with. This inspired me, because like me Bernards was on the smaller side, yet had become very successful in what they were doing. While working at the farm I even worked on some of the projects the men would typically be doing. I would be asked to help since I was tiny and able to fit in small spaces which made it easier for me to accomplish. Being tiny can have its advantages, and it should not stop anyone from accomplishing their goals.

Having always been a tiny girl in agriculture I know that there is still a long way to go for me to be accepted as not the typical farmer type. With each coming new day women become more of an excepted part in agricultural community. Maybe one day people will not look at young tiny women as crazy when they say they are majoring in agriculture. As well as have young girls dream to one day become women in agriculture and not just doctors and teachers. To all of the young tiny girls out there, dream big and do not let others tell you, you are to tiny to do something.
professional pic 2016My name is Kelsey Bergman, I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University. My major is Agriculture Science with a focus in agronomy, and I am minoring in both plant breeding and ag economics. I am on Weeds Team, in Agronomy Club, part of the Sigma Alpha sorority, and work on the WIU Research Farm. This summer I have an internship as a plant breeder with AgReliant Genetics. After this internship I will be back at Western to finish out my senior year. Once graduating I will hopefully be accepted into a grad program of my choice to get my masters.

A day of a Dairy farmer.

God said” I need someone willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board, so God made a farmer”- Paul Harvey “God made a Farmer” speech 1978. When you hear the word farmer you tend to automatically think of the old man in the tractor driving around in the field planting corn or soybeans. Farmer means so much more then what some think.  I am from a row crop, corn and soybean rotation family farm, so the image I describe was what I would see every year. Until I became involved with a family of dairy farmers, they introduced me to earlier mornings on the farm and later times to getting home from a day’s work.  Growing up on a farm my self I thought how hard could this be, I ride 1,500 plus pound animals, I can milk a cow… I was wrong.

It was around 5 a.m. and I walked into the milking barn unsure of what I got myself into. As the early morning routine started and the first few head of cows come in and they automatically lined up and stood there. I asked one of the guys if they knew what was going on, and he replied with yes they have been doing this a few times and they have a place in line that they prefer. As the morning went on I was getting the hang of how the milking process works, I was moving along as smoothly as a new person could until my first run with a fresh mother cow getting put back into the rotation. She was banded around her hoof and I was not sure on what it meant so I went ahead and did the cleaning and preparing to hook her up. She caught me off guard with a kick to the arm while I was in mid stretch of reaching for her. The guy came up to help me out and he told me that her colored band meant that she was fresh ( just had a calf) and her milk gets put into a bottle for them to bottle feed the calf. I asked why do they not stay out to pasture when it comes to feeding there calf. He said they do get time with there calf but when it comes to the milking they get milked in order for the calf to get milk because , even with the cows that have not had a calf they have to have there teats (nipples) milked at once to relieve the pressure of the milk in their utters.

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After milking from 5 a.m. to around 7 a.m. they showed me what they did the rest of the day till the next milking. They were in the process of cutting silage and putting it up for feed, so I was put on a tractor and was hauling silage from the field to the silo. It took a few hours, but we were done around 11 a.m. . The photo to the right is one that was taken before the afternoon milking, photo credit to Elizabeth Stayton. As I was thinking to myself, I thought how amazing this opportunity was, being able to see another side of farming. The rest of the afternoon they had a vet visit for the new born  bulls and heifers, getting them vaccinated, and tagged.Before the second round of milking started,  a milk inspector came out take samples of the milk that was being produced from this farm. It was mentioned to me that, just like beef, they are also strict on making sure milk coming from the farms to the plant have nothing in them. If something is found that batch of milk would have to be inspected and taken care of. After milking and going home for supper, this farmer I was following for the day was also involved in the local FFA program. They went to the weekly meetings and listened to how the FFA and 4-H programs where unfortunately decreasing in the area.

Before I spent the day on this dairy farm, I did not take a second thought on how dairy farmers could be  different from say a row crop farmer. One thing they all have in common is agriculture, feeding the public, keeping food on the tables and making a dollar to keep there passion alive. Agriculture has many things involved in with it, as a young woman who will be into the agriculture industry, I felt great to have made a connection with someone who did something different than I did in agriculture.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglassesHello! My name is Lakken Park Troxell, I am a 6TH generation of my family farm outside of Loami IL and a senior at Western Illinois University studying Agriculture Business with an emphasis in Agronomy. I was raised with riding with my grandpa in the tractor, sitting in and listening to the farmers talk about the up in coming planting and harvest seasons. On the farm we raise corn and soybeans crops, with a few acres of a grass hay mixture for the horses that  I raise. I have had a passion for agriculture since I could remember and plan on staying in with the industry as I look for a career.

Tracks vs.Tires: The Compaction Debate

As technology and equipment size continues to increase, the need for compatible force across the ground persists. Farmer’s want to protect the soil and the assets it holds. Compaction can cause unnecessary soil degradation. The soil aggregates or particles are crushed which reduces pore space for infiltration of water, air, drainage and nutrients. Soil compaction is affected by the repeated passes in the field that a tractor, combine, or other implement can make. These can cause intensive harm to the root zone for the crop.When the soil is tilled, there is the potential of reducing protective residues, depending on type of tillage performed. Many farmers are trying to limit compaction by transferring to the use of tracked equipment in their operations. Sustainability of the soil for the future generations is an important aspect to the farm to survive and that is why farmer’s are looking for advancements.

Arends-Awe, Inc. Equipment                                                Pieced together by Katie Boston

Track Advantages

  • Better quality flotation over the soil
  • Decreased power hop
  • Easier for implement hook-up
  • Compaction zone is spread over a zone and less point pressure occurs

Track Disadvantages

  • Reduced steering control with heavier loads
  • Rough ride or vibration on hard surfaces (roadways)
  • Build up of soil within the track which could cause damage to inner parts
  • High purchase and repair price

“When it comes to cost, the addition of tracks on wheeled combine has a $75,000 price tag.” – Brent Newbery, Parts Manager at Arends-Awe, Inc. in Winchester, Illinois.

Tire Advantages

  • Increased stability in muddy conditions
  • Higher steering control with heavier loads
  • Ability to lug, if the tractor slips, traction is able to be regained
  • Depending on tire, there can be float or minimal abrasion of the topsoil

Tire Disadvantages

  • Tends to cause a higher rate of compaction due to lugs on the tire
  • Smaller contact patches going across rows instead of length wise
  • Rutting can occur
  • Centralized compaction

Radial Tires: Ply cords run radially. The ply transmits the pressure from the thread and the belts. These belts help restrict tire growth and stabilizes the tread. The tread and cords can run independently. Bias Tires: Consists of multiple rubber plies overlapping each other. The thick layer is less flexible, but has the potential for float.

“Over-sized or high-flotation tires are hard to beat.” Kevin Lutz who is a technical manager at Michelin North American Agricultural Tires. These tires are called “floater tires,” they are almost twice as large as a standard tire, used on combines.


A farmer that prefers tires, will normally choose a radial tire to help minimize the equipment’s footprint. A track is also considered a radial design. A standard radial tire features a large air chamber within the tire that allows for lower pressure while carrying a heavier load, this will help reduce the effects of soil compaction. Some research would suggest that the best tire is one that provides a broad, flat tread, to increase traction, reduce slippage, and improve fuel efficiency.

According to Successful Farming magazine, farmers can help reduce compaction by controlling traffic, crop rotations of fibrous and tap roots, build up soil organic matter each rotation, and limit traffic in wet conditions.

In regards to statistics to figure if technology has decreased compaction, in a study done between a Claas Terra Trac System verses a North American track system in No-Till magazine concluded that the North American track reduced soil movement within 4 to 23 inches by 65%. This trail was performed by Kevin Lutz and Dirk Ansorge in 2007.

The future of track and tire technology looks bright. Currently Mitas has introduced a PneuTrac system that allows a tire to have the capabilities a track does for traction and footprint and the ride quality and lugging capabilities of a tire.

Mitas PneuTrac system from


Whether a farmer chooses to use, tracks, tires, floaters, or this new PnueTrac system, the possibilities are endless for advancements. In the end, the decision is up to the farmer. There are the considerations of cost, efficiency, future generations, and time that every farmer is conscious of. The technology of the future will help classify this debate, but for now – power to the farmer.






My name is Katie Boston and I am studying Agricultural Business with a minor in Agronomy at Western Illinois University.  In May I will graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree. I am from Jacksonville, Illinois and since 2013 I have been working at Arends-Awe, Inc as a part-time administrative assistant. I grew up on a crop and swine farm east of town and have a strong passion for agriculture.

Thank you for reading my blog.






What Paul Harvey Did Not Tell You

In Paul Harvey’s poem “So God Made a Farmer” the first sentence of the 4th verse has always stuck with me:  “God said, I need somebody willing to set up all night with a newborn colt, and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say ‘Maybe next year’.” Anyone who raises livestock can tell you this all to well. But what the poem does not tell you is how hard he had to work to deliver that animal and the joy he felt when he pulled a live one and then anguish of slowly watch it go all down hill from there.  It did not tell you, he had been up the night before and the night before that. It does not tell you the decision he will have to make of finding a new calf to put on the cow or to just fatten her and sell her even though she is one of your best. It does not tell you the guilt he feels for losing it even though it was completely out of his control.

Our family cattle operation, will start calving season come  January 20 and each season brings it own challenges, success, and emotions. It is always exciting to see what each new calf will bring. This year we have a new bull with one of our herds so we are anxious to see what he will bring to the table. Right now we are making sure everything is set up and ready to go, that the calving barn is clean, the puller and chains, and OB. box is ready to go,  and with 50 new heifers Dr. Saxe our vet is ready for those 3 am phone calls.

Then after the first 2 a.m. check, tired will set in, especially if the weather turns really bad and we have to go on a 2 hour rotation of checking cattle. The whole time while putting on your boots you keeping pray that no one is calving. That you can just go back to bed and get warm cause the temperature will be in the teens or below. Sometimes your payer is answered with a yes. Sometimes it is answered with a 6 a.m.  wake up cause one is calving. Then there’s those times it is answered with going two days with only 4 hours of sleep and that was only shifts of 20 minute naps  taken in the truck waiting for them to calve. But in the moment of delivery you don’t  even notice especially once the calf hits the ground. because in that moment, it is all about  getting right on the calf to help him get the fluid out of him, getting his tail, ears and nose dried so there is no frost bite.

Then comes the best part of all, the moment you having been waiting for, for  9 months the moment when you can turn him over to his mother and she just falls in love with him and claims him. The thing is, you don’t even notice your cold and tired in


Sometimes it is too cold or the pull was to hard and they are brought inside over night to recover.


those moments, because you just watched all your hard work pay off. It is only in the rare moments of loss you realize it. It’s when the calf had too hard of a pull and he is on the ground and you are doing everything you can do to revive him  and you kept telling him to ‘come on stick with me’ and then you watch his last breath and his eyes go blank. That is the moments you notice, because for all of your hard work for that year just went out the window. Because, in that moment all you get is little bit of bitterness, and some guilt to go with being cold and tired and all you can say is “maybe next year.” Then a couple hours later, a new calf is born, and he’s is your focus at that moment and then you get to ride the high of another healthy calf.

Paul Harvey can tell you how the farmer was sad of the loss of the animal but it will never tell you the all the hours and work he put into that one animal. It will never tell you how tired, and cold he is. It will never tell you that not only did he lose the calf but he will probably have to get rid of the mother even if it is his favorite because she failed to perform her job. But the poem also doesn’t tell you how much joy he feels for each live healthy calf. The pride he feels as he watches them grow. The way he will laugh, when he turns them out in the spring on new pasture as they run and play.  See God also said “I need some who can push through the loss and move on to the next so they can enjoy the blessing I’m about to give them”. So God made a cattlewoman.




head-2My name is Heather Reynolds, I am a senior at Western Illinois University with a Major in Ag business. I grew up on a cattle and row crop farm in Pike County, IL.  After graduation I will be working as a commodity broker and on my family’s farm. This blog is dedicated to my mother who lives this day in and day out. For she is the one who gave me my love of cattle.


Finding My Missing Piece: Agriculture Greek Life at WIU

Have you ever found a puzzle in your grandparent’s house that you worked on for hours just to find the final piece is missing?  I have.  As a transfer student, I didn’t know if I would ever find a place at Western Illinois University that I fit, let alone finding the missing piece I was always searching for.  I knew I had found my missing piece when I joined Western Illinois University’s Sigma Chapter of Sigma Alpha; a Women’s Professional Agricultural Sorority.   

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Miller

Before attending Western Illinois University (WIU), I never imagined myself participating in Greek life or being in a sorority.  Growing up you see the media’s perception of what being in a sorority looks like.  Parties, alcohol, hazing, paying for friends, and getting your Mrs. degree.  I never thought that was a lifestyle I would enjoy.  After transferring to Western and joining a few agriculture related clubs and organizations, I had the pleasure of being introduced to several new influential people.  These people invited me to a Sigma Alpha interest meeting, but at the time I just laughed and brushed it off.  After a semester of getting involved on campus, joining clubs like Collegiate FFA/Post-Secondary Agriculture Students/ Agricultural Education Club, I met a few members of Sigma Alpha that continued to entice me to further pursue member candidacy.  After I had my first semester under my belt, I thought long and hard about the benefits that Sigma Alpha could bring to me and attended a rush event.  After attending this event, I realized my perception of what a sorority is and does was completely wrong.  The women that I met that night discussed how Sigma Alpha had influenced their life and for the first time I could picture myself in a sorority.  Soon after, I was extended a bid and decided to accept.  At that point, I began the membership candidate process.  This is a six-week long process where I learned about our founders, our history, and our purposes.  Throughout my membership candidate (MC) period, it was our goal to get to know every active member from their hometown to their favorite food.  I did not realize it at the time, but I was beginning to make friendships that will last a lifetime.  Getting to know the active members proved to me that we all had common interests.  This reassured me that joining Sigma Alpha was right where I needed to be.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Miller

Sigma Alpha was the missing piece that I have been looking for.  I am beyond happy that I went out on a whim and decided to finally attend a rush event.  Finding a sisterhood with girls that have the same goals and interests as me has challenged me to live up to my full potential and not be afraid to put myself out there.  It has helped me build confidence in my field and collaborate efficiently with others.  Without that push, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Sigma Alpha is a great networking opportunity and I would recommend any woman who is passionate about agriculture to join.


My name is Vanessa Scott and I am currently studying Agriculture Science with an emphasis in Agronomy and a minor in Plant Breeding.  I am involved in the Agronomy Club, Collegiate FFA/Post Secondary Agriculture Students/Agriculture Education Club and Sigma Alpha here at Western Illinois University.  After graduation in May, I plan on furthering my future as an Agronomist.  If you have any questions feel free to email me at  Thank you for reading!

Not Just a Mentor, but a Role Model


This past summer I had the honor and the privilege to work alongside Stephanie Porter, C.C.A. Burrus Agronomist, as her agronomic intern. Stephanie grew up on a farm near Nokomis, Illinois, where her family still farms. When Stephanie first came into the field of agriculture, it was a mans world, but she quickly overcame the stereotype because she had such a passion for the agricultural field.  This agronomist passion is driven by the gratification of being able to help farmers by solving weed, pest, and disease issues, recommending the correct products, or overall be able to increase the productivity on a farm. If anyone knows Stephanie, they know that she can be stubborn, which is a trait that she comes by honestly. This just means she does not easily back down or give up and, ultimately, lives for a challenge. After the very first field call with Stephanie, I knew I was going to be able to learn what it takes to be a strong independent female agriculturist.


Not only has Stephanie brought professionalism to the company of Burrus but she has also put time and effort into teaching not only the agronomic intern but the sales interns as well. Stephanie proceeded to tell me she was always a “hands on learner,” which means she learns from others by listening and performing various tasks.  Although it is very time consuming, Stephanie has tried to take time for those to job shadow or she has developed trainings that consist of games and dialogue, with a lot visuals or field time. Times are changing for the Ag industry and getting the younger generation to get involved is a job Stephanie does well, and takes pride in. I have never met an agriculturist who spends more time tweeting pictures of corn and soybean diseases and letting the public know about certain disease outbreaks. She knows how to keep the public connected with her daily Facebook posts, twitter tweets and pod casts she performs for the Illinois Soybean Board.

That’s right folks, not only is Stephanie a full time agronomist, but she is also a spokeswoman for the Illinois Soybean Association! Earlier this year, Stephanie was invited, along with five other members from across the state, to become an Illinois Soybean Association IL Soy Advisor Envoy.  Each of the five people wrote monthly blogs and were able to record a podcast as well as give a webinar on soybean diseases.  Stephanie has really enjoyed helping to promote the Illinois Soybean Association and learn the latest research and information about soybeans.

Want to hear about Stephanie’s favorite field call? It was when she first started working at Burrus.  Stephanie made one of her first field calls with a coworker in Southern Illinois because of poor emergence. Not only did she have to visit this field once but she later had to return to the field late on a Friday evening because he had realized there was poor pollination or barren ears.  The older farmer insisted that there was something wrong with the hybrid and it had a disease.  Stephanie tried to assure him that it was defiantly not a disease.  After fully examining plants and asking every management question that she could think of, she had him take her back to her vehicle to get a soil probe.  He grumbled and thought she had absolutely lost her mind.  When he asked what Stephanie was doing, she said that she was taking soil samples of the good areas and the bad areas.  When Stephanie left, he still was insisting that the hybrid was prone to disease.  The soil samples from the bad areas had been reported to have a very high pH.  She speculated that the high pH had tied up the phosphorus, thus caused a phosphorus deficiency, which could cause poor emergence and pollination.  He admitted that “once upon a time” there could have been too much lime applied to the field and after presenting him with pages upon pages of information on this subject, he finally admitted on the phone that, “I might be on to something” and he wanted to work with me some more on this issue.  This is when Stephanie knew she really liked her job.

As the summer came to an end, I sat down with Stephanie to try and solve the world’s problems. A big question that I asked her was, why do you feel it is important for women to be in the agricultural community? She stared at me as if to collect her thoughts. Her reply was that she does feel that women can be easily intimated in this industry, but everyone needs to get involved in the future if we want to solve all of the agricultural problems on the horizon. Stephanie is a very confident woman and is not easily frightened by a new challenge and for this characteristic I respect her greatly.

I can honestly say I have never worked with someone that was so loyal and passionate to the Burrus company as well as the agricultural industry. Stephanie Porter will always be my mentor even if I do not go into an agronomic career. All throughout the summer she was always there no matter what was going on within her life. She was always just a call or text away if I ever had questions, concerns, or even a “freak out” moment because I was stressing out making sure I full filled my weekly tasks. I hope one day I can become as amazing as Stephanie is at her job.  She is strong, confident and independent and as a woman in agriculture those are traits that make you unstoppable.

“I am a senior at Western Illinois University, majoring in Agricultural Science with an emphasis in agronomy. I am from a rural town of Rushville, IL, where I live on a family farm. Even at a young age, I always had a passion for agriculture. My future goal is to obtain a career where I am able to help give back to the agricultural industry.” – Maggie Prather