Farm Progress

Growmark President and Chairman John Reifsteck looks back on the technology, relationships and stewardship that have marked Illinois agriculture.

November 2, 2016

4 Min Read

Celebrating a centennial is quite a milestone for any organization, and reaching 175 years of continuous service to Illinois agriculture is remarkable, to say the least! Over those many years, Prairie Farmer has been there to tell the story of farming, from the shift from horses to mechanical horsepower, rural electrification, the highs and lows of commodity prices, and today’s world of satellites and social media.


Like many farm kids, I began farming in my teens, driving tractors and helping my dad, a man who was one of the first in his family to receive a college education. He told stories of teaching agriculture in the 1930s to children from farm families living in absolute poverty during the Great Depression. Those stories left a lasting impression on me.

The first combine I drove was an International 141.  No cab, no power steering — but a strong feeling of accomplishment and contribution after a day of harvest. Now, when I climb out of my climate-controlled, autosteer combine and think I had a bad day, I recall that old combine and appreciate how much more productive and comfortable farming is today.

One of the most amazing accomplishments of the last century is the embracing of new technology by American farmers. It is more than improvements in farm equipment; the sciences of agronomy, animal husbandry and information systems have transformed agriculture and the entire world. I can’t think of any other industry that has adopted new techniques as quickly or as often as ours. We understand the need to produce more food on less land, and aren’t afraid to use cutting-edge tools to do so.

Expansion and operation


We often talk about the world growing smaller, and in many respects it has, but for farmers, the opposite is also true: The world we work in is larger, more complicated and often difficult to influence. Today, not just Midwest weather, but also social, political and meteorological forces around the world have a huge impact on commodity prices, as well as how we operate our farms. In today’s world, policies that affect agriculture are often created and implemented by people who have never set foot on a farm and often have, at best, a misinformed and perhaps misguided view of what is necessary to feed the world.

While farmers are glad to embrace new technology, they also are proud to hold on to practices that have a proven record of success.

Things like stewardship — farmers have a deep relationship with the land entrusted to their care, and understand the need for protecting our natural resources. Sustainable practices have evolved over time, but the principles that define those practices have not.


Agriculture has been and will continue to be about relationships. Think back to the barn raisings and husking bees our great-grandparents organized. They knew working together was vital to achieving their goals. Whether it’s multiple generations on the farm, a trusted adviser at your local cooperative or gathering information from a farm publication, none of us can do what we do in a vacuum.

Prairie Farmer, congratulations on this milestone, but more importantly: thank you. Thank you for being the gold standard farmers count on to bring the news we need to be more profitable and efficient. While I read many different newspapers, journals and magazines, I know I can always trust Prairie Farmer to be a consistent voice for agriculture. When the first issue of Prairie Farmer hit farmsteads in the 1840s, I’m not sure the founders and editors envisioned a publication that would withstand the test of time, but it has.

Sometimes, while working in my office, I look at a framed magazine cover: Prairie Farmer, 1997, the year I was named a Master Farmer. I believe a person is known by the company they keep, and I’m honored and humbled to be in the company of the men and women who make up those rolls, past, present and future.

As a farmer and reader of the monthly magazine, I’m proud to recognize Prairie Farmer for its sustainability and its impact on my operation, and to celebrate the fact that Prairie Farmer was built to last.

Reifsteck is a Champaign farmer and Prairie Farmer Master Farmer. He is president and chairman of Growmark.

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