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Cultivating Master Farmers heads to Champaign

Slideshow: What happens when you take a group of young farmers and Master Farmers on a tour? A lot of good conversation — and education.

Holly Spangler

August 3, 2022

32 Slides
Cultivating Master Farmers Class of 2023 socializing at Riggs Beer Co,

The Cultivating Master Farmers Class of 2023 has been through a lot the past three years — especially for a class that started in 2019 and was only supposed to last two years. But throw in a pandemic, and all timeline bets are off. So that class was extended first to 2022, then to 2023. This summer marked its overnight tour, which centered on agricultural research and industry around Champaign, Ill.

“Getting to visit the campus of the University of Illinois is always rewarding,” says Darell Sarff, a 2018 Master Farmer.

Their stops took them to the following locations:

• The Morrow Plots (check out the song)
Farmdoc education with Scott Irwin (follow him on Twitter)
Research Park
• U of I South Farms Energy Farm
• U of I Feed Technology Center
• U of I Beef Farm
• Riggs Beer Co.
Curtis Orchard

“I was so impressed with the Research Park. Even though we knew it was there, we got to see firsthand how it relates to the students and the projects they are working on,” Sarff adds. “This will be an asset to the university and to the students for years to come.”

Like Sarff, Research Park was a highlight for several of the farmers. Home to more than 120 companies in 18 buildings spread over 150 acres, Research Park began in 2001. Since then, 30 global corporations have started innovation centers there, and 60 startup companies are located in the “incubator” — where they’ve raised $1.1 billion in venture capital funding since it opened. Companies say they come there because of the access to research and innovative students. More than 2,200 people are employed at Research Park, including nearly 900 students.

CMF is a unique two-year mentorship program that connects a select group of young farmers with folks who have been through it all and are willing to share their sage advice: Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. The program was organized in 2005 and is sponsored by Farm Credit Illinois, Compeer Financial, Illinois Farm Bureau, Growmark, Bayer and Prairie Farmer.

Are you a young farmer who’s interested in this program? Applications for the next class will open in the spring of 2023.

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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