March 1, 2022
It was May of 1981 when Darryl Brinkmann graduated with an agricultural economics degree from the University of Illinois and came back home to work on the farm full time. This made Darryl, now a 2022 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer, the third generation to join the farm near Carlyle, Ill.
“I don’t ever hate getting up in the morning and going out to farm,” Darryl says. “Some people are really looking forward to retirement. I like what I’m doing, and I’m not counting the days to retirement.”
To help make room on the then-560-acre operation for Darryl, his father, Willard, retired from the livestock operation, and Darryl created a partnership with his younger brother, Kent. They used their father’s facilities to finish nearly 100 head of beef cattle and 400 hogs.
In 1983, Kent wanted to move away from hog production while Darryl wanted to continue raising hogs. So, Darryl began a small, seasonal, pasture farrow-to-finish enterprise, which grew to 75 sows.
In 1989, Darryl and Kent decided it was time to exit the cattle business.
Darryl married Jean in 1990. The couple has one daughter, Danielle, 24.
Jean works full time as a re-order specialist for Medline and helps Darryl when she can.
“She doesn’t drive the tractor, but she understands what’s going on, on the farm,” Darryl says of Jean, who didn’t grow up with a farm background. “And she understands when I have to be gone to meetings, why I don’t come in the house until midnight, and why my boots are dirty all the time.”
Over the years, Darryl and Kent have inherited, bought and rented farmland together, while also buying land separately. And Darryl eventually moved on from the farrow-to-finish business.
Today, Darryl’s portion of the operation includes 930 tillable acres. Plus, he helps with the daily chores for Danielle’s 30-head Angus cattle herd while she is away from the farm.
“Darryl has excelled with his farming operation, in his engagement and association with his community, as well as in his devotion and stewardship of being called to provide leadership to the organizations with which he is associated,” says Greg Webb, ADM state government relations vice president, who met Darryl through involvement in the Illinois Soybean Association.
When their father retired from the farm in the 1990s, Darryl and Kent took the lead. At this time, the brothers worked together to find ways to make the farm more productive.
“The use of combine yield monitors first adopted in the 1990s has definitely been the most important technological advancement implemented,” Darryl says. While their first yield monitor was simple, it still showed a need for drainage improvement. And as yield monitors have continued to develop, Darryl has been able to better understand yield differences due to hybrids, herbicide treatments and fertilizer applications.
But Darryl didn’t stop adopting new practices and tools after the yield monitor was released.
“He is always implementing new technology to be more efficient,” says Philip Nelson, 2001 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer who nominated Darryl. “Just recently he implemented narrow-row corn to not only improve yields but improve the soil conservation.”
But Darryl will admit even though he’s seen a yield advantage with 15-inch-row corn, he still is working to master the practice.
Over the last five years, he began experimenting with cover crops, specifically cereal rye and crimson clover, as a conservation measure on his farm.
“I do like the appearance of a growing crop over the winter, and such growth does reduce erosion,” he says. “I feel a responsibility to be a good environmental steward while conserving soil and water.”
He believes this priority of stewardship will help keep the farm sustainable for the next generation.
On the grain side of the operation, Kent’s son Cory helps Darryl and Kent when he can. And Danielle continues to find ways to grow her cattle herd, which started as a 4-H project when she was in sixth grade.
“I owe a lot of success to my dad for guiding me through marketing plans, sitting hours with me each year calculating record books, and most of all assisting in the day-to-day operations while I am no longer near the farm as much,” Danielle says.
Today, the father-daughter duo works together to implement new management practices and products, and they’re investing to expand the herd.
Only time will tell if Danielle will follow in Darryl’s footsteps and come back to the farm full time one day, but regardless, Darryl values teaching her everything that happens on the farm and why — a mission he’s worked toward since her childhood.
“Many people can get drawn into seeing the next big thing coming out and see it from one perspective. My dad has always had the ability to see the other side that may not be highlighted,” Danielle says, reflecting on the rides they’d take checking crops. “I would ask about some of the different farming practices I would see driving by, and he would give me both sides of why that practice may have been chosen.”
Driven to impact
Since college, Darryl has found value in getting off the farm and getting involved in various organizations such as the National Biodiesel Board, Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Soybean Association.
“When I started getting involved in other organizations, I met people and they had different ideas; they were doing things different,” Darryl says, adding he typically found some aspect of these different practices he could take back to his own operation.
But for Darryl, being involved is more than networking and learning from others. He also finds value in educating others and making an impact for the industry.
Kent says his brother “has sacrificially made it his priority to blend his time working on the farm and serving the agriculture industry with organizations like the Clinton County and Illinois Farm Bureau.”
Darryl recalls his time on the Illinois Farm Bureau board being a memorable experience, due to honest and open discussion, which he believes made for the best decisions in the end.
Another valuable leadership opportunity for Darryl was serving on the National Biodiesel Board. In this role, he enjoyed the atmosphere of farmer-members and industry people coming from different points of view to create the best outcome for the trade association.
“Darryl’s steady hand and commonsense approach to issues helped our organization grow and expand during a time when many companies with competing interests were becoming members,” says Donnell Rehagen, National Biodiesel Board CEO, adding many of those companies had a vision for what the trade association should do to help them.
In the end, Darryl credits people such as Philip Nelson, 2001 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer from Seneca, for pushing him beyond the farm.
“He’s encouraged me to do a lot of things. And I guess one thing I realized is I did things because I was encouraged,” Darryl says. “So, I’ve tried to encourage other people too. Being involved is certainly involving, but it’s also not a one-person show.”
Master at a glance
Child: Danielle Brinkmann
Operation: 930 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay; 30 head of Angus cattle
Leadership: American Soybean Association, National Biodiesel Board, National Biodiesel Foundation, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee, Clinton County Farm Bureau, Clinton County Service Co., Country Financial, Producers Alliance, Messiah Lutheran Church, Clinton County 4-H Foundation
Nominator: 2001 Master Farmer Philip Nelson, Seneca
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