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David Meiss: Leading, serving with humility

This 2023 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer from Gridley, Ill., is a servant-leader around the farm and for his family, his community and his church.

Betty Haynes

March 1, 2023

9 Min Read
2023 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer David Meiss
CARETAKER: David Meiss’ favorite part about farming is witnessing God’s creation at work. “Farmland is hard to describe. It brings you closer to the creator. You want to take care of it and leave it better than you found it,” says the 2023 Master Farmer from Gridley, Ill.Photos by Holly Spangler

You can learn a lot about a farmer from their shop. David Meiss’ farm shop in Gridley, Ill., is neat and clean, and over the office door hangs a painting of a church, barn and flag, connected by a dirt road.

“Many life lessons are learned in a church pew or in a barn stable,” David says. “That painting encompasses God, freedom and the peaceful rural life we enjoy.” It was painted during the last Illinois Agricultural Association annual meeting David attended as an Illinois Farm Bureau director.

Four flags hang on another wall: one from the University of Illinois, one from Illinois State University, one from Butler University and one that bears the letters FM. The first three are the Meiss children’s alma maters. But FM?

“I didn’t go to college, but I did learn from one of the best instructors in agriculture — my dad,” David says. “So I found a flag that has FM on it because I went to the university of Floyd Meiss.”

David has been fascinated with the farm as long as he can remember. He recalls being attached to his father’s hip, falling in love with livestock and learning to drive equipment. And that even after a long day’s work, his father always made time to play catch or shoot hoops.

David has always worked alongside family, first with his father and now with his wife, Debbie. Although Debbie doesn’t have an ag background, that has never stopped her from running equipment, birthing baby pigs and making decisions around the farm.

Related:Meet the 2023 Master Farmers

David and Debbie were blessed to also work alongside all their children, as they too were an instrumental part of the work team prior to their off-farm careers.

“I think it says a lot about a farmer if his wife can work beside him for 40-plus years,” Debbie says. “David has done an excellent job at teaching me how to love and appreciate agriculture.”

David says his most treasured memories are recollections of three generations of the Meiss family at the dinner table after a hard day’s work. The work ethic and relationships learned on the farm have stuck with David’s children into adulthood. Derek works as the chief financial officer of a food company, Jordan is an orthopedic surgeon, and Chloe is a physician’s assistant.

David and Debbie Meiss in their farm shop

David adds that part-time farm employee Josh Nixon has also become like family to them over the past 11 years.

“He is a tremendous asset to the farm,” says David, explaining that Nixon handles many of the technical and mechanical decisions around the farm.

Debbie says David exhibits traits that serve him well as a farmer. “He’s a man of faith, he’s very conscientious of his neighbors, a steward of the soil, and a careful thinker.”

These qualities in practice have led to David’s selection as a 2023 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer.

Preserving and growing the farm

Today the Meiss family raises corn, soybeans and seed soybeans. Up until a few years ago, they also had a farrow-to-finish hog operation, raising 1,200 hogs per year.

David was an early adopter of practices like no-till, strip till, zone nutrient placement, variable-rate fertilizer, conservation waterways, buffer strips and dry dams.

“Some of our conservation measures we implemented years ago before the technology we have today,” David says. “We’ve always tried to do things that would either save energy or preserve the integrity of the soil, all while being more efficient.”

Three years ago, David added solar panels in an effort to be a net-neutral energy user. He also has on-farm bin storage of 120,000 bushels, or roughly half of what they produce, plus a grain dryer that maximizes energy efficiency.

David rents from several landowners and says communication has always been key to a successful relationship.

“For us, being a good steward and taking care of their land is just as important as taking care of my own,” he says. “Every field we have farmed, regardless of ownership, we’ve improved in some fashion.”

Davod Meiss standing in an unplanted crop field

Although David has grown the farm, it hasn’t been easy. He and Debbie were newlyweds through the 1980s farm crisis, and owned pigs through the 1998 market crash.

The couple practiced patience and pinched their pennies, remaining optimistic that better days were ahead.

“My advice for tough times is not to measure success by looking across the fence at what neighbors are doing,” David says. “Do what’s working for yourself and your own operation.”

Off the farm

David’s involvement stretches well beyond the Meiss Family Farm, most notably serving on the Illinois Farm Bureau board of directors for 10 years.

“I had the opportunity to serve with David and observe him through his tenure,” recalls Richard Guebert Jr., Illinois Farm Bureau president and David’s nominator. “He did not talk a lot, but when he did, others listened. He was a voice of wisdom and calm during challenging times.”

David says it was a privilege to promote agriculture and help preserve the lifestyle that has given him so much. And although there was always work to do on the farm, it was important for him to be involved in decisions that would undoubtedly affect the future of Illinois agriculture.

“The world is run by those who show up,” he explains. “When something is important to you, you make it a priority. So, I don’t know how I couldn’t make agriculture a priority when the farm has been one of the biggest blessings in my life.”

David Meiss working at his desk

Locally, David is a Gridley Township trustee and a past school board member who was instrumental in the consolidation of the Gridley and El Paso school districts. In his church, he’s served as an adult Sunday school teacher, lay financial counselor and prison ministry participant.

“I think one of the motivating factors for us is to spend our time in something that will outlast us,” Debbie explains. “It’s important to contribute to something that has eternal value.”

That motto has contributed to David’s giving heart for the Lifesong for Orphans organization. Lifesong is a faith-based nonprofit that provides relief for tens of thousands of orphans around the world. David and Debbie, along with David’s sisters Linda and Peggy, were thankful to donate family land that the Lifesong headquarters sits on. They can see the building from their front room.

“I feel like I’ve been able to encourage people and help them along life’s journey,” David says. “I want to be remembered as someone who was willing to do for others.”

painting of a country church and barn

Closer to the creator

David Meiss’ favorite thing about farming is witnessing God’s creation at work.

“There’s nothing quite like seeing the miracle of a baby animal being born on the farm,” he explains. “Or after a long day in the field, watching God paint the sky with one of the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine.”

The ties between farmers and creation make him proud to be a steward of the land.

“Farmland is hard to describe,” David says. “It brings you closer to the creator. You want to take care of it and leave it better than you found it.”

David says the most important lesson his father taught him was the value of having faith in God.

“Through his example, I learned that if I place my faith in God and trust in his provisions, I’m equipped to face whatever comes my way,” David explains.

Although David has guided the farm through challenging times, it’s his faith in Jesus Christ that has kept him steady.

“I don’t know how I could ever have farmed without my faith,” he says. “My faith has gotten me through some rough times, and I know it will carry me through whatever is to come.”

And when things out of his control rattle the farm economy, he reaches for his Bible.

“It’s during those times when we’re reminded that this world isn’t our home,” David says. “The farm is temporal — and temporal things will pass away, but our relationship with Christ will last eternally.”

Master at a glance

Davis Meiss
Wife: Debbie
Children: Derek, Jordan and Chloe Meiss
County: McLean
Operation: 1,600 acres of corn, soybeans and seed beans
Leadership: Illinois Farm Bureau District 7 director; McLean County Farm Bureau vice president; Illinois Pork Producers Association liaison board member; U.S. Meat Export Federation interlocking board member; U.S. Grains Council board member; Country Financial director; Gridley Township trustee; Gridley School District board member; Gridley-El Paso School Citizen’s Advisory Council member; Crown Financial Bible study group leader; lay financial counselor; adult Sunday school teacher; prison ministry participant; Christ Community Church of Gridley leadership
Nominator: Illinois Farm Bureau

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Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Betty Haynes

Betty Haynes is the associate editor of Prairie Farmer. She grew up on a Menard County, Ill., farm and graduated from the University of Missouri. Most recently, Betty worked for the Illinois Beef Association, entirely managing and editing its publication.

She and her husband, Dan, raise corn, soybeans and cattle with her family near Oakford , Ill., and are parents to Clare.

Betty won the 2023 Andy Markwart Horizon Award, 2022 Emerging Writer, and received Master Writer designation from the Ag Communicators Network. She was also selected as a 2023 Young Leader by the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists.

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