Farm Progress

Meet Jim Rapp, 2018 Prairie Farmer Master Farmer from Princeton, Ill.

Jill Loehr, Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer

March 6, 2018

5 Min Read
FARMING PRIDE: “He really takes pride in what he does and the people he farms for,” says Nancy, wife of 2018 Master Farmer Jim Rapp. “He gives the best of himself and takes care of the land, the buildings and everything that goes along with it.”

“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” says 2018 Master Farmer Jim Rapp, Princeton, Ill. “When you do what you love, it’s not work.”

From playing with tractors under his mom’s kitchen table to renting his first piece of ground two weeks after high school graduation, Jim is a self-declared “farm junkie.”

“I think he came out of the womb farming,” says Nancy, Jim’s wife of more than 20 years.

Today, Jim has three passions: his family, his farm and promoting Illinois agriculture.

Farmer for life
Even while attending school at Southern Illinois University, Jim spent many weekends back on the farm, tending a new piece of land and handling other farm responsibilities. He traded labor and equipment with his father, similarly to how he works with his own sons today.

Through strong neighborly relationships and a reputation for stewardship, Jim’s farm has grown from 100 acres in 1967 to 2,800 acres in 2017. Some landlord relationships, like with Richard Coddington, have lasted more than 40 years.

“Coddington Acres was homesteaded over 150 years ago and, thanks to Jim’s use of modern agricultural practices, it remains highly productive each and every year. Crop yields in the past five years continue to meet or exceed yields throughout Bureau County,” Coddington says.

Jim cares for rented acres like they are his own, and his landlords trust his recommendations, such as installing tile and going no-till in soybeans. Precision technology opened the door for new practices, like strip tilling before corn, which he started about five years ago. The strips are created in the fall with potassium and phosphorus applications and reworked in the spring with nitrogen.

“We watch our costs constantly,” Jim says, adding that strip tilling reduces fertilizer costs by placing nutrients in the furrow. He relies on Farm Business Farm Management for recordkeeping and comparing farm data.

Farm responsibilities are delegated between Jim and his sons, Nick and Ben. In the spring, Jim keeps planters full and equipment running, while Nick builds the strips and Ben runs the planter. Jim adds his “senior team,” a group of retired friends, helps at harvesttime running grain carts and semis.

With a gradual transition plan in place, Nick and Ben manage newly rented acres, and Jim works with them on input decisions such as seed and chemical purchases. They try new practices together, like experimenting with cover crops and swapping fall ammonia applications for 32% UAN in the spring and at sidedress.

“They strive to not only be good stewards of their ground, but to raise the most they can in a profitable production model,” says Todd Winter, owner of In Field Ag Inc. “Jim and his boys are some of the top producers in his county, as well as being an asset to his community.”

Step up and lead
“People are really hesitant to get involved,” Jim says. “You don’t learn anything that way.” When he joined the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the National Corn Growers Association, Jim quickly raised his hand to serve on the ethanol action team and U.S. Grains Council.

“It was a great experience,” he says. “The people I met, the places I’ve been able to go to, in the country and around the world — it was an incredible opportunity.”

Tom Marquis, president of Marquis Energy, says Jim was “instrumental” in implementing higher ethanol blends in gas pumps. “He really does epitomize the term ‘leader’ and continues to lead the way in agricultural advancements.”

Jim’s recent outreach efforts are closer to home. He plants nearly 2 acres of sweet corn and donates it to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Illinois Food Pantry and River Bend in the Quad Cities. “Thinking about inner-city kids trying sweet corn for the first time, man, that’s just cool,” Jim says. “The whole family gets involved, and I really enjoy doing it.”

Jim hopes his sons find farm life just as rewarding as he does, and he’s thankful they came back to the farm. “We’re pretty blessed.”

THE NEXT GENERATION: Jim (center) and Nancy Rapp’s sons, Nick (holding his daughter, Olive) and Ben, returned to the farm about seven years ago. What’s Jim’s advice for the next generation? “Learn to communicate,” he says. “Talk to each other and keep your landlords informed. Farm all the land like it’s your own, and work with the best advisers you can.”

A non-collector’s collection

Jim Rapp doesn’t collect tractors, but he treasures three pieces of iron: his father’s first tractor, a 1939 Farmall F20; his Grandpa Rapp’s first tractor, a 1945 Farmall H; and his Grandpa Albert’s tractor, a 1958 International 350 U loader that he used for his Chicago-based masonry business.

Jim no longer has his first tractor, but a piece of his farm is now a national treasure. His “No-Till Saves Soil” field sign from the early 1990s is featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s agriculture collection in Washington, D.C.


Jim Rapp

Spouse: Nancy

Children: Amy Stevens, Nick Rapp, Ben Rapp

County: Bureau

Operation: 2,800 acres of corn and soybeans

Leadership: Bureau County Farm Bureau director; Illinois Corn Growers Association director; Illinois Corn Marketing Board secretary, treasurer, vice chair and chair; National Corn Growers Association ethanol and grower services action team; U.S. Grains Council Asia action team, and membership and communications action team; host for Adopt-a-Legislator program and international tours; Corn Learning Center coordinator at the Bureau County Ag Fair; ASCS/Farm Service Agency county committee; Bureau County Zoning Board board of appeals; 2014 Bureau County Ag Service Award; six years in Illinois Air National Guard

Nominator: IL Corn

About the Author(s)

Jill Loehr

Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer, Loehr

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