March 31, 2016
It wouldn’t come as a surprise to Tom Wall’s vo-ag teacher that Tom would one day follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps to become a Master Farmer.
“Tom was an intelligent and eager learner with an outstanding swine project,” Francis Abel recalls. “In his senior year of high school [two years before his dad, John, and uncle Larry became Master Farmers], the state FFA awarded Tom its highest honor: the Iowa Farmer Degree.”
After earning a degree in farm operations from Iowa State University in 1981, Tom worked into the Wall Brothers Farm operation. He bought half the machinery and hogs over time from Larry, and later farmed in partnership with his father.
Always a partnership
Partnerships among Wall brothers are not new to the Wall farm. “My grandpa John and his brother Thomas bought our home farm together in 1916,” Tom says. “We’re proud that it’s going to become a century farm this year. Grandpa had lived in Cedar County, and Uncle Tom ran a saloon in Clinton. The story is that Thomas read the writing on the wall — that prohibition was on the horizon — and decided to put his money into a farm instead. Grandpa and his brother were followed by Dad and his brother Larry, who started farming here as partners in the 1950s.”
Tom married Anita, a pediatric nurse, in 1987, and they bought into 63 acres. They added 53 more acres in 2002 after Larry passed away. Tom and Anita now farm that land and rent another 810 acres, growing about 900 acres of corn and soybeans on rolling land just northeast of Iowa City in Johnson County. Tom adds value to his homegrown grain by feeding 6,000 head of wean-to-finish hogs each year. He has a share in a sow unit, taking 18- to 21-day-old pigs every nine weeks.
Continues to learn
Tom mixes his own feed, working with JBS United for balanced nutrition. He knifes in hog manure, emptying pits twice a year.
He’s learned a lot from a Conservation Stewardship Program contract he has with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to manage nitrogen and phosphorus.
A certified crop adviser, he’s planted variety comparisons through Dekalb and Asgrow for over 25 years. “I think being a seedsman has made me a better farmer because I learn from my customers and fellow seedsman operations,” Tom says.
Tom is also learning from On-Farm Network trials through the Iowa Soybean Association. “They’re research-based, non-biased, and compare practices across the state,” Tom says. Tom’s son Greg is his right-hand man, helping through the growing season and with loading hogs. “Greg specializes in machine maintenance and repair; it’s really handy to have him fix a machine the same day it breaks down,” Tom says.
Anita tried her hand at combining one year, but says she does “all the unglamorous stuff that needs to be done: taking care of the farmstead, fixing meals, getting parts, and in the past, raising their three children. She’s working with their PC Mars recordkeeping system; they’ve been members of the Iowa Farm Business Association for more than 30 years.
A no-tiller for 20-plus years, using GPS and other technology, Tom is now trying to work cover crops into the operation.
He’s been a community leader and ambassador for agriculture for years, hosting conservation field days and international visitors, and regularly talking with media on ag topics.
One role he’s proud of is serving as a 4-H leader with his mother, Mary Ellen, for almost 35 years. “All three of our kids were in 4-H. We currently have 60 kids in our club. Besides animal projects, our club has sent projects to the Iowa State Fair ranging from DNA to tractor restoration to recycling telephone poles,” Tom says.
Tom has been a Eucharistic minister at his church for more than 20 years. He and Anita are members of the St. Bernadette Church at West Branch, where he’s taught religious education for more than 10 years.
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