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Young farmers: Need a mentor?Young farmers: Need a mentor?

Now’s the time to apply for Cultivating Master Farmers and learn from the best about what it takes to be the best farmer you can be.

Holly Spangler

October 31, 2023

2 Min Read
A group of people pose for a photograph as they stand on a wooden bridge
FRIENDS: The Cultivating Master Farmers Class of 2023 graduated in July, capping off their mentorship program. Photos by Holly Spangler

Are you a young farmer who’s ever thought to yourself, “I could use some advice on this”? And you could fill in the blank with buying a new tractor or bidding on farmland or switching herbicide programs or talking to your parents about estate planning.

If so, Cultivating Master Farmers might be the answer for you.

CMF is a young-farmer mentoring program that started nearly 20 years ago, all to help young Illinois farmers learn a wealth of information from Prairie Farmer Master Farmers. The 18-month program gives young farmers the chance to sit down in a room with a group of Master Farmer mentors who have, quite literally, been there and done that.

Applications for the CMF Class of 2025 are now open, and are due Dec. 1. Classes of about 10 young farmers (21 to 35 years old) and 10 Master Farmers are selected for the 18-month program, which features four ag-related events, including a summer tour.

The Class of 2023, which graduated in July, toured the University of Illinois Research Park, Beef Farm, Energy Farm and the new Feed Technology Center. At other events, they heard from expert sources on estate and succession planning, diversification on the farm, marketing strategies, how to give back, and managing working relationships with family members.

But the real backbone of the program is the round-table discussion and relationship building, where young farmers learn from Master Farmers and vice versa. Upon the completion of the 18-month program, participants will have developed lasting relationships that continue to yield solid farm advice long after the program’s conclusion.

Rosanne and Darell Sarff and Lena and Alex Head

Young farmers have until Dec. 1 to apply for an opening in the Class of 2025. Individuals or couples may apply. Eligible applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • resident of Illinois

  • between the ages of 21 and 35 as of Jan. 1, 2024

  • actively engaged in production agriculture

  • committed to actively participating in the program

The Class of 2025 will be selected this winter, and the inaugural meeting will be held in February. The CMF application is available online. The program is sponsored by Compeer Financial, Farm Credit Illinois, Growmark, Illinois Farm Bureau, Bayer and Prairie Farmer.

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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