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Serving: IL

Opportunity knocks for young farmer

Slideshow: A farm transition has driven Ryan Atherton to improve and expand the family’s northern Illinois operation.

When Ryan Atherton’s uncle Jim Komiskey mentioned stepping back from the farm operation in 2016, the family saw an opportunity for Ryan to take his place.

“If you told me when I was a senior in college that I’d be farming in five years, I would have told you no way,” Ryan says, laughing. “But I kind of got blessed with the opportunity.”

The timing was ideal, as Ryan was preparing to move back near Lanark, Ill., after starting his career in Omaha, Neb. So, in 2017, Ryan purchased all of his uncle’s equipment and began his farming journey. His parents, Charlotte and Ron Atherton, are both retired and able to help their son on the farm.

“Dad always wanted to farm but never had the opportunity,” Ryan says. “And now, he has that chance.”

Currently, Ryan operates MKA Farms, which consists of 380 acres of corn and soybeans. Of those 380 acres, Ryan and his dad each own 20 acres while Komiskey and Ryan’s grandmother Dorothy McCue own the rest. Off the farm, Ryan is a member of the sales team at Peabudy’s Inc. in Sterling, Ill. Ryan also works with Silver Streak Ag Services on custom forage chopping projects.

Ryan and his parents work together on the farm, but Ryan takes the lead in management.

“All of the farm decisions are mine,” he says. “I still use input from a lot of people. I also try to learn from the losses of others.”

Ryan has also put ag technology to work. “One of the first things I did was bring technology on the operation, and it has been a benefit,” he says. He has implemented calibration monitors, individual row clutches and new hybrids into MKA Farms.

Ryan’s favorite part of farming may not be the same as the grower down the road. He actually appreciates the breakdowns.

“You’re having a great day, and then you have an issue. In that moment, you may be upset, but you know something is broke and you must fix it,” Ryan says. “It makes me smile to look back at those times and see how things got fixed efficiently or didn’t go as planned — just learning from those experiences on how to use your time to be more effective for you on the farm.”

And, he knows his farming career has only just begun. The dream is to be able to farm full time, he says. But that will take more acreage.

New perspectives

Ryan is a member of the Cultivating Master Farmers program, a two-year schedule of gatherings between young farmers and Master Farmer award recipients sponsored by Farm Credit Illinois, Compeer Financial, Illinois Farm Bureau, Growmark, Bayer and Prairie Farmer.

Carroll County Farm Bureau staff encouraged Ryan to apply for the program.

“I liked the idea of an open group discussion,” says Ryan, adding he was intrigued at the chance to find out what has been successful for Master Farmers and what may be successful for him.

Ryan sees the program as another way to network and learn from other farmers.

“The biggest thing is the networking side of things — seeing other ideas, and when implementing something like that on my farm may or may not be beneficial,” he says, noting that he will know the farmers he interacts with in this program for life.

Ryan was initially part of the CMF Class of 2021, but due to COVID-19 restrictions on their ability to meet, organizers extended the two-year program through 2023.

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