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Serving: IL

Young farmers still bullish on farm ground

Slideshow: For Alex and Sherry Mewes, the COVID-19 shutdown and plummeting commodity prices haven’t scared them off from investing in their farm.

How’s the pandemic going, you ask? Not bad, at least for Albion farmers Alex and Sherry Mewes, who bought a 40-acre parcel of land in Edwards County, Ill., since the pandemic began.

They rent and own a total of 600 corn and soybean acres already, and while the couple could have averted the land deal when commodity prices collapsed in March, they decided to follow through with their planned investment — albeit slowly.

Closing on the parcel took longer due to the coronavirus keeping government officials and lenders out of the office. The couple is using the Farm Service Agency’s beginning farmer loan program, which requires a payment of 5% of the purchase price of the farm and includes a subsidized interest rate.

Beginning farmer loans are slow to disperse to begin with, due to a heavy amount of paperwork, but the sellers the Meweses are working with are patient and chose to sell privately instead of in an auction. Alex says he’s nervous in light of the state of the economy.

“You don’t know what to think about it with the way the farm economy is and the economy in general. But the loan is a good deal,” Alex says.

“I actually thought the price would come down a bit, but it didn’t really. You know, everybody you talk to says farm ground isn’t going to get any cheaper, so we settled on a fair price,” he adds, noting the parcel is Class B ground.

Silver linings

A full-time nurse practitioner at a Fairfield Memorial Hospital satellite clinic, Sherry says she’s not seeing many COVID-19-related cases because there’s an alternative case site for suspected patients. People who present with symptoms go to the alternative site for treatment and testing. Alex even sees a silver lining to the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Our lifestyle’s changed, at least for this little while. It’s less go-go all the time. That’s the one nice thing about it,” he says. “I kind of like the slower-paced life.”

Parents to 1-year-old Grant and 3-year-old Dean, Alex and his wife are setting out to build a farm that is financially stable enough to pass down to the next generation.

“With the two boys, you can’t beat the farm lifestyle. Driving a tractor, they can’t get enough,” Alex says.

While small meat packers across Illinois are booked solid for the coming months, Alex says his freezer beef business is booming and helping to pay the bills. He runs about 20 brood cows and 15 fat calves.

“We set our own price, almost, with the freezer beef — within reason. People are willing to pay a little more when they know where it comes from,” Alex says.

“I’ve never personally bought meat from the store,” he adds, concluding he recently bought a load of chicks from Rural King in Mattoon, Ill., a two-hour drive, when the hatchery he usually goes to told him it couldn’t supply him until July. “We’re managing.”

Alex and Sherry are members 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.

To see photos of their family on the farm, check out the slideshow.


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